Then, towards Kingdom's points, the 2AZ transition happened in 2002 based on Wikipedia. So the 5SFE, was used up til 2002 and it has an iron block?
Yep. 5SFE was the last 4 cylinder engine used in the Camry that was an Iron block w/ alloy head. 2002+ (Gen5 Camry) used the new 2AZ engine. What was interesting is that the 2001 Camry was the only one with a MLS Headgasket for the 5SFE from what I've heard here.
Now, can I also ask both of you super-senior members, which do prefer the v6 or the i4? I imagine many threads have covered this, but if you don't mind a brief answer based on personal experience that'd be much appreciated.
I've driven and work on these Camry. The 1MZFE is a solid engine. It is used in many Toyota/Lexus line up and it clearly show why. Power band is very smooth and it's very refine for its time. Besides the regular stuff that goes wrong with any engine (i.e. valve cover gaskets, hoses, etc), it's essentially bullet proof.
People have reported sludging issue with both engines, but I personally had none with all the cars I've worked on. Regular oil changes are the key here.
My mom and dad has a 2001/2000 Camry with the 5SFE. Friend's sister has a 1997 5SFE. Other friends have several 1MZ based Camry/Avalon. I have a 1998 V6 and a 2004 V6. Engine bay space wise is noticeably less in the 2004. Compare the Gen4 engine bay for the V6 and I4 is noticeably more cramp but still serviceable. The 1MZFE sounds better and runs smoother. The 5SFE is relatively good but you'll notice the grumbling noise and it's a little more rough sounding. I've also noticed when the 5SFE gets noisy, it might be about time to do the timing belt and associated items. The 5SFE also requires a bit more preparing when merging and coming from a stop then it's larger V6.
DIY, the 5SFE wins hands down. Valve cover job + PCV that takes maybe an hour in the 5SFE will take a few hours and some different extension and slightly more tools (things you should have anyhow) in the 1MZFE. It doesn't mean the 1MZFE is not a serviceable engine, but it does require more dismantling things and thought process to get to certain stuff. For example, the 5SFE is an EZ oil change, but the 1MZ requires a little more thought. Oil filter is located in a kind of tight location, wouldn't recommend doing it when the engine is hot for those not used to it (hot manifold in the way!)
Oh yea, the rear motor mount for the 1MZFE is a major PITA if you do happen to replace it. Mines is done for and I'm pushing it off still...
My wife and I have a 1996 2.2L camry with 226k. When we consider replacements we're interested in the difference between the two engines. I'm curious if they get the same gas mileage, serviceability (we like to DIY), and major known issues plus whatever else you may like or dislike about the car.
Any help would be much appreciated,
You'll tend to find more 1MZFE engine based vehicles IMO ... at lease over here for parts. the V6 was used in many platforms such as the Camry, Avalon, ES300, Sienna, Highlander...think missing a few. The only big issue I find with the 1MZFE is since the engine is a harder DIY, people neglect to do repairs on it such as a leaky power steering hose, valve covers, and PCV valves.
For me for what it is worth, I'm getting about 27MPG in my 2004 SE 5SPD MT (2azfe) Camry versus about 22-23MPG in my 2004 XLE V6 5SPD AT. Not sure how much you're gas miles will be, but my friend who is a light foot and avoids traffic in her 1995 LE V6 Camry w/ 314K miles gets around 24-25MPG.
If your looking for a Gen3/4 Camry, either engine is a good one (although the 92-93 3VZ might be harder to find parts). Gen5 Camry, I would choose the V6 for less potential long run issues that are expensive to repair (i.e. headbolt stripping in the 2AZ).
Some thread I had about the V6 I posted a while back.
EDIT: I don't think I answered your question, but when I look at a Gen3/4 Camry for myself, engine choice is not a worry to me and I like both engines and I feel I don't have to worry about it prolong all maintenance is done to it.