For nearly 30 years, buying a Toyota Camry has been a matter of good common sense. Roomy, practical and reliable, your Camry will not stand out in the supermarket parking lot. Despite some recent safety concerns, which Toyota has addressed, the Camry remains that-the right car for many, maybe even most people. If you don’t have extraordinary needs to carry people or cargo or specific concerns about extreme fuel economy or low environmental impact, it’s perfect.
My Camry test car of the week was a 2011 SE model with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed electronically controlled automatic. It wore a cheery Blue Ribbon Metallic paint. The SE sits in the middle of the Camry hierarchy, with the basic Camry and LE models below and the XLE and Hybrid models above. All look much the same, with some grille differentiation (the SE’s is blacked out-part of its sporty persona).
The SE, which is also offered with an optional, more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine, has many features to give it a little more fun for someone who enjoys driving. The suspension has been tightened up with firmer springs, shocks and bushings. The SE rides a little lower too, on larger 17-inch alloy wheels instead of the standard 16’s. Toyota’s engineers smoothed the car’s underbelly and improved torsional rigidity. This helps it handle like it’s lighter than its 3,351 pounds.
The four-cylinder engine in the SE gets an extra 10 horsepower than other models, at 179. With the six-speed automatic, it feels plenty strong, although I did drive the car mostly with only myself as a passenger. The 3.5-liter V6 boasts 268 horsepower, but adds 132 pounds to the weight and around $3,000 to the price tag; it didn’t seem like you’d need it.
The four-cylinder earns EPA fuel economy numbers of 22 City, 32 Highway. The Green Vehicle numbers are 6 for Air Pollution and 6 for Greenhouse Gas. There’s a version that gets a 9 for Air Pollution; if you can, buy that one.
The current Camry has been on the market for a few years, and despite the car’s middle of the road reputation and history, this is certainly the most dramatically styled one so far. The body wears extra lines and edges, the lights front and rear stretch way onto the sides, the wheelwells bulge, the taillamps drop jauntily down-making the Camry badge tilt rakishly. Not radical, but hardly placid either.
The Camry’s interior looks and feels substantial while keep the lines simple and clean. The center console pushes upward and outward into the doors, and the doors themselves feature hyperbolic swoops that incorporate the armrest and window controls. Simplicity doesn’t mean static or boring. My tester, in a neutral gray, had clear plastic surfaces over the climate controls that felt a little like an Apple Mac.
Like most volume products, the Camry offers its basic version and then adds features on the way up. All Camrys come with air conditioning with micro dust and pollen filter; power windows with auto up/down for all four doors; power door locks; power outside mirrors; cruise control; halogen headlamps with automatic on/off setting; tilt and telescopic steering wheel and a six speaker 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with an auxiliary audio jack.
The SE gets a leather-wrapped wheel and bright optitron gauges from the upper level car but doesn’t have the trip computer (so I can’t report my exact fuel mileage).
Prices start at just $20,670, including shipping, for the basic Camry with manual transmission and four-cylinder engine. The sticker can exceed $30,000 for the luxury-themed XLE with V6 ($30,220). My SE, with the Extra Value Package (moonroof plus miscellaneous) and upgraded audio system and security system, came to $25,654.
Toyotas continue to be highly sought after, beloved vehicles, and the Camry is right in the center of that affection. It seems to do everything right without fuss or pretension. After a week with the car, I forgot about the details and simply slid in, started it up and drove off. Everything was comfortable and worked perfectly. That’s why the Camry has been the best-selling car in America for the last eight years-and 12 of the last 13.
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Safety Update: On February 8, 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation released results from a ten-month study of potential electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. NASA engineers found no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of causing dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents. The known issues of sticking accelerator pedals and floor mats were identified as the only known causes for unintended acceleration incidents. Toyota already has recalled 8 million vehicles to fix these issues. See: http://www.nhtsa.gov/PR/DOT-16-11 for details.