OJAI, Calif. -- Automotive designers from Toyota in the United States and Japan have conspired to reinvent the Camry, perennial best-selling passenger car in America.
Meddling with the design of a car which has become the brand's icon -- the nameplate dresses one in five Toyotas in North America and accounts for ten million units worldwide since Camry's 1983 debut -- could be risky business.
After all, the current Camry has been a decided hit, topping all sales charts for the past four years.
But the re-do of Camry, which has been restructured and expanded for model-year 2007 with concerns for passenger comfort and personal safety foremost in mind, results in a generously scaled mid-size sedan that's keen in style, invigorated with more powerful engines and laced with luxurious cabin features to position this car closer to the realm of Lexus, Toyota's elite upscale line.
Kenichiro Fuse, chief engineer for the 2007 Camry, describes the new design like this: "We chose the path of higher risk -- we wanted nothing boring, but rather an inspired design."
Camry's new exterior package appears sleek and shapely, yet it reflects subtle lines and subdued paint colors in the manner of a sophisticated -- and expensive -- vehicle.
The slinky design differs from the upright style of the immediate predecessor.
It looks strong and athletic with contemporary forms and a long cabin perched above the horizontal underbody.
The car's expanded width is emphasized up front by a broad grille scored with body-colored fins and a low intake valence stretched from corner to corner.
Canted lamp clusters of an irregular format mount at the top of front corners, with projector-type low-beam lamps drilling round points in shimmering acrylic caps.
Dominant shape of this car is the sweeping curved profile with a racked-back windshield and arching roofline which descends to the high-decked tail.
Although the overall length of Camry's structure remains unchanged at 189.2 inches, the wheelbase is much longer (an expansion of 2.2 inches) and so is the track width (1.25 inches wider front and rear), as wheels push out toward Camry's four corners.
Wheels are bigger too, with the standard set increasing to 16 inches and 17-inch sporty rollers available.
The expansions of Camry's structure become most apparent inside the five-seat passenger compartment, which feels quite spacious now with about an inch of additional shoulder room due to the wider track and 1.25 inches of legroom added in the back seat due to a longer wheelbase.
Camry's cabin is a more efficient design and shows improvements in styling and the tone of materials, with more comfortable seats in place and more useful instruments and controls plus more standard equipment aboard.
The conventional layout includes a pair of buckets up front flanking a center console which holds the transmission shift lever, with the rear bench built for three but scooped for two.
A flat floor also improves legroom for backseat riders.
For the front seat a cockpit-style sectioned dashboard has an arched cowling shielding the instrument panel.
The round Optitron gauges are strictly high-tech and highly legible in a vivid display.
Elaborate safety systems, either passive or active, show up in the new car.
Passive safety measures include a reinforced structure with crumple zones to absorb and diffuse energy from a sudden impact along predictable paths but also deflect the force away from the passenger compartment.
The cabin is surrounded by hidden air bags -- up-front inflators for front seats plus seat-mounted side air bags and one more to shield the driver's knee, then curtain-style air bags tucked above side windows front and back.
On tap to help stop the vehicle are four disc brakes tied to the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD).
Additional electronic vehicle controls are offered optionally -- vehicle stability control (VSC), which corrects lateral skidding, plus traction control (TRAC) to check wheel spin and a brake assist (BA) system to add maximum braking pressure during an emergency stop.
Powertrain choices come with the 2007 Camry.
Camry's dual-cam 2.4-liter 2AZ-FE four-cylinder engine -- standard for all trims -- has been upgraded with redesigned intake and exhaust systems and the compression ratio boosted.
It produces 158 hp at 6800 rpm plus 161 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
The four-pack plant qualifies for Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) status and delivers fuel economy numbers as high as 34 mpg.
Transmissions extend to a manual five-speed for the entry issue or an electronically-controlled five-speed automatic.
A new 3.5-liter V6 -- Toyota's 2GR-FE engine -- becomes the optional power upgrade for Camry's top three tiers.
The V6 employs chain-driven dual camshafts with dual VVT-i (dual variable valve timing with intelligence) to optimize the cam timing and maximize power production at all engine speeds.
As a result, it romps with 268 hp at 6200 rpm and torque pushing to 248 lb-ft at 4700 rpm.
The exclusive transmission for Camry's V6 is a new six-speed automatic with intelligent shift control and sequential shifting.
Trim tiers for Camry consist of the four designations of CE, LE, SE and XLE.
Entry issue Camry CE stocks plenty of gear -- from halogen headlamps with automatic on/off feature to a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and an audio system with six speakers and CD deck plus auxiliary audio jack.
Camry LE adds lots of power controls and a keyless entry device; sporty SE has the chassis dropped with taut suspension tuning plus a full body kit and 17-inch aluminum wheels, yet top-grade XLE loads up the luxe like a dual-zone automatic climate system, moonroof and premium 440-watt JBL audio system.