Someone who wants a conservative, roomy, reliable and comfortable transportation appliance.
Comparable models in this class:
Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Stratus, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata & XG350, Kia Amanti & Optima, Mazda6, Mercury Milan, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Pontiac G6 and Volkswagen Passat
January 30, 2006 I happen to like vanilla ice cream. Especially those premium kinds from the companies with the fancy names. But "vanilla" has another meaning in Webster's Dictionary. If you look it up, the word "vanilla" is also listed as an adjective with descriptions like "lacking distinction", "plain" and "ordinary".
Many people use that adjective to describe the Toyota Camry. It may be the quintessential family sedan, but it is also a prime example of a plain, ordinary, generic car. People who buy a Toyota Camry do so because they feel it is a safe choice. They know that it is a car that does everything right, lasts seemingly forever with only basic maintenance, and doesn't call attention to itself. Camry owners think of themselves as sensible people with good taste who make smart buying decisions. They are generally not automotive enthusiasts and consider their car as another appliance just like their refrigerator or vacuum cleaner.
Toyota would like to change that image, so they asked their designers and engineers to completely rethink what makes an ideal family sedan while making sure that the finished product does not upset their current customer base who was responsible for positioning the Camry as the best selling car for 7 of the past 8 years.
The end result of their labor is a Camry that is improved on a number of fronts including styling, interior comfort, ride quality, handling, steering feel, performance and fuel economy. After spending some time with the new Camry, I can say with confidence that this is by far, the best Camry ever made and should have no problems retaining its crown as the best selling car in America.
Beside the four trim levels that make up the current Camry lineup, Toyota will add a fifth Camry model built around Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. This new Hybrid Camry will get a specially calibrated 4 cylinder gasoline engine combined with an electric drive motor and a 244 volt battery that you never have to recharge. This combination allows the car to achieve fuel economy numbers of 43 miles per gallon in the city and 37 MPG on the highway while being able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 9 seconds. Exceptional numbers for a comfortable mid-sized family sedan, but more on this later.
Besides the new Hybrid, other models in the Camry lineup include the value leader CE, the popular LE, the sporty SE and the upscale XLE, making a total of 5 models in all. Engine choices include a substantially upgraded 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine developing 158 horsepower and an all new, state-of-the-art 3.5 liter V6 rated at a healthy 268 horsepower. This new V6 is mated to an all-new 6 speed automatic transmission that provides smoother shifts and quicker response, especially during passing maneuvers.
I had the opportunity to drive several pre-production cars on a variety of road surfaces as well as on a race track to see just how improved these cars really are. Now, you may ask why anyone would want to drive a Camry on a race track. I mean, after all, it's a Camry, right? It's meant to ferry the kids to school and take mom shopping. No one uses a Camry to race, do they? Maybe, maybe not, but what better way is there to see how the car will react during emergency maneuvers? I have to say that after an afternoon of flogging various Camry models through hairpin turns and sudden lane changes, these cars showed me that they have the goods to compete head-to-head with the leading sports sedans in the under $30,000 category.
We also drove the new Camry in the real world covering over 100 miles of both Interstate highways and rural roads and came away convinced that Toyota knows how to build a quiet and smooth car.
The XLE that I had for this trip felt every bit as smooth and quiet as a Lexus ES, which is one of the quietest mid-sized sedans on the road. I found road noise to be very well controlled and wind noise almost non-existent.
Toyota makes some of the most comfortable seats around, and the seats in this XLE were no exception. The driving position was ideal and the seats were very relaxing and supportive. On winding country roads, we found the steering to be alive and responsive giving us a good feeling of control. On the Interstate, we thought that we were clipping along at a normal rate of speed, but then noticed that we were passing everything on the road. When we looked, we were surprised to see that we were doing better than 90. Good time to test the brakes. They were equally smooth and responsive with good pedal modulation.
Power from the V6 engine was smooth and seemingly effortless. The 6 speed transmission shifted almost imperceptibly at light throttle, but snapped to attention when I prodded the gas pedal to accelerate. People who like to do their own shifting will be happy to know that this new 6-speed automatic has a manual mode so they can control their own shift points.
The steering column not only tilts, but telescopes so you do not have to sit too close to the steering wheel if you are a short person. In fact, the new Camry interior is roomier all around with lots of convenient storage spaces throughout. The dash was completely redesigned to give the impression of more room. Instruments like the speedometer are larger than on previous models and are easier to read. The rear seat feels a bit roomier than the previous generation Camry and, on the XLE, the rear seatbacks can also recline. They will only recline about as much as a coach seat in a commercial jet, but it is enough to allow back seat passengers to relax during long drives.
The Models All 2007 Camrys are better equipped than last year. Even the lowest priced CE model comes standard with four wheel disc brakes and ABS (Antilock Brake System) as well as a full complement of air bags including front seat mounted side air bags and front and rear curtain bags for head protection. There is even a knee airbag for the driver. Other standard features on all Camrys include tilt and telescoping steering column, automatic on-off halogen headlamps, 16 inch wheels, and a six speaker 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with an auxiliary jack for your iPod. The rear seats are split 60-40 and fold down to expand the trunk space into the back seat. The CE is only available with the 4 cylinder engine and either 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission.
Step up to the LE model and you get a standard remote keyless entry and an 8-way power driver's seat. The LE has traditionally been the Camry's most popular model. You can order it with the 4 cylinder engine and either a 5-speed manual transmission or 5-speed automatic, or you can opt for the new V6 engine with the 6-speed automatic. The V6 is not available with a manual transmission.
For people who like sporty driving, the SE is your ticket. The SE model has stiffer springs, shocks and anti-roll bars for better handling. For 2007, the SE also comes standard with a full body kit which gives the car a lower, more planted appearance. Also new for the 2007 SE model is additional bracing behind the rear seat for added body stiffness during spirited driving. Because of this, the SE does not have fold down rear seats to increase trunk capacity, but it does have a pass-through behind the center armrest for long items like skis. Out on the race track, the SE was the car that the majority of us liked to drive. It exhibited very little lean in turns and was very predictable and responsive. Ride quality with the stiffer suspension was firm, but never harsh or uncomfortable.
The XLE is the luxury model and, for 2007, comes darn close to a Lexus without the steep price penalty. Leather is standard on the XLE with the V6 and optional on 4 cylinder models. The wood trim that is slathered on the console and parts of the doors looks elegantly rich even though it is just an imitation (a good imitation). The central control stack has a translucent plastic face that has a futuristic look similar to the top end computers and monitors from Apple.
The Camry Hybrid The interesting model this year has got to be the Hybrid. Standard features for the Hybrid closely follow the LE model in order to keep the price down and make it affordable for more people. Honda introduced their Accord Hybrid last year, but positioned it as a top of the line model with just about every option as standard equipment. This brings the price tag for the Accord Hybrid up over $30,000. The Camry Hybrid should be several thousand less than that. We will have more information on pricing as soon as Toyota finalizes it and makes the announcement. We will update this article at that time, so keep checking back.
Also unlike the Accord which uses the Honda 3.0 liter V6, the Camry Hybrid uses a 4 cylinder engine for impressive fuel economy. The Accord V6 Hybrid has sparkling acceleration, but its city fuel economy, while it is quite good at 29 MPG, is not nearly as good as the Camry Hybrid's numbers of 43 MPG. The highway mileage is the same for both cars at 37 MPG.
Because Toyota and Honda use different technologies for their Hybrids, Toyota gas mileage numbers are backwards with the City mileage being much better than the highway mileage, whereas the Honda hybrids and all non-hybrid cars do better on the highway than in the city.
In brief, the way a hybrid vehicle works is that there is an electric motor that is connected to the drive wheels in addition to the gasoline motor. There is also a large storage battery beneath the rear seat. The electric motor is powered by the battery and, along with the gasoline engine, helps propel the car. When you step on the brake pedal, the system uses that electric motor as a generator to recharge the battery. This process is called regenerative braking and is the reason why hybrids get such good gas mileage. The energy that is captured from braking is free energy that is later used to help accelerate the car, thereby saving gas. Because the gasoline engine on a hybrid does not need to do as much work to move the car, less fuel is used. Also, since the electric motor is there for additional power, the engine does not have to be as big and powerful and can be tuned to save even more gas. That, in a nutshell, is how a hybrid system works. If you want to know more, read our article onHybrid Power Systems.
In case you are concerned about the cost of getting the Hybrid system repaired down the line, you should know that there is an excellent warranty on the hybrid components. To start with, there is the standard 3-year/36,000 mile warranty on the entire car. The powertrain is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles. This includes engine, transmission, drive axles, etc. The hybrid components have different coverage depending on where you live. For most of the country, the hybrid components, which include the hybrid battery, are covered for 8-years or 100,000 miles. If you live in CA, MA, NY, NJ, VT, ME, NH or RI, the hybrid components (except for the battery) are covered for 15 years or 150,000 miles! The hybrid battery is warranted in those states for 10 years or 150,000 miles. That should help you make a decision.
We also had a chance to drive the Hybrid on the race track. With 192 horsepower on tap from the combination gasoline motor and electric motor, acceleration was more than adequate for daily driving with Toyota claiming a 0-60 acceleration time of 8.9 seconds. That is a lot better than the lethargic Toyota Prius. (of course, it doesn't get the Prius' gas mileage of 60 MPG city and 51 MPH highway, but hey, you can't have everything)
Handling of the Hybrid was on a par with the LE and XLE, though I noticed a bit more lean in turns. Engine noise was very subdued, except under full throttle, where it was a bit louder, but as far as 4 cylinder engines go, it was among the quietest. Braking felt a bit uneven as the system transitioned from regenerative braking to actually using the normal disc brakes, but it was easy to get used to.
The Camry styling is all new, but the look is still distinctly Camry. There is no mistaking it for anything else. I happen to think it is a good looking car with styling that is well executed and clean, even a bit daring up front. On the surface, it looks to me like the designers did everything right and Toyota should have another banner sales year. However, I think that after about a year, there will be so many of these new Camrys on the road, that no matter how original the styling, it will go back to being the generic family sedan. But then, raising the bar on what the phrase "plain vanilla" means, seems to be Camry's mission in life. For those happy customers who buy the Camry, that will be just fine with them.
The all new 2007 Camry pricing starts at $18,850 (includes destination charge) for the CE with manual transmission. The popular Camry LE 4 cylinder automatic starts at $21,080. An SE V6 automatic comes in at $24,895 while the Hybrid Camry is $26,480.