The Toyota Camry is like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. It may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.
With the V6, the “Kessel Run” (0-60) is doable in six seconds. On top, 140 is achievable. Plenty to outrun most “imperial” star cruisers, even the big Corellian ones.
Of course, a V6 Accord can do that, too.
But it looks more suspect.
Which makes it harder to do that . . . and get away with doing it.
The Camry’s beauty is its anonymity.
And it has other virtues, too.
WHAT IT IS
The best-selling mid-sized family car for the past couple of decades.
Historically less “sporty” than its main rival — the Honda Accord — it is still capable of wet work in the right hands.
Toyota sexed up the bodywork when the car was last redesigned (2015) but the rep hasn’t caught up. This is good.
Most people — including most cops — still see the Camry as a … family car.
Which it is, absolutely.
One of the (and maybe the) best you could drive home in. Back seats with class-best leg and headroom; a large trunk, plusher-than-most ride and — with the standard four cylinder engine — very good gas mileage, too.
Plus, it’s one of the few cars that can plausibly be considered an “investment” in that it won’t lose half its value before you’ve paid it off.
Toyotas are Blue Chip.
And if you get it with the V6, you’ll have the guns to make sushi out of cars with bigger guns whose drivers have let their guard down around you. Few people expect that refrigerator white Mom-mobile in the right lane to do much when the light goes green.
That’s all you need.
And when you don’t need speed, the Camry is still one of the most comfortable cars to spend time in — for the driver and the passengers.
Base price is $23,070 for an LE trim powered by a 2.5 liter four. For a few hundred bucks more, you can upgrade to an SE ($23,840) and get a more aggressive (17 inch) wheel/tire package, firmer suspension calibrations, SofTex perforated sport buckets and a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters for the standard six-speed automatic transmission.
There are also XLE and XSE trims, available with the four or — optionally — the get-the-drop-on-’em V6. Which, incidentally, is basically the same V6 you’ll find under the hood of several Lexus models that are well-known for the performance they offer.
Cross shops include the slightly quicker/sportier/more “tech” Honda Accord sedan ($22,355-$34,830) and the slightly-less-expensive, comparably plush but not-as-roomy-in-back Hyundai Sonata sedan ($21,600-$34,350).
The Camry was overhauled less than two years ago — for the 2015 model year — so the changes for 2017 are mostly minor but there is one big one: The formerly optional 10 speaker JBL premium audio rig that was extra-cost in the XLE and XE trims is now standard equipment and included in the base price.
A runner that doesn’t look it.
Full-size car backseat legroom and headroom.
More plush-feeling than Accord.
Available with a V6 — which isn’t offered in the four-cylinder-only Hyundai Sonata.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Sonata costs less to get into (even if its back seats are harder to get into).
Accord has sharper reflexes and is quicker; it’s also still available with a manual transmission (four cylinder versions) if you roll that way.
V6 is an option in higher (and pricier) XLE and XSE trims only.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Camry still offers both a four and a six — neither of them turbocharged. This bucks the trend toward no V6 (even optionally) and fours with turbos, to make up for the loss of cylinders — as in the Hyundai Sonata.
Or, no turbo at all — as in the Mazda6.
Another drivetrain difference is the Camry’s transmission — which isn’t a continuously variable (CVT) automatic, as is the optional transmission in four cylinder-powered Accords — or a complex and potentially very expensive to replace “dual clutch” automated manual, as is used in the “Eco” (1.6 liter turbo) versions of the Hyundai Sonata.
Whether you go with the standard 2.5 liter four (178 hp) or the optional (in higher trims) 3.5 liter V6 (268 hp) you will get a conventional six-speed automatic, which may not be the Latest Thing but it is a proven thing — known to be reliable. It will probably never fail — and if it ever does, the cost to fix it or replace it won’t be so high that throwing away the car seems like the smart thing to do.
With the 2.5 liter four, you don’t get Light Speed, but you do get enough speed for everyday knocking around. This version Camry gets to 60 in about 8 seconds — which is actually speedier than the Hyundai Sonata with its optional 2.0 liter turbocharged four.
A Honda Accord with its standard four cylinder engine (2.4 liters, 189 hp with the available Sport exhaust) and manual transmission is just slightly quicker: Zero to 60 in just under 7 seconds (best in class).
The four cylinder Camry is also solid when it comes to fuel economy: 24 city, 33 highway. The Sonata Eco does better (28 city, 36 highway) but its mileage advantage is so slight as to be negligible in real-world/everyday use.
Meanwhile, it has a turbo and an automated manual transmission — both of which are potential financial sinkholes if anything should break, post-warranty.
The four cylinder Accord is not afflicted with a turbo but the same down-the-road potential expense issue applies to its available CVT automatic. But, you can avoid that by sticking with the standard manual transmission, a feature neither the Toyota nor the Hyundai offer.
The Main Event, though, is the Camry’s powerful (268 hp) 3.5 liter V6. It may be an under-rated engine. The same basic engine in other Toyota/Lexus models rates higher and if you pore over the specifications, there doesn’t seem to be that much mechanical difference.
What’s not speculative is the V6 Camry’s ability to run. Zero to 60 in six seconds flat is quick. Much quicker than any version of the Sonata (including both turbo versions, the 1.6 Eco and the 2.0T). Almost exactly as quick as the V6 Accord — which (on paper) has more power (278 hp).
But, the Camry is lighter by about 140 pounds (3,460 vs. 3,601) and that may account for it.
The V6 Camry’s mileage is also pretty solid: 21 city, 30 highway.
The V6 Accord does slightly better, 21 city, 33 highway — but again, the difference is negligible. The Sonata with its V6 substitute — the turbo 2.0 liter engine — rates 22 city, 31 highway, which is also a negligible difference.
This is a general truism.
The turbo fours that are replacing larger and not-turbo’d V6 engines in many mid-sized (and other cars) may eke out a few MPGs more on the government’s fuel economy test loop (from which are derived EPA’s published MPG stats, the ones you see on the car’s window sticker and which are used to calculate Corporate Average Fuel Economy) but in real-word/everyday driving, the economy advantage of the turbo fours over the not-turbo’d V6s is very debatable.
For a long-haul car, one you intend to drive every day and for the next 10-15 years or more — simpler is almost always smarter because it’ll end up being cheaper.
PS: Both the Camry’s engines are set up to run best on 87 octane regular unleaded; some of the turbo fours want premium.
ON THE ROAD
I was driving a group of friends “down the mountain” and found myself impeded by a 47-in-a-55 Clover. So, when the road opened up and an opportunity presented itself, I hit it and passed said Clover.
At a speed faster than legal.
My V1 began to squawk. That car coming the other way (I’m still in mid-pass at this point) is a cop. But he did not even tap his brakes as we passed one another.
The Camry saved me.
I have been doing this gig for a long time. And bet your bippie (voice of experience) that had I performed the same maneuver in a Corvette — or an Accord — that cop would have done more than tap his brakes.
But he didn’t, and not because I wasn’t “speeding.”
I was, a lot.
But he didn’t do a 180 and come after me because — eh, it’s just some middle-aged dad on his way to pick up the kid from practice; bigger fish to fry…
I love this car!
Now, it’s not quite as all-out capable as a V6 Accord (or a four-cylinder Mazda6 in the curves). But what good is all-out capability you dare not use more than about 60 percent of? And the proof is that if you can drive, you’ll have no trouble losing an Accord jockey who can’t.
Or for that matter, a Corvette driver who can’t.
Owning a fast car doesn’t make its owner fast.
The Camry’s ride, meanwhile, is still plush (plusher than either the Accord’s or the Sonata’s). The steering–electric-assisted now–is light but not vague; the car tracks tightly and can corner adroitly in the hands of someone not afraid to try–and who knows how.
The main limiting factor is the tires, which will begin to squeal long before the car gets close to coming unglued. But this makes it even more fun to drive. What Car Guy doesn’t enjoy the sound of screeching tires–and maybe a little smearing of rubber on the asphalt –apexing a favorite bend in the road?
And if there happens to be a cop coming the other way, just look befuddled and let the Camry do its thing for you.
Camouflage is nature’s best defense.
AT THE CURB
Its looks are beginning to betray it.
This is the most aggressive-schnozzed (almost Lexus-looking) Camry to date. The centerpiece being the Cylon Centurion-themed (Lexus calls it “spindle”) grille, with GS 350 F-Sport-style vertical slat turn signals cut into the fascia on either side.
Up above, a set of angry looking LED slit-eyes for headlights.
By your command.
There have also been some changes to the side sheet metal — including what Toyota calls “bold” new character lines — as well as a revised rump with “maximized tail-light appearance.” But these tweaks are less obvious and (wisely) don’t screw with the Camry’s fairly conservative overall shape, especially as regards the forward sweep of the windshield (not too much) and backward taper of the rear glass. This leaves the previous-gen. Camry’s generous glass area — and excellent all-around visibility — intact. It also leaves headroom in both rows (38.8 up front and 38.1 in back; the latter being best in class).
Backseat legroom meanwhile, is 38.9 inches — much more generous than the 35.6 inches you get in the Sonata — although the Hyundai has a huge (16.3 cubic foot) trunk to make up for this. Camry’s is big — 15.4 cubes — but not quite that big.
A back-up camera is standard but in this car, it’s not necessary because sight lines are so good. Toyota even managed to get past the gantlet of federal roof crush standards without using I-beam thick girders for the A, B and C pillars. You will appreciate this when attempting to pull out from a sidestreet into a busy intersection. Similarly, the not-overly-fastback rear glass does not distort the view behind you.
For the driver, there’s a Lexus-ish Optitron electro-luminescent gauge cluster… two of them, actually. There is the standard display — and a “sportier” Multi-Information display, which expands the sizes of the tachometer and speedometer and places other readouts in between them in a smaller LCD rectangle that can be scrolled through via controls on the steering wheel.
Optional highlights include a Qi wireless smartphone charging port and sound-muting exterior glass.
Despite what it can do (and get away with doing) this is still an exceptionally pleasant car to drive around — whether the trip is short or long and you’re driving laid back or faster-paced.
None of this is apparent immediately. The Camry’s goodness is subtle. Which is the other half of its genius and probably accounts for the perpetual loyalty this car inspires. Other cars get your attention with highly styled interiors or various electronics (often, gimmicky).The Camry wins your heart by just being incredibly competent at everything you’d expect it to be good at — and by aggravating you in no way whatsoever.
It is not necessary, as a for-instance, to ponder how to change the radio station or set the temperature. It’s obvious — and you just do it. Thought went into designing these control interfaces. Similarly, the large knobs and big buttons — everything simple and direct. If you want finger-swipe “haptic” or microwave oven-style plastic keypad controls you may find the Accord or the Sonata more to your liking.
Special praise: The Camry finally gets seat heaters that heat. Someone has been reading my rants about Japanese seat heaters — about how they generally suck. Because they generally only achieve lukewarm.
These get nice and toasty.
In the same vein: They’ve relocated the iPod USB port to a place where you can see it and get to it — up ahead of the shifter, in the little cubby at the bottom of the center stack. In several previous Toyotas, the USB port was buried out of sight — and reach — in the recesses of the center console storage area behind the gear shifter, where it was almost impossible to access without stopping the car, unbuckling your seat belt and twisting your body around.
Most of all — and please cheer with me — the newly available pre-collision system does not come on when there’s no good reason for it to do so. As, for example, when there’s a car 50 yards ahead of you that’s in the process of turning off the road and you know there’s no need to jam on the brakes because he’ll be gone long before you get to where he is now. Some cars with similar systems will apply the brakes in such a scenario — like a fearful, glaucomic old lady.
The Camry doesn’t do that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Getting away with it is as much fun as actually doing it.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos