2011 Toyota Camry

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People like McDonald’s.

What’s that got to do with a car review? Well, it depends on the car.

Understanding why the Quarter Pounder With Cheese is the country’s favorite hamburger – and has been, for decades – will help you understand why the Toyota Camry is the best selling mid-sized car in the country – and has been for decades.

Neither is the enthusiasts’ choice. Enthusiasts go for a Carl’s Jr., an In and Out Burger. Maybe Burger King.

And when it comes to wheels, they want something similarly tuned-up. Maybe a Mazda. Or a Nissan. Could be a Hyundai.

But not a Toyota. Certainly not a Camry.

Yet the Camry – like the Quarter Pounder – effortlessly outsells its Mazda and Hyundai  equivalents – and pretty much everything else, too.

Why? Because millions of people want solid, predictable and familiar.

And the Camry is all those things. More so – and in many ways, better – than anyone else.

WHAT IT IS

The Camry is Toyota’s bread-and-butter family sedan. It’s medium-sized, front-wheel-drive and comes with either a 2.5 liter four or (optionally) 3.5 liter V-6. This perennial best-seller has a starting price of $19,720 for a base four-cylinder model and tops out at $26,250 for a loaded V-6 XLE.

Traditional competition has primarily been the slightly sportier Honda Accord, the long-running “number two” best seller in this segment. More recent competition includes the new Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Ford Fusion and also the Chevy Cruze.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011

A major redesign is coming next year (2012 model) so the 2011 model is a carryover – identical to the 2010 version, but with a slightly higher (by about $400) sticker price.

WHAT’S GOOD

Predictable, safe – no surprises. You know what you’re getting.

Blue Chip resale value and reliability track record.

Does everything (that a family car should) with the competence of s seasoned pro.

Base four cylinder is plenty for most uses; optional V-6 is more than plenty.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Predictable, safe – no surprises.

Competition is heating up. Hyundai’s new Sonata (and also the Mazda6) are among the growing number of appealing alternatives to both the Camry and the Accord.

UNDER THE HOOD

Camry is available with either a 2.5 liter four-cylinder (standard) or (optionally) a 3.5 liter V-6.

The 2.5 liter produces 169 hp (10 more in the sportier Camry SE) and is paired with a six-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels.

Economy – and performance – are both very good with this engine, especially if you step up to up-rated SE version which has 179 hp. Expect a 0-60 time in the 7.7 second range with the six-speed manual and gas mileage of 22 city/33 highway.

With the optional six-speed automatic, your highway mileage drops slightly to 32 MPGs.

The Camry’s available 3.5 liter V-6 is rated at 268 hp. With this engine, the car will reach 60 mph is a very quick (for a family car) 6.4-6.5 seconds. Gs mileage drops, too – but not as much as you might expect. The V-6 Camry is still capable of 28 MPGs on the highway and 19 in city driving.

On the downside, the only transmission that’s offered with the V-6 is the six-speed automatic.

ON THE ROAD

I ride motorcycles and have one of almost every type – from off-road dirt bikes to high-performance sport bikes to a touring bike. Some are more fun – or do a particular thing – better than the others. But there’s just one that does it all pretty well (my touring bike).

The Camry is like that.

It may not handle quite as sharply as an Accord or Mazda6; it’s not as zippy-looking, quick or featuristic as the brash new Hyundai Sonata – and it lacks that car’s near-200 hp standard engine.

But it’s the one millions (literally) have taken home instead because it’s such a great all-arounder.

Intangibles such as the way the seats don’t cut off bloodflow to your cheeks on the daily commute; the ride that’s just right for the next 150,000 miles; the unfussy, easy-to-use controls – these are the qualities that really grow on you as time goes by – much more so than being fastest (by a few immeasurable in the real world tenths of second) around a set of pylons in a max-effort high-perfomance cornering contest.

People are attached to their favorite pair of jeans, or a shirt – or whatever – not because it’s the fanciest or the flashiest but because it makes them feel good.

The Camry makes you feel good, too.

I say this as a Motorhead, someone who likes quick cars and great-handling cars. There are indeed other cars I would choose over the Camry if those were the qualities I was most interested in having. The Sonata and the Mazda6, especially, are fantastic driver’s cars. So is the Accord (especially V-6 versions).

Bur for the everyday drive – for the next ten years – the Camry is still really tough to beat.

AT THE CURB

Looks are either the Camry’s weakest – or strongest – selling point.

Compared with the swoopy new Sonata and the snarky Mazda6, the Camry is a dowager empress: “Handsome” – the compliment you pay a dignified older woman who’s youth and sex appeal disappeared decades ago.

But as the Camry’s remarkable sales juggernaut attests, not everyone wants sexy. Sexy is high-maintenance. It can attract unwanted attention – in the case of a car, from cops and insurance companies especially. Any car that looks sporty also has a sporty (read: fast) reputation which often translates into higher insurance costs and also getting more tickets (which leads to more insurance costs) because flashier cars are the ones that tend to get noticed – and picked out of the crowd – by cops.

The Camry’s conservative looks are also good long-haul looks.

Notice that older Camrys don’t look as dated as similar vintage competitors because Toyota has kept the car looking more or less the same for years. Changes are usually subtle and incremental. It’s nice to own an eight or nine-year-old car that still can pass for a three or four-year-old car. Probably this is a contributing factor to the Camry’s impressive resale value holding – which (historically) has been among the best there is.

One thing that’s surprising is that the swoopier-styled Hyundai Sonata and Mazda6 both have more front seat headroom and legroom than the Camry. In the case of the Sonata, a lot more front seat legroom (45.5 inches vs. 41.7 inches for the Toyota). But the Camry hits back with substantially more rear seat legroom (38.3 inches) than the Hyundai Sonata (34.6 inches).

The Camry’s 15 cubic foot trunk is slightly smaller than the Mazda6 (16.6 cubic feet) and the Sonata (16.4 cubic feet).

THE REST

There are only two things I can fault the Camry for. The first – and this is not the car’s fault – is that Toyotas, generally, have taken a hit in terms of public perception as a result of the PR fiasco surrounding (supposedly) run-amok Prius hybrids. The truth appears to be that it’s the owner’s fault. Just like back in the ’80s, when Audi was nearly ruined by “sudden unintended acceleration,” some Prius owners apparently have been unconsciously mashing the gas when they thought they were standing on the brakes. But the negative press has hurt Toyota’s reputation – and that may notch down resale values. But it shouldn’t affect your perception of the car’s goodness, which from all the facts available appears to be as good as it ever was.

The second thing is Toyota’s fault. The standard warranty – just three years/36,000 miles – is cheese-cloth skimpy given the increasingly common 5 year/60,000 mile coverage that’s out there.

I think Toyota could fix its PR/perception problem by at least matching the warranty coverage that’s currently being offered by competitors such as Hyundai.

I really liked the large, translucent/backlit buttons for the radio and climate controls. These are easy to see at a glance and also to use by feel, without having to glance at them. In several other cars, the design may be more chic – but those smaller, same-color as the plastic surrounding them buttons can be harder to use without taking your eyes off the road to make sure you’re hitting the one you want.

Reclining rear seats – a very unusual feature in a car priced in the “twenties” – are available, too.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Camry is still the best Quarter Pounder With Cheese on wheels.

Throw it in the Woods?

Toyota Camry deals online

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2 COMMENTS

  1. There is a way to enjoy the MOST BORING CAR IN THE WORLD!

    Borrow the car that either Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin drive. This car makes French Vanilla look like Tutti Frutti. BORING!

    • Millions of people like boring! Truth be told, the Camry fits in with the way the typical American drives – which, of course, is slowly. If you’re going to drive the speed limit and just poke along and want a car that is super quiet and very comfortable, with a serene, smooth ride, etc. – it’s hard to beat the Camry.

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