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Toyota CamryToyota Camry SE

By Jim Bray

If the Toyota Camry were a flavor, it would have to be vanilla.

Not that there’s anything wrong with vanilla. Far from it; vanilla is extremely popular and is a fixture in kitchens where it performs beautifully in any number of applications.

But if someone asked you what flavor made you swoon, chances are it would be chocolate, peppermint or, my personal fave, butterscotch.

So what we have with the Camry is analogous to that: it’s a fine car, well designed and crafted and extremely well built. It’s dependable and as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. But it doesn’t stir the automotive taste buds.

It appears that isn’t its gig, and that’s fine. And its sales success says that Toyota must be doing something right. The Camry is an extremely popular automobile that serves millions of people well.

But if you’re looking for something fun to drive, this car ain’t it.

Camry has earned its place in automotive history, though. First introduced in the mid-1980’s, it has gone through a gestation of several generations until it now is one of the most popular cars in North America.

Toyota makes the front wheel drive Camry available in three basic configurations, with varying trim levels. You can choose from a 2.4 liter four cylinder engine, a 3 liter V6 or a 3.3 liter V6. The power plants feature double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, sequential multiport electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing with intelligence and are Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (ULEV). The four cylinder engine is rated at 154 horses @ 5700 rpm and 160 lb.ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm; the small V6 puts out 190 horses @ 5800 rpm and 197 lb.ft. @ 4400 rpm and the 3.3 liter model cranks 210/220 respectively.

Toyota CamryYou’d think that a substantial vehicle such as the Camry would benefit most from the V6s' extra power and torque, and you’d undoubtedly be right – remembering, of course, that you’ll also lose some gas mileage (29/43 mpg for the 4 cylinder/manual transmission vs. 25/38 for the V6/automatic).

I was royally gob smacked to discover that my Camry SE tester would only be the four banger, saddled with the five speed automatic transmission. But I was royally gobsmacked again upon driving the car to discover that the combination works quite well. Sure, I’d rather have the V6; it fits in better with my lead foot. On the other hand, for normal daily driving where you aren’t going up and down the sides of mountains, the four cylinder Camry was surprisingly spry. Gob smacked, I tell ya!

I probably shouldn't have been too surprised, since I drove the four cylinder Solara a few months back and it's basically a Camry coupe, but still...



Camry’s suspension up front includes coil springs, MacPherson gas struts and a stabilizer bar; the rear is independent with MacPherson gas struts, dual link, coil springs with a stabilizer bar. The top line SE V6 suspension has been tweaked for sportiness. This is good stuff, though I daresay there won’t be a lot of unmodified Camrys seen on race tracks. But again, that isn’t the car’s mandate.

The car’s brakes are power-assisted vented discs up front. The base model has drums out back, but the other models get discs all around. ABS is standard on all models. Steering is power rack and pinion and it feels okay for an appliance. I thought the brakes a tad grabby on my tester, though that’s better than having to mash them to the floor before they activate.

In city driving, I had no trouble getting the four cylinder Camry up to speed for freeway on ramps, which is arguably where you want power on tap in every day driving. And while the Camry is getting there it does it quietly with no fuss; this is a very quiet and comfortable car and I can see why so many people choose to live with them.

The car’s bland exterior is definitely ready for an update. Since it was introduced, the competition has upgraded their offerings and this tends to leave the Camry looking even more frumpy than ever, and it started this generation looking pretty frumpy, in my never humble opinion.

Toyota CamryInside, the car is very comfortable for all five passengers, with even pretty good room for the poor soul who gets stuck in the middle of the 60/40 split/fold back seat. The interior is well appointed and attractive, though I didn’t think the tilt of the steering wheel was very good; the tilt angle was okay, but the action seemed very stiff.

The Camry SE I drove had manually adjustable fabric seats, and they were quite comfortable though obviously not designed for racing through the twisty bits: it almost felt as if I was going to get thrown out the couple of times I got frisky with the car.

The gauges are very simple and easy to read at a quick glance. The big tach and speedometer dominate the display, as they should, and at night are lit with an attractive orange glow. The HVAC and stereo controls are easy to find and figure out, though the knobs for the stereo have no tactile feel at all. Not only that, but the stereo is weak, a common complaint I have with Toyotas.

This stereo’s an AM/FM CD stereo unit with 6 speakers and steering wheel-mounted controls. It’s easy to use, but doesn’t have a lot of oomph.

But this car isn’t about the raw experience, alas. This is why I had more fun driving the new Hyundai Sonata and the current Honda Accord than I did the Camry. To each his own.

Camry’s safety equipment includes the usual plethora of bags, belts, and the like, aero style halogen headlights and variable intermittent windshield wipers. There are plenty of storage spaces throughout. The trunk is cavernous, as one would expect.

My tester Camry SE included keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, and lists for $26,895 Canadian/$20,375 US. The top-line XLE V6 tops out at around $36,835 Cdn/$25,805 US.

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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