By Jim MacPherson
Redesigning a vehicle that has long been a market leader is fraught with danger. Even the best automakers have been known to come up with a replacement that falls short of the performance and appeal of the previous model.
But this hasn’t happened with the redesigned Toyota Camry. Long the nation’s most popular family sedan, there is nothing about the new Camry that suggests Toyota has given the competition any obvious openings with its redesign, though the new Camry features changes that are more evolutionary than revolutionary.
Nonetheless, the public’s response to the redesigned Camry has been impressive, according to Terry Schnurr, general sales manager at Middletown Toyota. “They did a very nice job [with the redesign]. It’s definitely an industry leader,” he says of the new Camry.
As with the last Camry, the new version comes in four trim levels, base L, LE, SE and XLE. Toyota predicted that the LE would be the volume leader, and this was the version they loaned us for this review. However, Schnurr finds more people are gravitating to the slightly sportier SE. “They’ve made the SE more mainstream; more affordable,” he said. “With it, you get the [alloy] wheels and a sunroof for just $500 more.”
All trim levels feature a 173-horsepower (178-hp in non-California emissions states), 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. This drivetrain works very well, delivering surprisingly brisk acceleration considering the size and weight of the Camry. Sixty miles per hour arrives in 8.2 seconds and we managed a surprisingly good 27.1 miles per gallon in our week of use.
Unlike an increasing number of competitors, including Chevrolet, Ford and Hyundai, Toyota has not abandoned the V-6 engine option with the new Camry. SE and XLE buyers can opt for the more powerful 3.5-liter drivetrain. LE and XLE buyers can also choose a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain. All Camrys feature front-wheel drive.
The four-cylinder engine, “…is a great engine,” Schnurr says, and it’s the most popular as well. The Hybrid model is starting to become available, and people are buying this version as well, he adds.
The LE’s interior is roomy, comfortable and businesslike. Even a quick glance revealed that our lower cost LE fell short of the luxury offered by premium family sedans. But, the starting price is also about $10,000 less, making this more than a fair tradeoff. Of greater importance, the Camry proved to be comfortable on a longer trip. XLE models are much more luxuriously outfitted.
Adding to the Camry’s comfort is a steady ride and quiet interior. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is nicely refined, making four-cylinder noises only on hard acceleration. Even then, the engine remained smooth and free of vibration. The transmission shifts properly and at just the right times.
Front and rear seats are adult sized. Toyota’s claim that the Camry seats five is entirely credible. The trunk is roomy and the rear seat backs are split and fold, though they do not form a flat load floor for additional cargo. The opening between the trunk and passenger cabin is significantly reduced in the Hybrid.
The ride in the new Camry is better controlled compared to the previous generation vehicle, yet it remains comfortable over rough pavement. Handling is also better, with nicely weighted and reasonably communicative steering. Still no sports sedan, the new Camry proves to be easily controllable and predictable.
The new Camry makes one thing clear: Toyota has not dropped the ball with this redesign. If competitors were hoping that the new Camry would have significant weaknesses that would be easily exploited, they will be disappointed.
Starts at: $21,955
Engines: 2.5 2.5 PZEV 3.5 Hybrid
HP 178 173 268 200 (gas and electric)
Torque 170 165 248 N/A
EPA 25/35 25/35 21/30 43/39 (40/38 XLE)
Next week: Jeep Grand Cherokee