Among the automotive cognoscenti, the Toyota Camry gets little love. The sedan first arrived in the US in 1983. For over a decade, it’s been the top-selling four-door midsize ride in the country. People who love cars don’t much love the Camry, but people who love Camrys really love the Camry, and love it loyally.
It’s easy to understand why. As sedans go, the Camry is perfect. Not nearly perfect — but perfect.
It’s roomy, comfortable, easy to drive, serves up excellent fuel economy, has pretty much all the bells and whistles anyone would want from a sub-$US50,000 car, and causes no meaningful problems for its owners in terms of reliability.
Heck, my mother owned a Camry for something like 15 years and practically drove it until the wheels fell off. Except they never did. And the power windows still worked, and so did the air-conditioner, and the radio, and the tape deck, and all the knobs and controls and buttons. The sun visors remained attached. The seat belts clicked. The unassuming cloth upholstery had nary a nick or rip. I think the car made some odd rattling noises at some point. It got moderately worn-out-looking. But jeez, was that a finely screwed together piece of automotive engineering.
But here’s the thing: The price of perfection is a lack of excitement. That’s the cliché anyhow. The Camry isn’t a car — it’s a never-have-to-think-about-it transportation appliance. The Camry lovers out there do not practice a passionate, fiery love. Rather, their love is the love a man or woman might have once held for a very compliant and pleasing horse.
It gets you from A to B. It has windows and wheels. It always starts!
The 2015 Camry is a far cry from my mum’s old car. I recently spent a week with the XSE, with an attractive “ruby flare” exterior and a grey leather interior, the design updated from Camrys of yore, bolder and more aggressive. From the front, the Camry looks a tad angry, as many cars do from the front these days. This is a big change from the image that most people have of staring at the front of a Camry and getting back an emotionless gaze that fills you with trust rather than fear.
I very much enjoy driving cars and trucks that are aimed at the middle of the market. The vehicles that automakers are building for the quiet majorities in the US and other countries, the great surging droves of commuters, are generally wonderful, well constructed and increasingly crammed with all manner of cool technologies for communication and entertainment.
Inside, the Camry feels pretty luxurious. Obviously not as luxurious as a Lexus, Toyota’s upmarket brand. But compared to my mum’s Camry? Shangri-la, people!
It also drives great. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine gets the job done, over and over and over. (There’s a V6 available, and it propels the Camry faster, but it’s not entirely necessary; the 4-cylinder is dandy good.) The steering and suspension have been tightened and stiffened, something I don’t altogether agree with, but this is definitely not a sports car. It delivers that familiar Camry driving sense in a deftly upgraded way. The road feel is now of the current century. The smush is basically gone, supplanted by a reassuring solidity.
But now let me complicate matters a bit.
For the past decade, I have driven and tested cars in the benign environment of Southern California. Last summer, I moved back to New York. SoCal provides every imaginable driving condition — snow, curves, desert, fog — but for the most part, in and around Los Angeles it’s dry, warm, and sunny most of the time.
It was not dry, warm, and sunny when I tested the Camry. It was snowy, cold, slushy, and, at one intriguing point, mostly frozen.
I wasn’t sure how a 180-horsepower sedan was going to handle this. I figured I should, at the least, be behind the wheel of a Subaru. Or possibly an Imperial Walker. I mean, 10 years of endless sunshine, then warnings of an epic blizzard!
I wasn’t really intellectually prepared for the Camry.
Not that it mattered. The Camry and its surefooted front-wheel-drive plowed through snowbanks, extracted itself from frigid slush puddles, fired up without hesitation in subfreezing temperatures, and at one point sloughed off a bumper-to-bumper carapace of ice by bringing to bear the full force of its engine, defrosters, and heaters. Somewhere in all this, it managed a two-hour jaunt to the East End of Long Island with a pair of snoozing boys in the back seat and SiriusXM “Deep Tracks” soothing the frayed nerves of a pair of former California residents facing their first cruel smack of Northeastern winter since the years before the iPhone existed. All while delivering 35 mpg on the highway.
Did I mention the trunk? The deep and seemingly bottomless well of the trunk?
A trunk hasn’t given me this much joy, or swallowed up so much stuff without protest, since I surrendered the keys to my 1987 Volvo 240.
In fact, I’ve dealt with some SUVs that, while they accommodated plenty of people, didn’t really provide all that much space for gear. There are times when a nice big trunk really just does the trick. Like when you have two carpets to take home, along with some luggage and supplies gathered from the basement of in-laws who need to prepare for months when 3 feet of snow will cover the ground.
Maybe this is merely the trajectory of the family sedan: Now that station wagons are going extinct, they need to get more like SUVs.
As much like SUVs as it’s possible for a completely different genre of vehicle to get, anyway.
The Camry XSE has a sticker price of about $US30,000. That isn’t cheap, but it’s miles from expensive.
Then consider that you could conceivably drive this Camry until 2035. If that doesn’t make you think that this family sedan with the soul of an SUV is for you, well, you just might not be ready to step up to a Camry.
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