Camry's New Body, Old Soul

Buying & Leasing a Car

Camry's New Body, Old Soul

Its competitors have left Camry looking like an everyman's car, an image Toyota wants to dispel.

When Toyota approached the fifth redesign of the Camry, it wisely decided to tread carefully and not mess with success. After all, the reliable-if-staid Camry has been the country's top-selling sedan for most of the past decade. And yet Toyota is touting the 2007 Camry as "a revolution in our thinking" that is "youthful, energetic and contemporary."

If that sounds a bit like a marketing campaign for Ferrari, it's no accident. Toyota is trying to elicit an emotion that's never been associated with the Camry: passion. The Camry inspires loyalty because it's the epitome of what a family sedan should be: comfortable, reliable, safe and affordable, with a cushiony ride and light steering. But Toyota spotted a couple of potential problems. For one, Camry loyalists are aging baby-boomers who, on average, are 55 years old -- move over, Buick. Twenty- and thirtysomethings consider the Camry their dad's car.

For another, since the Camry's last redesign, in 2002, cars (and buyers' expectations) have evolved. Toyota's competitors have been busy reshaping sheet metal, upgrading engines, tightening suspensions and increasing wheel size to improve performance and handling. That's left the Camry looking like a bland, everyman's car -- an image Toyota wants to dispel.

What's new

To show off its new lineup of Camrys (which will include a gas-electric hybrid), Toyota invited journalists to the Michelin track near Greenville, S.C. On the outside, the Camry looks thoroughly modern, borrowing from the muscular-looking, lengthened-windshield and shortened-trunk designs of many new luxury cars. At the same time, the new Camry avoids the visibility problems that come with some of these wedgy cars' narrow side and rear windows. Wheels for most models are upsized from 15 inches to 16 inches, adding to the more athletic look. The length is unchanged, but the wheelbase is two inches longer, which allows a tad more back-seat legroom.


Under the hood, there's more power. The four-cylinder, 2.4-liter, 158-horsepower standard engine delivers slightly more horses than the previous engine. The optional V6 (for the LE, SE and top-of-the-line XLE) grows from a 3.0-liter, 190-hp unit to a 3.5-liter, 268-hp engine. Fuel economy for the four-cylinder is up about one mile per gallon, to 25 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway. Mileage for the V6 improves by two mpg, to 22 city and 31 highway.

Inside, the front seats are refashioned for extra roominess. The instrument panel is easier to read, with larger lettering. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes. The air-conditioning system, with separate right and left zones on the XLE and Hybrid, uses an ionizer technology to reduce mold spores, microbes, fungi, odors and bacteria (which makes you wonder what you're breathing now).

Safety gets a boost, too. Side airbags, which protect the chest of the driver and front passenger, head-protection side-curtain airbags and a driver-side knee airbag are now standard. The front seats protect better against whiplash. Brake assist, which can help apply maximum braking power in emergencies, is standard. Electronic stability control, which helps minimize skids, is still an option.

Behind the wheel

Only the V6 and Hybrid models were available to take around the track. Acceleration in the V6 was smooth and quick, but squealing tires underscored that the suspension wasn't meant for test-track thrashing by overzealous journalists. The sporty SE, which has a firmer suspension and 17-inch wheels, handled the turns better.


As for the Camry Hybrid, acceleration is impressive. The gas engine and electric motor produce a combined 192 hp -- well above the tepid 110 hp of the Toyota's super-popular hybrid, the Prius, and even greater than the previous generation Camry V6. Fuel economy is an estimated 43 miles per gallon city and 37 highway -- not up to Prius standards but better than the Honda Accord Hybrid. Exterior differences are subtle, though. The Hybrid has fancy, LED taillights, and its front grille has a metallic finish. (The Hybrid arrives at dealers in early summer.)

For the long drive back to the hotel, I picked an XLE with all the amenities -- leather seats, navigation system and wood trim. Away from the track, it was easier to put the car through the paces of everyday driving -- accelerating onto the freeway, passing, fiddling with the radio and using the cup holders. The driver's seat molded to my derriegrave;re, the steering wheel adjusted to my reach, and soon I was speeding down the interstate, comfortable and serene.

The new Camry is more contemporary and more powerful. But is this a youthful, revolutionary car? Not really. Deep in its soul, it has all the attributes a Camry has always had. And for a family car, that's a good thing.

CAMRY VERSUS THE COMPETITION: How the midprice sedans stack up

Midsize, midprice sedans, which sell in the $20,000-to-$30,000 range, top the sales charts. In this class, buyers are generally looking for a mix of roominess and economy, and a choice between fuel-sipping and performance-oriented engines. Car shoppers can also pick and choose among luxury touches, such as leather seats, and high-tech options, such as navigation systems. The top-trim-level models are often just as loaded as vehicles in the next highest class, the $30,000-plus entry-luxury cars. But cars in the entry-luxury category, such as the Acura TL and the BMW 3-series, charge a premium for sportier driving, longer warranties, higher resale values and, of course, prestige.


How does the new Camry compare with other midsize, moderately priced cars? Its redesign and power boost for 2007 should seal it as class leader. Part of its secret is unfailing reliability and low ownership costs. The Camry also boasts one of the strongest resale values in its class. Pricing was still up in the air in late January, but expect only a modest increase over 2006 prices, which range from $19,025 to $26,385. Here are the Camry's main competitors:

Chevrolet Malibu
Price: $17,990 to $24,830
Among V6 models, the Malibu has the best fuel economy. It also accelerates smoothly and quickly, and it handles nicely. But it's less refined than the competition in terms of fit and finish, and it has a bland exterior design and a ho-hum interior. Anti-lock brakes and chest- and head-protection side airbags are standard only in the top-of-the-line models. Also, resale value and reliability are lower than for its Japanese rivals.

Ford Fusion
Price: $17,795 to $22,360
New for 2006, the Fusion is Ford's attempt to win back buyers in a class it once dominated with the Taurus. It's sleek and comfortable, and its handling benefits from sharing the same platform as the sporty Mazda6. Head-protection airbags are optional ($595), and stability control isn't available. Resale value is a tad lower than the Chevy Malibu's.

Honda Accord
Price: $18,775 to $27,850
The Accord just barely undersells the Camry year in and year out. Reliability and resale value are first-rate as well, but the Accord is more of a driver's car than the Camry: The Honda accelerates quicker, and it has a tighter suspension for sportier handling. All Hondas have six standard airbags, and electronic stability control is standard on V6 models.

Hyundai Sonata
Price: $18,495 to $23,495
The redesigned 2006 Sonata earned a Kiplinger's Best in Class award, partly because it has the most standard safety equipment in its category -- including electronic stability control. The Sonata handles well and it has more-than-adequate acceleration, but its steering is a little numb. Resale value is better than the American sedans' but not as high as the Japanese models'. Even so, it's one of the best values in any class.


Pricing for the 2007 Camry

Toyota announced manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRP) for the 2007 Camry sedan. For four-cylinder manual models, the base MSRP is $18,270, a decrease of $175. The four-cylinder automatic models will carry an MSRP of $19,320, which is an increase of $45. The Camry LE four-cylinder models will carry a base MSRP of $19,450, a decrease of $95, for models with manual transmission. Models with automatic transmissions will cost $20,500, or an increase of $125. LE V-6 models will have a base MSRP of $23,040, or an increase of $260. SE four-cylinder models with a manual transmission will have an MSRP of $20,790, an increase of $415. The MSRP for automatic transmission models will be $21,790, an increase of $585. SE models with a V-6 will start at $24,315, an increase of $290.