New & Used Toyota Camry: In Depth
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The mid-size Toyota Camry four-door sedan is the best-selling passenger car in the U.S. market. It's become known for reliability, a comfortable ride, a roomy interior, and decent gas mileage--rising to quite good in the Camry Hybrid model.
The Camry has inspired lots of automakers to build better sedans in the segment. The set of rivals for the Camry is now vast: it includes excellent cars like the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy, and Nissan Altima, as well as the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, and Chevy Malibu.
The Toyota Camry first was introduced to the U.S. market as a front-wheel-drive replacement for the rear-wheel-drive Corona. Quite boxy and basic, that first Camry won over masses of U.S. buyers who, during that time, were reaching a critical point of frustration over the reliability and quality of domestic-brand cars.
Subsequent Camry models became a little larger, more refined, and more comfortable and luxurious with each generation. At the time the second-generation Camry made its debut for 1987, the Camry's 115-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder was quite technically advanced as it was one of the first engines in an affordable four-door sedan with four valves per cylinder. Wagon variants of the Camry were reasonably popular through this period, too, and a five-door hatchback version of the model was even sold through '86.
Toward the late '80s, Toyota added a V-6 option for the first time, and it began offering all-wheel drive (All-Trac) on some versions. That was the start of the Camry's movement slightly upscale, and for 1991, Toyota broke the U.S. Camry line away from the version made for its home market, recognizing that U.S. families wanted a larger product and aiming the model solidly at the same shoppers who at that time were considering the Ford Taurus. Toyota had, in 1988, begun assembling Camrys for the U.S. in Georgetown, Kentucky, where it's still produced today—and if there's any doubt about how American it is, did you know it races in NASCAR?
Two different U.S. Camry generations spanned the 1990s. Of those, the first (distinguished by rounded sheet metal and soft features) offered a tremendous leap in luxury over the previous model. The latter fourth-generation Camry was panned at launch for its especially bland styling (and the wagon was discontinued), but it was an even stronger seller. Through these two generations the Camry didn't make any tremendous advances, but its four-cylinder and V-6 engines grew in size and produced more power.
Used Toyota Camry models are a staple of the previously-owned car market, though you'll likely find fewer from before 2000 these days. They continue to be comfortable and spacious sedans, though they're far from sporty. Toyota has continuously updated the safety equipment and added popular features to keep the Camry competitive, including navigation systems, smart-key entry, and heated leather seats--all items hard to find on mid-size volume sedans not so many years ago.
This past decade has seen two generations of the Camry. The previous generation, introduced for 2002, introduced a rounder look once again—this time making major advances inside with significantly upgraded materials—with a stronger 162-horsepower, 2.4-liter base engine. A 192-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 remained a popular option, and safety features were bolstered during this generation with the phasing-in of side airbags and stability control on some models.
Then, for 2007, the Camry was redesigned again, with a smoother, less slab-sided look, much-improved safety and safety features, and an all-new 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission at the top of the range. In this latest generation, a tighter suspension and upgraded wheels in the SE V-6 model brings a more sophisticated VDIM stability control system and a surprising level of responsiveness and performance satisfaction, if you can get past the bland appearance.
Also making its debut for 2007 was the Toyota Camry Hybrid, which paired a version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive (originally developed with the Prius) with an especially frugal version of the sedan's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Altogether the system made 192 hp—the same as the V-6 a year or two before—but with gas-stingy EPA fuel economy figures of 33 mpg city, 34 highway.
For 2010, the base Toyota Camry got an even larger four-cylinder engine—a 2.5-liter, making 169 or 179 hp, while fuel economy was actually made better thanks to a new six-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual remained available on a limited basis with the four.
Today's Toyota Camry
A 2012 redesign didn't recast the Camry, but brought substantial improvements to comfort, refinement, and handling, but from the outside the changes were so evolutionary that some might only see it as a mild refresh. Gas mileage was also improved across the lineup (up to 25/35 for the four-cylinder), and a completely reworked Camry Hybrid—with an EPA city rating of up to 43 mpg—was the star of the lineup. Safety features were also significantly upgraded, with ten standard airbags, newly standard side rear thorax bags, and an improved structure, while Bluetooth hands-free connectivity was made standard on all models.
The 2013 Toyota Camry earned a few more trim and feature changes—like expanded availability for the Blind Spot Monitor option, which is now packaged with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Even base Camry L models for 2013 got the Display Audio screen-based entertainment system, as they tightened their game against the all-new 2013 Honda Accord. The only blemish to the Camry's longstanding rivalry versus the Honda Accord? A round of crash-test results for the new IIHS small-overlap frontal test, Honda managed the top nod, while the Camry was rated 'poor.'
For 2015, Toyota has given the Camry a full makeover. The result is the most aggressive looking Camry to date, borrowing many cues from the recent Corolla restyle. All of the body panels save the roof have been replaced with reshaped parts, and the interior has been upgraded with new technology and nicer materials. Toyota also made changes to the chassis to make the Camry more involving to drive, while the powertrains have been left alone.
The Camry continues to offer a variety of powertrain options that should satisfy just about any mid-size sedan shopper. This includes the base model's four-cylinder, the fuel-sipping Hybrid model, and the range-topping V-6. The Camry is now offered only in a sedan body, as it has been for years, although past generations offered both coupe and convertible versions.