New & Used Toyota Camry: In Depth
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Toyota's mid-size Camry four-door sedan has become known for reliability, a comfortable ride, a roomy interior, and decent gas mileage. The available Camry Hybrid model holds all of those attributes while turning the fuel economy way up. With characteristics like that, the Camry has become the best-selling passenger car in the U.S. market.
The Camry has inspired lots of automakers to build better sedans in the segment. The set of rivals for the Camry is now vast, and includes excellent cars such as 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 was introduced to the U.S. market as a front-wheel-drive replacement for the rear-drive Corona. Quite boxy and basic, that first Camry won over masses of U.S. buyers who were at the time 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. When 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, and a five-door hatchback version of the model was sold through '86.
Toward the late ’80s, Toyota added a V-6 option for the first time, and it also began offering all-wheel drive (marketed as All-Trac) on some versions. That was the start of the Camry's movement slightly upscale.
For 1991, Toyota broke the U.S. Camry line away from the version made for its home market, recognizing that American families wanted a larger product. The Camry was aimed solidly at the shoppers who were considering the Ford Taurus. Toyota had, in 1988, begun assembling Camrys for the U.S. in Georgetown, Kentucky, where the car is still produced today—and if there's any doubt about how American it is, don't forget that it races in NASCAR.
Two different U.S. Camry generations spanned the 1990s. The first (distinguished by rounded sheetmetal 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, but it was an even stronger seller. The wagon was also discontinued in that generation. 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.
The Camry was redesigned again for 2007, bringing a smoother, less slab-sided look, much-improved safety, and an all-new powertrain at the top of the range—a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. 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.
Along with the 2007 refresh, Toyota introduced its first first Camry Hybrid. It used a version of the company's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which was originally designed for use in the Prius, pairing an Atkinson-cycle version of the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with electric motors. The total system output was 192 hp, matching the old 3.0-liter V-6 but beating it handily in EPA fuel-economy testing—the Camry Hybrid came out of the gate with ratings of 33 mpg in the city and 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 instead brought substantial improvements to comfort, refinement, and handling. 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? In 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.' Those ratings would inch up with subsequent updates.
For 2015, Toyota gave 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. It is one of few non-luxury vehicles offering wireless device charging, using the Qi standard. Toyota also modified 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.
Improvements made to the Camry's design for 2015 have brought it up to the IIHS's Top Safety Pick+ level, with top 'Good' ratings in all categories, including the new small-overlap crash test. Toyota also added active-safety items to the standard and optional features list for 2015.
Toyota has announced a Special Edition Camry model for 2016. This package is based on the Camry SE and will include a choice of two unique paint colors—a vibrant bright blue and a white pearl—as well as unique styling elements; bolstered seats with blue inserts and blue stitching; 18-inch wheels; and a host of other items above and beyond what's offered on the regular SE. The Special Edition model will be available only with the Camry's four-cylinder engine, making it more of a budget-conscious styling package.