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The Toyota Camry has been the best-selling passenger car in America for a few years. It's not the first sedan we recommend, though. It's had a reputation for being a pragmatic and safe choice that remains, but it's never been very exciting or handsome, and in the past year it's lost some of the default recommendations for reliability it once enjoyed.
It's not a stand-out in any one thing, from technology or style, to performance or comfort. That's not the say the Camry isn't perfectly acceptable in most regards, and even quite good in others--just that it's not better than some of the competition in most respects.
It's also easy to dress up the Camry with more personality than you might be familiar with--by way of a V-6 engine, a sport suspension, and premium features--so it's not quite so relentlessly straight-laced.
The Toyota Camry was new in 2012, yet what arrived was merely evolutionary from a styling standpoint. Instead of trying to make the new car radically different, Toyota essentially took a look at the existing car and asked how it could redesign nearly every component to make a better end result for core values like comfort and safety. What it ended up with, for better or worse, was a car that looked very much like the outgoing version, but with a more upright front end, a few more creases, boxier corners, and a slightly different roofline. Inside, there's more to be said, as the Camry not only gets better materials and detailing throughout, but its new dual-tier instrument panel and corners that are pushed outward—in a sort of anti-cockpit layout—help amplify interior space.
Toyota reclaimed one of the top spots among mid-size sedans, with ten standard airbags plus top overall ratings from both U.S. safety agencies. Bluetooth connectivity is included in all trims—even the base model—and the screen-based Display Audio system, with Bluetooth audio streaming, USB connectivity, and iPod connectivity, is now included even in the base Camry L. A navigation system with voice recognition is also available, as is a high-end JBL sound system, with HD Radio and satellite radio. And through Toyota's advanced Entune system—also available—you can tap into Pandora streaming audio through your smartphone, as well as a suite of connected services. For 2014, the SE Sport trim–essentially a value package–has been brought back for the four-cylinder model. It comes standard with the 18-inch wheels, power driver's seat and moonroof.
Overall, the Camry rides and drives in a more refined, responsive way compared to any Camry you test-drove a few years ago, and the package and features have been much improved. Push the Camry hard into a corner and there's still a fair amount of body lean, as well as lots of roll; what has changed is that it deals with recoveries and transitions a bit better. Thanks to some very significant weight savings, the base four-cylinder Camry performs better than ever, while the V-6 fills a niche for those wanting a particularly strong, refined (yet still budget-priced) sedan.
The Camry's interior is one of its strong points. Thanks to a thinner front-seat design and new packaging, there's noticeably more back-seat space in these latest versions. Ride comfort is impressive, and trunk space is improved due to the boxier corners. Base front seats are a little disappointing, though, and we highly recommend the sporty SE model, in part, for its much better-bolstered seats.
Just like the previous-generation Camry, the Hybrid version feels about as quick as the base four—possibly a little more so when you tap into full electric-motor boost. And the mileage improvement is phenomenal: 43 mpg city, 39 highway for the LE. Hybrids now come in LE or XLE models, and as before they give up a little trunk space (not as much now though, due to a smaller battery pack).
The latest Camry earns top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and the Institute's Top Safety Pick accolade; but it should be noted that in the latest test from the IIHS, the small-overlap frontal test, the Camry scored 'poor' (while the Honda Accord, for instance, earned a top 'good'). The Camry is a five-star vehicle overall in federal testing—although it's earned four out of five stars for frontal impact, its excellent five-star side result made the difference.