• Sep 16th 2008 at 11:55AM
  • 80

2009 Toyota Camry XLE – Click above for high-res image gallery

A recent night of excitement: driving the Camry XLE to the Super Wal-Mart. So lame, but that's not the car's fault. Like Wal-Mart, the Camry has been excoriated as a work of Satan, antithetical to all that is American, never mind where it's built. Despite the gleeful way everyone always lobs shots at Toyota's midsizer, there's a lot of virtue here. After all, there has to be some kind of hook to this car attaining such vaunted status, besides the bounce-lending automotive cult of personality. Since nobody actually reviews the Camry – we just complain about it as it outsells everything else – we rustled up an XLE powered by Toyota's 2.4-liter four cylinder and tried it out.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

So why does the Camry sell so well? Because it's a solid car that offers good value. The trunk is big, the four is thrifty, it comes well equipped. We thought there might be some personality hiding in there that would win us over during the Camry's stay. Nope. The best thing about the Camry's half-pretty styling is the anonymity afforded by the glut of them on the road, and the car itself tries very hard to avoid offending anyone.

It's exterior styling is more expressive than previous Camrys; one could even get away with saying the styling was a motivating factor in the purchase of a Camry. The front end has a suggestion of feline to its face, and the hood has some well developed surface detailing that plays light nicely. Out back, the trunklid rises up out of the rear quarter panels, giving the Camry a high poop deck. The Camry is not unattractive, and while it blends in due to the surfeit of Camrys on the road, this iteration has far more flair to the sheetmetal than its forebears.

Inside, the XLE is equipped with everything you'd ever want. For entertainment, a JBL audio system with multi-disc capacity, .wma and .mp3 capability and satellite readiness occupies a place of prominence on the center stack and provides plenty of NPR and angry-guy talk radio. When tuned to music, the sound of the system is annoying, despite the speakers' JBL pedigree. A severe high-frequency resonance from the tweeters that sounds like metal-on-metal made us feel like we'd been listening to a dog whistle.

The HVAC panel is lower down in the "Plasmacenter," and offers up dual-zone climate control. Every time we started the Camry, the HVAC would come on in recirculate mode. If you neglect to manually select fresh cabin air, the windows have a tendency to get foggy, especially if it's humid. The recirc default may be less of an issue if you rely on the automatic functions of the climate control, but for anyone who likes to be master of his or her machine, it's an annoyance that quickly gets old.

The power adjustable, leather trimmed seats are comfortable for most anyone, and the ergonomics are well-considered with everything easy to find. A couple of minor niggles; one of the center stack's lower pieces didn't line up, and its turquoise stripe pattern glows far too brightly at night. Back seat passengers find plenty of legroom, thanks to the Camry's large footprint, and the rear seatbacks even recline. We'd happily trade their reclining trick, however, for seats that fold offering more access to the trunk than just the large pass-through. The trunk itself is a veritable cavern: big, accessible, eminently useful.

While we found the Camry an innocuous place to while away the hours, it feels like the low end of its class in terms of materials and design. In a turnaround of monumental proportions, the Fusion and Malibu slay the Camry's interior. Even in the XLE with its leather upholstery, it's disappointing. The dash and door panels are styled in a spare fashion, and when swathed in gray like our tester, the feeling is drab. Fake wood inserts in the center console and on the doors is overly shiny and reminiscent of bad old sedans from dark days gone by.The XLE is not the base model, but it didn't feel as niced-up as a new Hyundai Sonata in comparable trim, and the Detroit brands are better still.

Inoffensive is the order of the day when you point the Camry into traffic. The 2.4 liter four cylinder is plenty powerful and revs smoothly all the way to its redline while generating 158 horsepower. An available V6 offering 100 more horsepower is entirely unnecessary, especially when the torquey four returns an EPA highway rating of 31 mpg, brag-worthy for a car this size. Part of the good mileage is an automatic transmission that aims for fifth gear and takes a search warrant to find a downshift. The autobox is recalcitrant, if efficient.

Sport is not the mission here, but some less flaccid chassis calibration would be fitting, like fitting the SE's "sport-tuned" shocks and extra bracing to the XLE. Feeling both underdamped and undersprung, the Camry doesn't impart the impression of buttoned down security like we desire in a family stormer. Light steering devoid of feel keeps mum about what's going on with the tires, and the Camry feels nervous on the road. The ride is soft, overly soft, possibly as an effort to please every rump. You can dance the Camry if you're up for a challenge, though, it is capable enough. VSC is part of the Option B package that includes power adjustable seats with leather upholstery and heaters and mats for the floor as well as the trunk, and Toyota's aggressive stability control calibration means it'd take a ton of nerve to get in trouble.

After spending a week with the Camry, we now understand why it's such a good seller; it's a good car with a great reputation. Unlike 15 years ago, the Camry's not just duking it out with the Accord anymore. Domestic brands are turning out cars that we find far more compelling in terms of styling, price and features, not to mention initial quality, and let's not forget Hyundai's juggernaut Sonata. The Camry XLE isn't a screaming bargain for the $28,000 our sample unit cost either, but Toyota has a track record of impressive reliability and longevity with the Camry, important for buyers looking for an automotive sure thing, and that's a huge check in this car's plus column for the average consumer.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Kelly Blue Book's review called The seat cover fabric, "teddy bear seat covers", bland is about the best word to describe "The Family Camry". FYI, out of the six competitors in the Blue Book test, Nissan, Honda, Malibu, Fusion, Camry and Hyundai, the MAILBU was the winner.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The Camry is the automotive equivalent of a toaster oven. It works, it does its job, and you never have to give it an ounce of thought. However, how many people you know like to talk about their toaster oven at the water cooler. Likewise, the Camry customer could care less about cars. They just want something that works and will toast toast every morning without fault. It just so happens that there are hundreds of thousands of these types of customers out there. So, is it the best car out there, or the best appliance? Good review.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I was thinking about this car this morning, reflecting on some of the recent comments here and other places about what GM is and isn't doing wrong (mostly is) and one thing that occurred to me is that while the Malibu is a worthy car relative to the Camry, it isn't promoted.

      GM is churning out "halo" cars - Pontiac G8 GT, Camaro, Solstice/ Skye...not cars that will save GM: the Malibu is that.

      GM needs to take on the Camry with the Malibu - for real - in NASCAR. What are they racing? Monte Carlo? How big is the market for 2-door pieces of s*!#?

      Toyota races the Camry. The Camry is a race car (even if in name only). Camry sales are what drives Toyota market share including WalMart going, NASCAR watching Camry buyers.

      GM, take on the Camry, put Malibu decals on the COT and get on with it. Promote the car you need to sell so we don't have to give you $20 billion of our hard earned tax-payer money.

        • 7 Years Ago
        WalMart and Target customers. UPS users, FedEx users, AT&T wireless subscribers, M&M's eaters, Mountain Dew Drinkers, Pepsi drinkers, Crown 7 drinkers....

        And that is without having seen anything but 30 minutes of the Daytona 500 in February (I'm and F1 fan).

        All those folks drive cars. Obviously many drive Camrys. Only dentists and cougars drive things like current Monte Carlos and 6 Series BMW's - depending on their economic status, degree of sedentaryness and intelligence.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I agree with the whole marketing thing, but NASCAR????? Who cares about that?? Who buys based what runs on the truck?
      • 7 Years Ago
      an interesting perk of my job is cleaning and servicing rental cars, so I get the opportunity to drive a lot of different cars. I have not driven the Fusion, but I have driven the Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Sonata, Camry, Accord, and Malibu. The Malibu in particular has been eye opening...the review here is correct it is leagues ahead of the Camry in interior design and quality. I'd also add (and I can't believe I'm saying this) that the Chevy's inline 4 is far less offensive than the Camry's. I can still feel some vibrations in the Toyota, but in the Malibu, I had to double check and see if I was in a V-6 because of how quickly, quietly, and smoothly the engine revved.

      Inoffensive is quite correct. There wasn't anything horrifically awful about the Camry, but also nothing that inspired the least bit of passion or made the car seem the least bit desirable.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Hmmm... The economical Chevy Malibu, LT2 with 160hp I4, 6-spd, leather based at $22,534 with above avg reliability. And luxury Lacrosse CXL with 200hp V6, 4-spd, leather based at $25,713 with 5star reliability. The Camry at $28k is getting pricey, it should be around $21 to be a home run against these Detroit competitors.
      • 7 Years Ago
      They do have plenty of space inside- something Americans tend to like. However, the quality of materials I find to be lousy, and the ride is far too soft. Can't say about handling, since I haven't driven a recent one, but from the ride I would imagine that it doesn't compare to any RWD sedan, or even something like a Mazda 6.

      That all being said they are tremendously popular as taxis here in Canada because their balance of size, low-maintenance costs, and fuel efficiency.
      • 7 Years Ago
      toonaki, you had me laughing out loud with your comments on page 4! Thank you for putting the Camry haters in their place! You and Paul are 100% correct. The Toyota Camry is the number 1 selling car in this country for a reason.

      I am a car enthusiast. Have been since I was a child. I have owned may cars, foreign & domestic, sporty & not. A car does not have to be a sports car or a hot rod for me to like it because I like cars period. Thus, I can respect cars like the Camry. Yes it is a mainstream family sedan. So what? Why does that mean it deserves to be ripped apart by every atuomotive reviewer on the planet? I too am sick and tired of seeing the Camry be torn to pieces by these "enthusiasts". The Camry is a quiet, well built, very attractive, roomy car that does it's job well. It deserves respect, and I do not find it hard to believe that there are many Camry owners who love them. I myself have owned 2 Camrys (A 1993 and a 2005) and I loved them both. No car is "boring". What exactly is boring about driving? I have never understood that theory. I have a ton of fun driving my classic 1986 Chevy Camaro IROC-Z, but I also had fun in my Camrys, and other non sporty cars that I owned.

      Long live the Camry. It is a great car.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I qoute from your article "Malibu slay the Camry's interior. Even in the XLE with its leather upholstery, it's disappointing". Every American sedan interior I sit in feels terrible. The surfaces feel rough and never offer enough space. And that's when they are new. As a car salesman, I see enough used cars. The Cadillac we just had, has a armrest that's falling off, and it's less than 2 years old. While you might not like the styling of the Camry, at least it will last. And if you don't like it that much, buy an American car that will fall apart after a couple of years. So, what are you interested in, the short term, or the long term? I can't afford to buy American when it comes to automobiles. Plus you dismiss where a car is made. The Camry is made in Gerogetown, Kentucky by American workers. Where was the Chevy made? Canada, or Mexico?
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is a boring comment about a boring sedan.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm happy to see Autoblog taking the time to review this most ordinary of cars. In some sense, it sits at the center of the automotive universe in the U.S., and it's worth checking in once in a while to see exactly what a "standard" car is.
        • 7 Years Ago

        Low quality interior materials: check.
        uneven fit of said low quality panels: check.
        Underpowered: 158hp? check.
        Under-sprung: check.
        Under-damped: check.
        Overpriced: check.
        Horrific fake wood: check.

        Reading the review leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The vehicle is lambasted for issues, then the same issues are immediately given a pass due to overall sales volume and perceived long term reliability (which is also, no longer a true statement).

        Side note: I see someone else has my username now. Glad to see there can be duplicate users, and now time to change my name to something more unique.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Obviously none of you live at high altitudes, or take frequent trips up very large hills (also referred to as Mountains)
        • 7 Years Ago
        Really? wow... I will go and buy a Toyota right now! That's amazing that such a big corporation cares cares so much about the air we breathe! is this amazing recirc feature available on the gas guzzler Tundra too? Because really, nothing says irony more than a 12mpg V8 spewing pollution into the air at a rate three times that of this wonderful XLE crapbox while still enjoying an air cleaner advanced enough to clean up the air of a coal power plant in 7.2 seconds....

        what a moron.
          • 7 Years Ago
          Oh, also? You apparently have no idea what irony is. The real irony here is that you think I'm the moron.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'm a little annoyed that some of the review doesn't take into account why some of the things are that way. For one thing, the transmission is perfectly capable of executing very fast downshifts and staying out of higher gears...but because it's a learning transmission you have to actually teach it what you want it to do (so if you hit the gas and it doesn't downshift you should lift off and hit the gas hard enough to trigger a downshift, eventually it'll realize you're an impatient lunatic and just snap into downshifts when you want).
        And the reason the circulation is coming on by default is probably just because there's been a lot of research that shows running without the circulation leads to more heart attacks and lung problems since you're basically sucking in air coming out of the exhaust of the poorly maintained car in front of you.

        Look, there's even a study based exactly on this showing that the Camry got the air down to office-setting quality within 3 minutes, and even if you were driving through a coal-fired powerplant it'd clean it up in 20 minutes.

        There's also the fact that you can turn on and off recirculate on the steering wheel in the XLE, so it's a trivial matter if you're driving down a clean road, or you just want fresh air even if it's dirtier.

        Seriously, trashing the Camry for automatically turning on something that'll make people live longer and breathe easier is pretty silly.

        Oh and one last thing. The XLE's climate control system has an ionizer. I mention this not because ionization cleans air particularly well, but because ions are what gives the air from outside of the car that "fresh" feeling. So running the XLE's system on recirculation shouldn't give you too much of that cooped up feeling at all, making it almost pointless to ever turn off recirculation since doing so would only serve to pollute your cabin.

        Autoblog, how about you guys think about WHY Toyota would have defaulted the system to recirculate before you write a review about it? Toyota didn't change to recirculate by default because they wanted to mess with your mind. They did it because it'll keep the air not only healthier, but the XLE's ionizer keeps it fresh feeling-meaning most people will only be turning off recirc to get rid of their farts, lol.
        • 7 Years Ago
        This is not an ordinary car. It's $28,000 for a bland, cheap-plastic-laden car where corners have been cut at every chance (oh except "reliability"). It boggles my mind to think people are actually shelling out that kind of money for a car like this.
        • 7 Years Ago
        158hp 161ft-lbs isn't bad
        but the new 2.5 179hp 172ft-lbs or the 2.7 187hp 186ft-lbs would be better, especially with a 6 speed auto.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Underpowered at 158 horses? Are you freaking kidding me??????

        I find it amazing that people DEMAND horsepower numbers that high for economy cars. How about 90 like my TDI Beetle? Or even 75 to 80, like the older Swifts? You don't need that much horsepower.
        • 7 Years Ago
        you have 4th gear for altitude or hills
        and 3rd gear for hills at altitude

        and 2nd gear for haulin' up Pike's Peak.
        • 7 Years Ago

        Underpowered? 158hp would definitely be underpowered for a pick-up truck, for a large SUV or for a sports car, but it's more than enough for driving in city streets and on highways at 65-70 mph.

        Not everybody's into drag racing you know. And those who are into it represent a very small minority of car buyers, especially new cars.

        Luckily, some companies understand that current cars are underpowered, and they came up with the G8, and they're selling like hot cakes. Yeah right.

        I do agree on the horrific fake wood though.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Or my 86 Fiero. 35MPG out of 92HP.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I find it interesting that instead of Taurus' and Impalas wearing the rental car stickers these days, it's the Camrys and Accords.

      My girlfriend has an Accord and it's one of the most boring places to be in, black plastic (that scratches and shows marks everywhere) surrounds you. Plastic trim pieces have fallen off of every area of the car and the reliablity has not been on par with the reputation. As soon as she can afford to get out of it, she's trading up to a better vehicle.

      That makes me wonder if that if the domestics can weather the economy and start regaining a reputation, if you won't see the Japanese end up in the boat the domestics sat in 5 years ago.

      With the number of Camrys and Accords available for used car resale, along with their less than stellar interiors and declining reliability, will their values sink like the domestics did?
      • 7 Years Ago
      what no "gold" trim?
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