I'm a car enthusiast. There, now that we've got that out of the way, I can say that I actually happen to like the whipping boy of the automotive journalism industry. I've owned number of vehicles, ran...
I'm a car enthusiast. There, now that we've got that out of the way, I can say that I actually happen to like the whipping boy of the automotive journalism industry. I've owned number of vehicles, ranging from taut and sporty to big and comfortable, and have driven many more. The Toyota Camry definitely fits into the latter category; however, from 2012 onward the Camry has been stiffened up and made a bit more driver-centric (though you'd never know that from the mass loathing this car gets on the internet).
Comparing cars MSRP to MSRP, the Camry is hardly favorable against more exciting entries into the the mid-size competition (See the Honda Accord or Mazda 6). However, as the reigning king of sales, Toyota is giving major discounts on many models to stay competitive. In this case, I purchased a new base-model Camry L upgraded with keyless entry and the XLE's leather upholstery and still undercut the MSRP by almost six large.
The 2.5L four-pot puts out 178 horses and 170 lb-ft of twist at the front axle, which makes it slightly less powerful than most of it's competition. Fortunately, at roughly 3200 pounds dry, it's also one of the lightest mid-sizers. The engine is creamy-smooth, rev-happy, and delivers a surprising amount of low-end grunt. The standard 6-speed automatic gearbox is also smooth and rarely gets in its on way during hard acceleration or passing maneuvers, and the selectable manual or "sport" mode operates smoothly and relatively obediently. The engine regularly returns just below its promised 30mpg mixed (my measurements put the exact number around 29), but I've (briefly) seen the fuel mileage crack 37mpg. Not bad at all.
Much has been made of the numb steering, and while the wheel does not communicate information from the front wheels very well, it's significantly improved from previous models. It's still over-boosted and extremely light, but it's also linear and still loads up slightly in effort off-center. The chassis and suspension are not exactly sporty, but the car feels capable and solidly planted. The ride is pillowy-soft, but controlled; an improvement over the boat-like characteristics of early models. Due to the overly light steering effort, however, expect to make small adjustments relatively frequently. Regardless, this car eats highway miles with absolute ease.
The interior is quiet, refined, but frankly dated in design. Which is perfectly fine by me, because it's spacious and functional and ergonomical. I do question the completely hard plastic door inserts and the odd Fisher-Price grade plastic with fake stitching around the lower half of the center stack, but otherwise the cabin is a nice place to spend a lot of time. Wide, soft seats keep the driver comfortable (I'm 6'3" and 170 pounds, so your comfort might vary). The standard six-speaker audio and infotainment system is excellent; standing toe-to-toe with my wife's 10-speaker Bose outfitted in her car (and I'm an audiophile). Overall, the look isn't appreciably modern, but it feels relatively upscale and avoids the cheesy Star-Wars-setpiece design cues of other competition.
Exterior styling is a matter of taste. It's overly conservative, yes, but the lack of forward and rearward windshield raking means the cabin is more airy and the rear seats more roomy than in the Fusion, 6, or Optima. Despite it's been-there-done-that visual cues, it still looks much better than the Passat or the already-aging Sonata, and it avoids aping supercars it has no competition with, a la Fusion. Again, if making a visual statement is all you care about, go with the Kia Optima or 6.
Overall, the Toyota remains the most conservative choice in the mid-size market. It does everything well and nothing poorly, and it's driving character has improved significantly over previous models. Other options are "better" (Again, Accord or 6 come to mind), but when dealers frequently undercut the MSRP by 3-4 grand, you can't go wrong - especially with typical Toyota low maintenance costs and strong resale value. Definitely gets my recommendation.