By on January 14, 2009

Fact: high school reunions make their attendees change their long-standing beliefs about their former classmates. Consider the quiet girl nobody noticed who turned into a beautiful woman when nobody was looking. That’s my first reaction to meeting the Toyota Camry SE on a fast sweeper. And while the inner-teenager never forgot the person from yesteryear, do Pistonheads need to give the rarely mentioned, often overlooked Camry SE another chance? Or do some things never change?

There’s good reason the Camry SE takes the lion’s share of bandwidth on Toyota’s website. But as vintage car collectors often say, this one’s a twenty-footer at best. From there, the studly ground effects, sleek fog lights and blacked out rear bumper give the mundane Camry a lower and wider (looking) stance. Walk any closer and its afterthought attachment methodology looks right at home in an APC catalog. Even with the subtle rear wing successfully muting the egregious Bangle Butt homage, the SE’s only bright spot is a deep dish, trapezoidal black out grille lifted from the last-gen Mustang. You can’t fix ugly.

But wait, there’s less! The SE takes the rightly-panned interior quality of the current Camry and tries to make amends. The revised Optitron gauge faces go from seriously silly to somewhat serious with the complementary silver interior accents surrounding the driver. While the SE’s unique seat covers have a touch more style, grip and comfort, the cabin’s real claim to fame is the tiller: a tasty three-spoke dish with a meaty (leather-wrapped) rim that’s perfect for what makes this option package so appealing.

But a Boxster it ain’t. Let’s be clear: this is the sedan of choice for many if not most Americans. Fine with me: there’s plenty of room for five, a decent stereo and all the trappings of modest modern sedans. And the Camry is the no-brainer choice for not-so-picky families. Which leads to the SE’s biggest downside: a rear strut-tower brace translates into a fixed rear seat.

While the ski-pass rear cubby is a smart concession from Toyota, the omission of the big black hole shall wrinkle customer’s noses. On the plus side, the bench’s back cushion feels better than the flat-chested affair of a mere Camry LE. More to the point, one turn out of the driveway makes cargo hauling a distant memory.

The extra cargo space is no big loss when Toyota makes a Camry that puts driver involvement in the driver’s seat. With their self-proclaimed “sport tuned” shocks, springs and extra body bracing, the SE carves and cuts with negligible body roll. The 3300lb body stays flat, and understeer comes fashionably late to the party. Yes, really.

Combined with standard 17” wheels, even the SE’s (supposedly unchanged) steering feels ideally weighted and more accurate than its LE brother. Going with the refined body motions, braking is more controlled and distinctly easy on nose dive. To say this model moves better than other Camry’s is disingenuous; the SE could be the best handling family sedan in the country.

If you’re thinking the Camry SE builds upon the solid foundation of the base model, the powertrain won’t disappoint. Sure, there’s a rev-happy V6 in the options list. But with the fuel economy penalty, extra cost, and interference with the SE’s delightful dynamics, the 158 horse four-cylinder mill is a smarter choice. Only the most determined leadfoot misses the extra grunt around town, though highway passing is a chore even with a nicely matched automatic doing a fine job swapping between five cogs. Ah, the things we do to avoid mid-corner torque steer.

And with every give, there’s another take. The Camry’s trademark float and wallow go back to the Brougham from whence they came. Even with a rock-solid chassis, the ride is distinctly Germanic in demeanor, thumping on pavement joints and crashing through potholes. If the Camry’s perceived dynamic qualities were a brand unto itself, there’d be a Farago-esque rant about sending the SE to detention for its poor behavior. Maybe that’s why I rarely see the SE prowling the streets, hungry for pavement and recognition.

And let’s face it; brand loyalty is a quality ToMoCo has by the metric ton. Add the Camry’s requisite blend of bland styling and (Buick) Park Avenue dynamics and you have the most obvious formula for success since the Yalta Conference. If the unique tuning of the Camry SE met its maker in Toyota’s current financial predicament, would anyone notice?

Our readers know there’s a Pistonhead slant to every review in our portfolio, and the Camry SE is four doors of “pleasant surprise” in a place we’d never expect. Hell, it’s a sleeper of the highest order with a good driver. So if a Pistonhead is forced (by familial relations or otherwise) into America’s best selling car, take the cake that’s both available and edible.

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58 Comments on “Review: 2009 Toyota Camry SE...”


  • avatar
    Sanman111

    Sajeev,

    I must say there is a certain shock to you being so enthusiastic about the driving dynamics of the Camry SE. Also, a slight shocker on the recommendation of the smaller engine…though I agree with you. But, do you really think the Camry handles better than the Mazda 6 or the Legacy? Good review overall though.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    How are the brakes? On the last Camry I drove the platters were so tiny that I went sailing through a stop sign after a couple of minutes of spirited driving. Not by choice or lack of awareness, but because they had faded so bad. Luckily no one was coming.

  • avatar
    thoots

    Sajeev,

    Thanks for reviewing the “not-boring” Camry SE.

    I’ll sure take that rear “V-brace” over a flip-down rear seat, any time — chassis rigidity is one of the things that really helps transform the SE’s handling.

    And indeed, that three-spoke wheel is fine, along with the well-bolstered seats, especially in leather. I definitely prefer the SE in black leather to any other Camry interior.

    As for “thumping over pavement joints” and such, that’s another reason to recommend moving up to the V6 — the extra weight over the front wheels really helps to smooth out the ride over rough surfaces. With the accompanying 6-speed auto transmission, it doesn’t hardly even cost more in terms of fuel mileage — it’s a very minimal hit. And it’s a whole boatload of extra power, if you like that kind of thing.

    In the end, there’s a world of difference between a Camry SE V6 and the common LE four-cylinder car — it’s got all of the “boring” quality, reliability, and refinement of the top-selling Camry, but with plenty of power and handling competence.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The SE is just polishing the Camry turd and leaving out some of the utility of the rental spec LE or CE models. The basic 2.4 158 HP 4 banger is adequate. Just don’t get into a race with a Corolla S, Cobalt 2.2 stick, mazda 6 2.5 or even a 2009 Sonota SE 2.4 automatic. Any of these lower priced cars will outperform the Camry in a straight line and some in the handling department. This car reminds me of a 90′s Buick Regal Grand Sport which was a half hearted attempt at making a touring sedan out of a grandmamobile. Slap on some gound effects, black paint, bucket seats, firmer suspension and pray that some younger drivers notice. Buick at least got it right in the engine department by fitting only the top of the line 3800 205 HP V6 and not the lower output 3100 with 160 HP in there touring GS models of the 90′s.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Which leads to the SE’s biggest downside: a rear strut-tower brace translates into a fixed rear seat.

    This seems bad until you realize that the Accord has a single-piece folding seat that’s equally useless. At least the Camry gives you the option in other trims, where the Accord is completely off the radar for any family with carseat’ed children.

    I’ve driven this car and it is a lot better than the LE trim. Even if it’s purely psychological, the black trim is a lot easier to swallow than the industrial grey of the LE, or the old-folks-home tan of the XLE, and the seats are much nicer. And it is fast, both in I4+Stick and (exceedingly so) in SE V6 trims. I’ve gone flat-out in the SE V6 and it’s terrifyingly fast.

    I don’t think people are at all fair to the Camry. It’s not a bad car (it couldn’t be, not if it sells 3-400,000 in a fickle market), but it isn’t an exciting one, either. It is roomy, it does ride well, gets good mileage and is very quick given it’s class. About my only gripes are the awful grey plastic on the base LE (I’d get the SE for this reason alone), Toyota Canada’s screw-the-customer option package structure, and the lack of the 1.8L four as an option (the car is plenty quick with the 2.4L already, and the V6 is insane).

    To say this model moves better than other Camry’s is disingenuous; the SE could be the best handling family sedan in the country.

    Ballsy assertion, but probably accurate. It’s a wonder what small suspension changes and a set of good tires will do. Mazda’s perennially excellent reviews are largely on the back of the good-quality (but fast-wearing) tires they shoe their cars with.

  • avatar
    Orangutan

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “Get the 2.4 instead of the 3.5″ on this generation of Camry. Two fewer miles per gallon with a less advanced transmission and over 100 fewer horsepower is somehow a good idea?

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    Except that it’s $4 grand more than a Ford Fusion, which will get the job done just as nicely.

  • avatar

    I reviewed the 2007 Camry SE a couple of years ago, and had similar impressions of the ride and handling. The suspension is firmer than that of any competitor, probably because Toyota is offering two suspensions while others usually offer just one. Mazda, for example, has no option of a sport suspension. So if you’re after a firm, tight feel, this is it. For steering precision and accuracy, the Mazda and some others are probably better. (I’m working from a two-year-old memory of the Camry here. And the day I drove it I also drove a Sebring–which made the Camry seem that much better.)

    The marginal quality of the interior plastics is much less obvious in black than it is in tan or gray.

    The 2010 Fusion Sport will be VERY competitive from a performance standpoint. Just sat in one at the auto show, and they haven’t sufficiently upgraded the interior. The door panel in particular seem cheap, even compared to the Camry’s.

    Personally, I’d go with the V6, even with the resulting torque steer.

    On the reliability front, the 2007 Camry V6 had transmission issues. These were resolved with the 2008, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Vehicle Reliability Survey.

    http://www.truedelta.com/latest_results.php

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “Get the 2.4 instead of the 3.5″ on this generation of Camry. Two fewer miles per gallon with a less advanced transmission and over 100 fewer horsepower is somehow a good idea?

    In a perverse change from most cars, the four does do much better on the highway, so if your commute is highway-primary, the four makes sense. It’s also better-balanced, and can be paired with a surprisingly good manual transmission.

    And it’s a lot cheaper to buy.

  • avatar
    SpacemanSpiff

    I applaud Toyota for offering a sport suspension option on the Camry. I wish Honda would do the same with the Accord. And thank you TTAC for reviewing this version.
    I noticed while helping the mom-in-law shop for a Sonata, that the Sonata SE offers a “Sport-Turned Suspension”. Any chance of a review?

  • avatar
    schadenfred

    Well, now I can admit my shame in actually liking the looks of the SE in black, in the Toyota showroom. I said to myself that I must be getting old. I think it had a deck spoiler on it. I recall the salesman telling me that a manual transmission was NOT available on the SE, so, check, please—I’ll go see the Mazda 6. Now I wish I had tested it. Thanks for the review and going out on a limb to skewer a TTAC commenter’s old prejudice—that all Camrys suck. I for one was guilty of it.

    psarhjinian beat me to two points—the Accord has a useless fold down rear as well (I asked myself, why do the seat fold down at all?); and the I4s are better than ever, and I will add that gas will not stay at depressed prices forever. As for the manual on the SE, I will have to check that.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Nice review Sajeev – it’s nice to see a Camry review based on unbiased impressions rather than the somewhat tired Camry cliches commonly found in the automotive press.

    The “Best family sedan” assertion is definitely a bold statement – have you had a chance to compare it to the 4 banger Fusion and Mazda 6?

  • avatar
    Flake

    I’m with carguy on this one…it’s definitely nice to see an unbiased Camry review. I think people automatically rule out the Camry because of its boring old man rep. In reality, give the SE a chance and it’s seriously competitive with other cars in this class, plus you get the bonus of Toyo reliability and resale.

    I actually traded in a Mazda 6 for a Camry SE stick when the 07 came out (YES, you can get a stick, just have to know where to look). The old 6 handled a little better (but not much), and the Fusion and new 6 probably still do, but the Camry seems to be the best all-around compromise in the marketplace when you add in all of the other things that make a Camry a smart, if boring, choice.

  • avatar
    carguy622

    According to Toyota’s US website you can get the 4 cylinder with a stick. How easy it is to come by… that’s another story. I know personally I would go with the 4 cylinder and a manual transmission. Athough my top choice would be a 4 cylinder Fusion with the 6 speed manual.

    It’s nice to see that not all Camry models are handling messes.

    Does the SE Camry really handle better than an Altima, does the SE have any “soul”, or is it just a fine handling appliance. While some cars handle well, sometimes they don’t connect with the driver on a higher level, so to speak.

    Also, c’mon Toyota make stability control standard on Camry. You added the knee airbag, that probably cost just as much, and it’s better to avoid an accident in the first place.

  • avatar
    iganpo

    I rented a 2007 Camry LE 4 cylinder a few months ago. I was quite impressed by its strong brakes and how solid and controlled the suspension felt. I didn’t know Camry’s could actually feel pretty planted on the road, given the way past Camrys wallow. Could the SE’s suspension tweaks then actually make this “the best handling family sedan in the country”?

    The steering feedback on my rental Camry had a strange, lifeless feel to it. Is it electrically assisted? What about in the SE?

    I think it’s stupid to give up the functionality of a flip down rear seat just to get additional bracing from a rear strut tower. Who is really going to notice the improved stiffness? Camry SE is for spiriting around the town driving, not for tracking.

  • avatar
    ca36gtp

    Sooo, it’s still ugly. What was the point of the opening paragraph, then?

  • avatar
    willbodine

    The standard Camry has long been known as a better car to ride in than to drive. Having not driven an SE, I still don’t know if that’s changed.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I’m definitely suprised by this review. I’ve been in the SE, auto-equipped, probably 6-cyl., and I was disgusted. That opinion might be challenged by the stick version, as I liked the engine, but I doubt I could get over the awful (epic sport fail) steering. On the other hand I’ve always had a relatively good time in underpowered Mazda 6′s and various VW’s, so I just find it hard to believe that this thing delivers as advertised here, and I certainly don’t believe it’s, “the best handling family sedan in the country.” Then again, I haven’t driven a Camry in a year or two, so maybe things have changed. I would be seriously happy if I could go back to liking Toyota product.

    I think you really need some back-to-back time in this car with the German and Japanese competition, to say nothing of the price competitive rwd Chrysler 300 family given the claims made here.

    Flake, good for you buying the stick, I don’t know how it occured to you that they might still have one. I’ve never even seen a stick in a late-model Camry, and I pay attention to these things.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Supposedly the [very] slightly facelifted 2010 Camry is coming w/ a 6MT or 6AT for both engines. The 6MT and the 6cyl SE sounds like it would be a fun little ride.

  • avatar
    osnofla

    great review sajeev!
    i just wish there would be a review of a manual camry SE but i guess i’ll have to try it out myself. right now i’m torn between the possibility of getting an accord, camry, 6 or even a malibu but i haven’t spent any time in the latter 2.
    i’m on a tight budget and looking for a roomy, reliable car and this review couldn’t have come with better timing.

  • avatar
    TomAnderson

    I test drove an SE 4 cylinder AT a while back and came away very impressed with how much fun it was, not only compared to my dad’s Camry Hybrid, but a lot of other sedans with sporting pretensions, too.
    And while I didn’t drive it on the freeway or really ghastly pavement, I was able to drive a V6 SE through my old job, and my 24-year-old keister thought it rode just fine on the 405.
    Definitely a gem hidden in plain sight, though I see quite a few here in SoCal.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Not seeing anyone clamor for an unbiased Buick review. Guess it’s only ok to be unbiased if it’s for a Toyota, huh? No, I’m not flaming the authors. I just read 100+ posts stereotyping what Buick’s new tagline should be.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Um…

    Lack of pull down rear seats isn’t that bad of a thing. On the LE/CE/XLE, you can only fold down the seats from two little plastic pull-things from the trunk. It’s really frustrating, annoying, and when the seats do fold down, they go at a weird angle, reveal lots of styrofoam bits, etc. etc.

    But yea, they got to fix that “glued on” look of the bodykit. :P Personally, I’d prefer the V-brace thing and 17-inch wheels with LE bodystyle. More ground clearance, and better looking.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    zzzzzz…oh, uh what, I was just looking at some Camry pictures and I dozed off, almost thought I read something about it being sporty, wierd.

  • avatar
    thoots

    Replying to some rather typical comments….

    The SE isn’t just some bolt-on cosmetic pieces and a stiffened suspension. Just like the rear brace isn’t really a “shock tower” brace. It’s a large, V-shaped brace that goes from approximately the outer tops of the rear seats, to the “point of the V” at the lower middle of the seats. This is “engineering” that stiffens the entire body — not just the suspension. The XLE model also has this brace, instead of folding rear seats.

    And the suspension isn’t really just “stiffened” — the major components are more advanced shock absorbers and springs, along with a front shock tower brace and the rear V-brace. It’s more of a matter that the “body” is stiffened, and the shocks are tuned for better handling.

    My understanding of comparisons to others in the segment goes something like this: Nobody else is doing the kind of body stiffening that Camry does — most of the others don’t have a “sport-tuned version,” at all. I’m not aware of anyone putting in the kind of highly-bolstered sport seats and three-spoke steering wheel like Camry does. “Get the coupe” if you want that kind of stuff from Accord and Altima.

    Mileage reports from the Toyota forums show the V6 as having mileage very close to the I4 — especially on the freeways. Consumer Reports lists mileage figures from its standard test loop, and the V6 was one MPG short of the I4, with the V6 getting the same MPG as the Accord I4.

    For 2010, there’s no manual for the V6, but the SE gets even more power out of the new 2.5-liter I4 (179 HP), and can be had with the 6-speed manual. If you can find one.

  • avatar
    Vorenus

    psarhjinian :
    January 14th, 2009 at 10:26 am

    And it is fast, both in I4+Stick and (exceedingly so) in SE V6 trims. I’ve gone flat-out in the SE V6 and it’s terrifyingly fast.

    Um… we *are* talking about a Camry here, right?
    when you went “flat out” in the V6, I am assuming that you were already moving before hammering it, because SURELY there would’ve been wheelspin/hop/torquesteer shenanigans had you attempted to take off briskly from a stop.

    I too, will take a Fusion over this.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Um… we *are* talking about a Camry here, right?
    when you went “flat out” in the V6, I am assuming that you were already moving before hammering it, because SURELY there would’ve been wheelspin/hop/torquesteer shenanigans had you attempted to take off briskly from a stop.

    I drive a non-Epsilon Saab 9-3. You don’t know from torque steer until you’ve punched it in that car.

    Truthfully, the traction- and stability control do a good job of mitigating the SE V6′s more amusing front-drive characteristics, and once in motion the car really is very, very fast. Faster than a mainstream sedan really needs to be. It’s not like any front-driver with a near-thee-hundred-horsepower V6 is going to be much better.

    Unless you dull the steering and suspension down a lot and screw with the throttle (a la Impala SS/Grand Prix GXP) this is about as good as it gets.

  • avatar
    dean

    Holy cow, psar, you’d fill your pants if you went WOT on a sportbike! ;)

    I’ve never understood all the hatred for the Camry’s appearance. Nowhere near as good as an A4 for sure, but in black it doesn’t look that bad. Certainly miles better than the previous gen Malibu. And I’d take it over the current Accord, too.

  • avatar
    Qusus

    Doesn’t a this V6 Camry run 0-60 in like 6 seconds?

    It doesn’t matter what’s on the nameplate, roll the windows down and a time like that is definitely fast.

    Still… calling a Camry “terrifyingly fast” is so… strange, even if it is true.

  • avatar

    Let me channel my inner Chris Cornell here…

    BURN IT LIKE GASOLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENNN!

    Actually, burn it *with* gasoline. Cars like this are the enemy of genuine automotive enthusiasm. They are the mediocre product which drives out the good. They are the chaff which hides the wheat, the dross which obscures the gold.

    I’d rather have a first-gen Chrysler LH.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    I must be crazy because I really like how this car looks. I have high resolution pictures of it on my hard drive.

    I was happy to see the positive review, as I tire of enthusiast types dogging everything that Toyota makes with the usual grab bag of synonyms for “boring”.

  • avatar
    onerareviper

    Geez, 158HP in a 3,300 slushbox? No thanks. I must be one of those ‘determined leadfoots’. ;)

  • avatar

    Sajeev,
    Thanks for being fair.

    I’m one of those supposedly lame Camry owners.
    So, how is it possible I could race an Audi TT on the mountain road to the ski resort the other day, flying by all those boring SUVs? The Audi only got away by passing over a double solid line, what a big no-no.

    It’s all about mindset (and good tires).

  • avatar
    pariah

    This review has awaked in me an old thought I used to have when I thought of the Camry:

    If you were to take the V6 model, with over 250hp and almost as much torque, and stiffen up the body and suspension a little bit, and throw on some grippy tires, would it actually be a fun car to drive? It’s always seemed to me like less than $1500 would be enough to transform this roomy, comfortable, powerful family hauler into a roomy, comfortable, powerful family hauler which could tackle corners as adequately and with as much excitement, perhaps moreso, than some FWD sporty sedans like the Altima or Mazda6. As boring as the Camry seems most of the time, it feels like there’s some potential to be wrung from it…

  • avatar
    jmo

    Cars like this are the enemy of genuine automotive enthusiasm. They are the mediocre product which drives out the good. They are the chaff which hides the wheat, the dross which obscures the gold.

    I’d rather have a first-gen Chrysler LH.

    You, sir, are a crazy person.

  • avatar
    chanman

    I gotta wonder if the Camry SE’s move up in Sajeev’s books might have to do with the replacement of the previous generation Accord…

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    The 1998-2002 Accords still have everyone’s daddy.

  • avatar
    Tarditi

    So you pan the wrx and laud the camry…
    Perhaps it was a matter of the respective bars to be hurdled…?

    Otherwise, it’s official: the world is totally on its ear.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Holy cow, psar, you’d fill your pants if you went WOT on a sportbike! ;)

    I can’t fit on a sportbike. I’ve tried. It’s actually funny to watch, though. The don’t build those things for people with thirty-six inch inseams and size fourteen feet.

    Anyway, the point is that this Camry can do 0-60 in nearly six seconds, and isn’t terribly expensive to buy or maintain. Unlike obliquely sporty cars that happen to be cheap, this is mainstream sedan, and appeals to a lot of people who probably shouldn’t ride a bicycle, let alone go 0-60 in 6. Some drivers are going to get themselves in serious trouble in this car.

    The Sienna and RAV/4 are even worse. I’m all for eight hundred horse luxury sedans, but a seven-seat cute-ute that can easily get under seven seconds? Why?

  • avatar

    Thank you all for reading. For the record, if you see any similarities between this review and Farago’s take on the IS-F, we came to a similar conclusion by dumb luck and perfect timing. Seriously.

    ———————-
    Sanman111 : I must say there is a certain shock to you being so enthusiastic about the driving dynamics of the Camry SE.

    Can you imagine how shocked I am?

    ———————-
    Sanman111 : Also, a slight shocker on the recommendation of the smaller engine…though I agree with you. But, do you really think the Camry handles better than the Mazda 6 or the Legacy?

    Me no likey torque steer and the V6 even pulls the wheel above 80mph when it does a (6-3?) downshift at WOT! The V6 is very, very fast and will make a great sleeper, but it still won’t put the power down for the SE’s suspension. And the tranny’s grandma-friendly throttle response is way too easy to understeer off your race line. Yuck.

    I haven’t driven the new 6 yet, but like mentioned above, a lot of Mazda’s credit goes to their great tires. There’s something appealing about the Camry’s value proposition (real or perception) when paired with a decent suspension.

    ———————-
    Detroit-Iron : How are the brakes? On the last Camry I drove the platters were so tiny that I went sailing through a stop sign after a couple of minutes of spirited driving.

    I never cooked the brakes long enough to tell…and the city of Houston is not the ideal place to perform multiple panic stops. Too flat, too straight and a fully respectable law enforcement comes with the package.

    ———————-
    thoots : As for “thumping over pavement joints” and such, that’s another reason to recommend moving up to the V6 — the extra weight over the front wheels really helps to smooth out the ride over rough surfaces. With the accompanying 6-speed auto transmission, it doesn’t hardly even cost more in terms of fuel mileage — it’s a very minimal hit. And it’s a whole boatload of extra power, if you like that kind of thing.

    I’d be surprised if the V6 powertrain rides much better, mostly because Toyota (probably) has stronger (lb/inch) springs to carry the extra weight. If they didn’t the V6 models would look like hot rods compared to the four bangers.

    I wonder what the weight distributions are between V6 and I-4 models, because there’s something to be said about making the Camry less nose heavy.

    ———————-
    ponchoman49 : Just don’t get into a race with a Corolla S, Cobalt 2.2 stick, mazda 6 2.5 or even a 2009 Sonota SE 2.4 automatic.

    Only one of those is the same size as the Camry, ya know. I do agree with your Buick GS reference, but the difference is that the W-body never had a crazy powerful top-line motor for massive torque steer (until recently). I’d like to see a 220hp, 3.0L V6 in a Camry to split the difference.

    ———————-
    psarhjinian: This seems bad until you realize that the Accord has a single-piece folding seat that’s equally useless. At least the Camry gives you the option in other trims, where the Accord is completely off the radar for any family with carseat’ed children.

    Well at least you can shop at IKEA with your kids, then pick up the stuff later in the Accord. But since we went there, I gotta say the size/shape of the pass-thru on ALL Camry’s is pretty lousy.

    Strangely enough, the folding rear seat on the Impala is probably the best of them all…totally flat and easy to operate. And its made by GM. Surprised?

    ———————-
    Orangutan : I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “Get the 2.4 instead of the 3.5″ on this generation of Camry. Two fewer miles per gallon with a less advanced transmission and over 100 fewer horsepower is somehow a good idea?

    Have you driven one of these V6 Toyotas when it downshifts and hits the powerband? Drive one and you’ll hear the collective screams of the streets’ RH curbs begging you to get the four-banger.

    ———————-
    Matthew Danda : Except that it’s $4 grand more than a Ford Fusion, which will get the job done just as nicely.

    Question is, can you convince your wife/friends/family of that, or will they get a Camry LE after they (pretend) to care what you think about non-Toyotas?

    ———————-
    SpacemanSpiff : I noticed while helping the mom-in-law shop for a Sonata, that the Sonata SE offers a “Sport-Turned Suspension”. Any chance of a review?

    I only see sporty 17” rubber on their website, but I guess its worth a look. Thanks, I will add it to the TTAC queue.

    ———————-
    Flake : In reality, give the SE a chance and it’s seriously competitive with other cars in this class, plus you get the bonus of Toyo reliability and resale.

    I forgot the resale part. The cost of tires and that fact puts it ahead of the Mazda 6 for a lot of people, including Pistonheads.

    ———————-
    carguy622 : Does the SE Camry really handle better than an Altima, does the SE have any “soul”, or is it just a fine handling appliance. While some cars handle well, sometimes they don’t connect with the driver on a higher level, so to speak.

    I think the V6 is more of a “fine handling appliance” while the four-banger has a responsive and lively powertrain that works very nicely with the suspension. Ratchet that feeling up a few notches with a stick (for sure). Again, can’t comment on the Altima because it’s been years since I’ve driven one. Both are nice Pistonhead family sedans…

    ———————-
    iganpo: The steering feedback on my rental Camry had a strange, lifeless feel to it. Is it electrically assisted? What about in the SE?

    It’s the same steering according to Toyota, but it feels better with the SE wheel/tire combo. The feel still isn’t near perfect, but it didn’t disappoint.

    ———————-
    iganpo: I think it’s stupid to give up the functionality of a flip down rear seat just to get additional bracing from a rear strut tower. Who is really going to notice the improved stiffness? Camry SE is for spiriting around the town driving, not for tracking.

    From my experience in chassis bracing on mundane sedans, you’d be surprised just how much is gained from a couple metal tubes bolted in the right places. I wouldn’t question it unless I (was allowed to) remove the rear bar myself and go for a spin.

    ———————-
    ca36gtp : Sooo, it’s still ugly. What was the point of the opening paragraph, then?

    To make you at least re-think the notion of changing your feelings on a Camry. For the record, I still wasn’t interested in the chica at my reunion…but she made me do a few doubletakes!

    ———————-
    willbodine : The standard Camry has long been known as a better car to ride in than to drive. Having not driven an SE, I still don’t know if that’s changed.

    It changed.

    ———————-
    tedward : so I just find it hard to believe that this thing delivers as advertised here, and I certainly don’t believe it’s, “the best handling family sedan in the country.”

    I said it could be, not it is! Go drive it for yourself, or get me the ears of the PR machines at these companies. (I’m just sayin!)

    ———————-
    Qusus : Still… calling a Camry “terrifyingly fast” is so… strange, even if it is true.

    Believe it. I fear the day when a “chipped” V6 Camry gets the jump on my Mark VIII and never looks back. The day when I get out-sleepered will come, and that’s when I make the call to Vortech Engineering.

    ———————-
    EJ_San_Fran : So, how is it possible I could race an Audi TT on the mountain road to the ski resort the other day, flying by all those boring SUVs? The Audi only got away by passing over a double solid line, what a big no-no.

    Holy moly, you’re the guy (or gal) I’m fearing!!!!!!

    ———————-
    jmo : Cars like this are the enemy of genuine automotive enthusiasm. They are the mediocre product which drives out the good. They are the chaff which hides the wheat, the dross which obscures the gold.

    Nope, it’s a sleeper…pure and simple.

    ———————-
    chanman : I gotta wonder if the Camry SE’s move up in Sajeev’s books might have to do with the replacement of the previous generation Accord…

    Haven’t driven the new Accord (yet) but poking around in one certainly helped the Camry’s case. If only Toyota didn’t cheap out on the interior materials…or if only they put these goodies in the mid-1990s models.

  • avatar
    Mr_Sam

    Nice review

    I’m thinking about buying a 2009 SE V6 Camry once the 2010 goes on sale (rebate)

    While the Camry’s interior is a bit substandard. I appreciate the Camry’s perfect IIHS rating, something none of its competition can match. As well as its low 0.28 drag Cd figure and excellent fuel economy.

    Probably throw some TRD springs on as well. It should handle just fine. I’ve seen people complain the TRD springs are uneven but the stock springs are just as uneven.

    I just wish someone compared a V6 SE Camry so I could compare its slalom to its competition like the Malibu Accord Altima

  • avatar
    davey49

    I’ve only owned cars with sub 200HP engines
    all of the 250+ HP V6 sedans today are a bit scary for me.
    +46 for all the 4 cylinders, not only are the V6s way too heavy for proper balance, if it comes a time when you want to work on your own car they’re near impossible.

  • avatar
    thoots

    Sajeev,

    Hmmmm…..

    Me no likey torque steer and the V6 even pulls the wheel above 80mph when it does a (6-3?) downshift at WOT!

    Oh, now I see: “WOT.” Wide open throttle. Let me provide some perspective for folks who might not want to be racing their SE V6′s:

    I’ve really never “floored” mine. 100%, absolutely no need to. Even when passing on the open road — I’ve put my foot in it, but never really “floored” it.

    So much hand-wringing over torque steer, but I’ve never really experienced it in my 2008 SE V6. Oh, I know it well — I had a second-generation CRX Si with rip-the-wheel-right-out-of-your-hand torque steer. I’d say that the folks who haven’t been flooring it all the time have probably been scratching their heads, wondering “Torque steer??”

    I’d be surprised if the V6 powertrain rides much better, mostly because Toyota (probably) has stronger (lb/inch) springs to carry the extra weight. If they didn’t the V6 models would look like hot rods compared to the four bangers.

    I wonder what the weight distributions are between V6 and I-4 models, because there’s something to be said about making the Camry less nose heavy.

    Don’t know about the weight distribution, but the V6 is “only” 132 pounds more than the I4. I moved from a 2007 XLE I4 to a 2008 SE V6, and right off the bat I noticed two things:

    1. Better handling, obviously.
    2. Substantially smoother ride.

    The V6 just felt — in spades — like it soaked up the bumps better than the I4 did. Perhaps, indeed, the V6 might take a chunk off of how the I4 handles, but it makes for a great combination of better handling plus the smooth Camry ride. Trust me, I started out as a four-cylinder zealot, but the V6 utterly won me over — in the end, it’s a smoother, quieter, more satisfying car, with the smoother ride taking out a lot of the harshness from the firmed-up handling.

    Moving on, I dug up the CR mileage loop numbers. It goes something like this:

    Altima I4: 25
    Camry I4: 24
    Accord I4: 23
    Malibu I4: 23
    Fusion I4: 23
    Mazda 6 I4: 23

    Altima V6: 23
    Camry V6: 23
    Accord V6: 21
    Malibu V6: 20
    Fusion V6: 20
    Mazda 6 V6: 20

    That’s the lower-HP Accord I4, and the variable cylinder management Accord V6, by the way. Bottom line: Not much MPG penalty for the Camry V6 (and, of course, same goes for Altima).

    Finally, I’m kind of mystified by these “interior materials” statements. Maybe it’s because I’ve had only the high-end leather interiors, but I’ve got no complaints. Sure, it’s kind of “spare” in design, and I think it’s correct to say “there’s a lot” of plastic, but the materials are of good and durable quality. Sure, stuff like the high-zoot Malibu two-tone job is pretty, but I don’t really see anything else in the segment as having materials that are higher in quality and durability. After an absolutely, utterly miserable experience in a previous-generation Accord with a rattling clipfest of dozens of interior panels all clipped together, I appreciate how Camry has far fewer panels, and how most of them are actually screwed and/or bolted to the car, rather than clipped to each other. And where it really matters to me — stuff like door and window seals, seat material durability, and body sound deadening materials — I sure think Camry leads the segment, easily.

    And there is nothing at least in the sedan segment that can touch the Camry SE’s sport seat, especially in leather. It’s well worth getting the SE just to get that seat.

  • avatar

    thoots : Oh, now I see: “WOT.” Wide open throttle. Let me provide some perspective for folks who might not want to be racing their SE V6’s:

    I’ve really never “floored” mine. 100%, absolutely no need to. Even when passing on the open road — I’ve put my foot in it, but never really “floored” it.

    It still torque steers pretty bad at throttle inputs less than WOT. And if you have no need to floor it, we are in total agreement. I floorboard (at least once) most every vehicle I test because I want to…and can. And I seriously doubt I am the only person here to do just that.

    Its fun. Even in a frickin’ Camry.

    Don’t know about the weight distribution, but the V6 is “only” 132 pounds more than the I4.

    Trust me, I started out as a four-cylinder zealot, but the V6 utterly won me over — in the end, it’s a smoother, quieter, more satisfying car, with the smoother ride taking out a lot of the harshness from the firmed-up handling.

    That’s good to hear about the weight and ride, though hearing the latter is quite shocking.

    Finally, I’m kind of mystified by these “interior materials” statements.

    Go check out the padded vinyl on the dash and door panels (the whole door panel, not an armrest insert) on the 1993-ish Camry. I just did in a taxicab in Punta Cana. Toyota has been slipping for a while now, and considering the price premium of the Camry over a Fusion/Malibu its more than a little disappointing.

  • avatar
    brianmack

    Came to comment about the near uselessness (is that a word?) of most fold down rear seats. I see a number of people have beaten me to that. Carry on.

  • avatar
    changsta

    I am surprised that you liked the Camry SE so much! My uncle has a 2007 Camry SE V6 and I can’t really say I’m a fan. The V6 is the best aspect of the car in my opinion, as it is VERY smooth, quiet and powerful. If you take that out of the equation, I think the car itself would be incredibly boring. The steering is numb, and while the ride is firm, the car itself is no fun to drive quickly, as it is far too large.

    For comparison’s sake, my uncle traded in a 2003 Toyota Camry SE V6 for the 2007, and he is bitterly disappointed. The quality of the interior is noticeably worse in the 2007, especially the leather. He is always telling me that he regrets trading in the 2003. The 2007′s reliability also cannot compare to the 2003′s, as his has had more problems in 42,000 km than his 2003 did in 182,000 km.

  • avatar
    Mr_Gato

    The Camry doesn’t command a price premium over the Malibu.

    The Malibu starts higher.

  • avatar

    Gato: The Camry LE starts out higher than the base Malibu, according to Edmunds. Yes, there is a Camry “nothing” that is cheaper, but I rarely (or ever) see a Camry that wasn’t an LE, XLE, SE, or LE TSS, on the road. Even the rental lots have LE’s and SE’s.

    Have you ever seen the mystical Camry that’s cheaper than a Malibu?

    reclusive_in_nature : Not seeing anyone clamor for an unbiased Buick review. Guess it’s only ok to be unbiased if it’s for a Toyota, huh? No, I’m not flaming the authors. I just read 100+ posts stereotyping what Buick’s new tagline should be.

    You got a point.

    Now that I think about it, many positive reviews on TTAC are praised for being unbiased. As opposed to our angry reviews which are fly-off-the-handle flamejobs?

    What a crock. Humans are by nature biased and when they speak their mind, they are far from objective. (points to the Consumer Reports Robot) I wonder what everyone thinks of my Camry LE review. I think its just as unbiased as this one. But I seriously doubt I’d get so many “thank yous” if Farago re-published it.

  • avatar
    Mr_Gato

    well based on MSRP

    Malibu 1LT:
    $23,175

    Camry LE w/16″ alloy wheels:
    $22,835

    keep in mind the Malibu only has a 4spd auto and the 2010 Camry gets a 6spd. The Camry LE also comes with a driver’s side power seat and knee airbag.

    However GM wants $1,795 to upgrade to the V6 while Toyota wants $2,565. I’d say Toyota’s engine and transmission are a bit nicer (more peak power, better powerband, better fuel economy, better NVH) but i dunno about that pricing.

  • avatar

    The Malibu 1LT isn’t on par with the Camry LE. Check out the LS.

    I am surprised how much closer the Malibu is priced to the Camry for 2009. I priced the 2008 model first and the difference went from over $1000 to less than $100 in 2009.

  • avatar
    akear

    Everybody in the industry knows Toyota don’t handle that well. In fact Toyota owners are proud of their cars reliability, but joke about their Toyota’s lack of handling prowess.

    “I got a toyota because I got a good investment return, but my car won’t turn.”

  • avatar
    td

    I thought there was a comment earlier that mentioned something about the Camry having perfect IIHS ratings. Although it scored well in front and side impact crash tests, it did not fare as well for rear impact tests. Not having stability control as standard equipment makes it impossible for a model to get the Top Safety Pick designation, as well.

  • avatar
    thoots

    td :
    Not having stability control as standard equipment makes it impossible for a model to get the Top Safety Pick designation, as well.

    For 2010, VSC becomes standard:

    “Previously an option, all Camry gas models will now be equipped with Vehicle Stability Control with traction control.”

    So, “gas models” must mean “other than TCH.” I’m not sure what’s up with the hybrid….

    Finally, back to Sajeev’s response to me:

    Go check out the padded vinyl on the dash and door panels (the whole door panel, not an armrest insert) on the 1993-ish Camry.

    Yeah, that’s kind of what I figured. I suppose, especially in the bread-and-butter Camrys, it’s pretty much a “vast sea of light-gray plastic.” Still, I think that’s “style,” not “inferior” materials. It’s what I was referring to as “spare” quite a ways up above. Again, I rather appreciate the big, one-piece dash topper — I sure prefer its swoopish shape over the squarish stuff that some others are doing. Still, it’s not “plush,” and neither are the door panels. The plastiwood in the XLE dresses that up a bit, and the black color in the SE makes it all look quite a bit better than the too-gray LE, so that’s been my personal perspective.

    In the end, I still see the materials as being high in quality, especially the leather. I think someone whined about that above, but I don’t see it, not at all. The leather that wore out and “broke apart” within 20,000 miles in my 2004 Honda Accord EX-L was “crappy leather” — I expect the Camry leather will be in fine shape with 100,000 miles more than that on the clock. Perhaps the comment above was about the door-panel “leather,” which I generally presume isn’t really “leather” at all.

    Still, I see the overall point, but it’s not like I would consider, say, a Malibu with its high-zoot interior. A somewhat plain interior isn’t going to chase me away from the Toyota quality I’ve experienced over the past 35 years.

  • avatar

    thoots : Still, I see the overall point, but it’s not like I would consider, say, a Malibu with its high-zoot interior. A somewhat plain interior isn’t going to chase me away from the Toyota quality I’ve experienced over the past 35 years.

    Fair statement. Customer loyalty is something Toyota still has for several reasons, but they gotta stop this de-contenting trend because their competition has pretty much leveled the playing field for anyone who isn’t a Toyota loyalist.

  • avatar
    Mr_Gato

    the Camry cannot get the Top Safety Pick since its head restraint design doesn’t satisfy the IIHS.

    My family has owned 3 of the 4 previous generation Camries and no doubt the interiors have been downgraded with each passing generation. But that doesn’t really bother me.

  • avatar
    Mr. Gray

    It’s great that toyota made a solid family sedan, but it’s pretty disappointing that you can’t get the V6 with a manual transmission. Everybody thinks of Toyota now as the company that makes boring cars. Remember the Celica, AE86, MR2, and Supra? I guess there just isn’t a market for fun cars in Toyota’s lineup anymore. Everything fun they make now is branded as a Lexus and is super-expensive. They must know what they’re doing, as they are now the world’s most successful auto maker, but when it comes to inexpensive fun-machines from Toyota, the dream is over.

  • avatar
    DinoDan

    The Camry is a good basic platform. I have a 2003 Camry LE 2.4 that I bought new exactly 6 years ago. I added a front strut brace fom the SE, TRD lowering springs, swaybars from the SE, KYB GR2 shocks, and 17″ wheels with 215/50-17 tires. I also fitted an Injen short ram intake and TRD rear exhaust section. A Wheelskin leather steering wheel cover and TRD shift knob (yes, it’s a 5-speed) complete the picture.

    The car handles extremely well, and while not terribly fast in a straight line (Car & Driver got 0-60 in 8.2 secs.), throttle response is excellent, and it sounds great! Add to that the Toyota bullet-proof reliability and 32 mpg on the highway (with an 18 gallon long-range fuel tank), and I have a car that plan on keeping for a long, long time.

  • avatar
    LazyJCruiser

    Thought I would enlighten the skeptics of the Camry SE. I drive a V8 Hemi as an everyday driver. I also drive a Pontiac G8 and a Zo6 on the weekends. My driving experiences are as spirited on the road as they can be. I look at cars very doubtful when I drive a friend’s car or just test drive one for fun, so when I say this, let me just clear up the confusion of any outdated opinions of the Camry SE.
    I am wary of Toyota’s sensitive breaking, mediocre take offs, and body rolls, but then I test drove a Camry SE V6. DO NOT LIMIT YOURSELF TO THE 4 BANGER. You will be disappointed. I accelerated out of the dealership with a forced-open mind. The Camry Sprints close to the power of my HEMI with less torque steer than I’ve felt from a front-wheel drive in a long time. As I hit a few bank turns on bridges, I had my doubts, but there WASN’T that intimidating point of body roll or slippage that I expected. I can’t wait for my GAS PEDAL to stick so that I’ll have a reason to drive this SE like a scolded dog.
    Sorry for the ramble, but a 4-door sedan that runs so well, and has buckets seats that make you feel secure is worth a minute or two to praise.
    Enjoy, if you can handle the price tag.


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