By on May 29, 2013

Picture courtesy Julie Hyde.

When TTAC’s Mike Solowiow tested the Camry SE V-6, he didn’t spare the rod or spoil the child:

“…in situations where steering feel warns of problems (hydroplaning, ice, collision avoidance) the Camry SE gives lifeless to the point of useless. Beating at the steering column with a wiffle bat and screaming like Yvette Fielding in ‘Most Haunted’ are more entertaining than trying to make the Camry hustle. It doesn’t move, flow, or have chassis alacrity all its rivals exhibit.”

If the V-6 is that bad, the 178-horsepower four-cylinder must be terrible, right? I mean, if I took it to a racetrack and tooled it around in the advanced-driver groups with a bunch of people in it, we’d be miserable right? We’d never pass anybody, right? We’d never toss that bee-otch out of the Carousel with hands off the wheel and let it snake-oscillate up the hill running past the curbs in the dirt and putting that big-bird chrome grill right up the tailpipe of a Spec Miata, right?

Last year, I tried the Volvo S60 T5 around Summit Point Shenandoah and was able to coax a very high 1:53 out of it. At the time, I thought the Volvo at $35K might make a case for itself against a $28K Camry, and I said as much.

The Camry I brought to Shenandoah this time, however, wasn’t $28K. It was $23,600, which is how much you pay for a zero-option SE four-cylinder. I’m pretty sure there’s a little wiggle room in that price, too. Although my TrackMaster wasn’t behaving, I almost immediately ran a 1:58 in the car.

With two additional passengers. On a track that had seen rain just hours earlier.

The next day, I easily knocked out a bunch of 1:54s. So for two-thirds the price of the Volvo, you can run the same laps. What’s interesting is that the Camry does it with an seventy-two horsepower disadvantage. How’s that work?

Before we get to the track stuff, however, and I know that’s what you really want out of this and every other Camry review out there, let’s consider the rest of the car. Why, it’s quite delightful! It’s quiet in both of the ways that really matter: wind noise on the freeway and traditional NVH everywhere else. You can hold conversations with people in this car, even if they are in the back seat.

The infotainment system is almost laughably stupid next to, say, MyFordTouch, but it is extremely easy to use and the stereo sounds pretty good to my battered ears. I’m currently in a personal phase of my life where I am only listening to the Fleet Foxes and I had no difficulty finding “Sun Giant”, “Helplessness Blues”, or the eponymous debut LP on my 15,000-song iPod Classic. The combination of the quiet interior and listenable stereo can be quite seductive and I’m embarrassed to admit that my 911 and my Boxster S never left the garage while I had the Camry in my possession.

Captain Solowiow’s review of the V-6 model touched on a variety of fit and finish issues with the interior panels. I didn’t notice any of those on this four-cylinder, which had endured several thousand miles of rental abuse before it passed into my hands, but let’s face it: Toyota knocks these things out in Kentucky using whatever labor they can get their hands on and using suppliers who spend one zillion computer cycles a day trying to make pedal bushings cheaper. If you want a Camry that was built to Lexus quality standards and will be around after aliens destroy the moon to destabilize our tides and drown New York in an ocean of sand, you’ll want to find a 1994 Camry XLE V-6 and never let it go. Those were the glory days of Toyota. What we have in this Camry is simply a car built about as well as they can manage for the price, which isn’t significantly higher than that 1994 Camry cost in unadjusted fiat (not FIAT) money.

There are a few surprise-and-delights: Toyota makes sure you get a decent steering wheel for your money, which is more than anybody’s ever been able to say about the Corvette. And the shift-it-yourself paddles are made of metal, properly fixed to the steering wheel, and operate with a sort of machined precision. They’re a lot like the one-way paddles for which Porsche continues to charge extra money on PDK-equipped 911s. The metallic trim feels pretty metallic, although it scratches very easily and doesn’t look durable. In black, the interior has a sort of dignity to it, at least. During my on-track adventure the power-steering switch plate on the driver’s door elected to abandon ship and pop out of the armrest, but a sharp bang with the elbow put everything right. That’s probably how they assemble them to begin with.

The seats are also very good: I put 1,767 miles on this Camry in the space of Friday noon to Tuesday noon and had no complaints whatsoever. Could have done more. They’re not luxurious or obviously comfortable but the lack of a backache after six hurried hours across Pennsylvania is worth real money to me. Visibility’s good as well. I don’t really myself qualified to discuss styling, but compared to the last Camry, which looked something like those bugs that fell off the Cloverfield monster, this one’s decent. The Kia Optima is obviously sexier but there’s something just a touch, um, Baume & Mercier about it: you get the sense that the whole thing might be made of chrome-plated foam that disintegrates in heavy rain.

I arrived at Shenandoah feeling very good about the Camry and that good feeling continued as I managed to get nearly seventy laps out of a single tank of gas. To put that in perspective, putting the same kind of mileage on a five-liter Mustang GT required two additional fillups. The reward for that thirst was laptimes that put the Camry in the shade by a nine-second margin. The unspectacular, undersquare four-cylinder engine never failed to deliver its modest power predictably and it lived at redline for half an hour at a time without problems.

Admittedly, I’m an old hand at tossing a crappy sedan around racetracks but on the wet skidpad the Camry showed the whole paddock the sterling qualities of its chassis. It was possible to distinctly and accurately feel the “bite point” where the front wheels found their maximum traction through the water, at which point a quick lift of the throttle would put the big sedan lazily sideways for a full half-circle of the skidpad. Camry drifting! I can’t criticize the steering of any car where that’s possible. Period, point blank. This car steers very well.

That sense of balance comes into play in Shenandoah’s “Big Bend” where it’s possible to put the Camry in very close proximity to other cars at the limit of the tires:

Picture courtesy Julie Hyde.

I won’t try to convince you that the Camry could hang with that tuned FD: it couldn’t. But in fast corners you could use its unshakeable stability and talkative steering to push it very hard and thus sniff at cars with much higher but more troublesome limits. We passed more drivers than we yielded to, even with passengers. Very few people want to move over for a Camry so sometimes I had to make it pretty explicit. I apologize to anybody who couldn’t see the Toyota emblem behind them because I was two feet off their bumper down the hill after the Hammer. The Camry’s just very easy to drive fast there, and everywhere else.

At the end of two fairly long days’ worth of abuse, the SE shrugged it off, loaded all my gear, and went home feeling not a bit worse for wear. I took the car to Cleveland the following day for work and enjoyed the quiet and the stereo and the seats and all that some more.

Toyota is about my least favorite car company in the world, and I’ve seen a lot of subpar product wear the badge in previous years, but this car is worth buying. At $23,600, it has clear and admirable virtues. I’d spend my own money on it. I’d rather have a stick-shift, of course, but it isn’t like the transmission ever misbehaved under racetrack conditions. Those pretty paddles, by the way, don’t do much when you’re really pushing the car. The Camry will shift when it wants to, plain and simple.

Camry Vee-sixes are rare meat in rental fleets so I doubt I’ll ever have a chance to see if I share Captain Mike’s opinion of that particular car, but I know how I feel about the four-cylinder. It’s a hell of a car and I recommend it without reservation at the price. The average enthusiast in the street will probably laugh at you for driving one but there are a hundred-plus track rats out there who saw the thing in action and won’t chuckle at all. I could see buying one myself. Of course, I’d want a little more power, and a better stereo, and some more insulation if that’s possible and OH MY GOD I AM TALKING ABOUT A LEXUS ES350 HERE OKAY LET’S CALL THIS REVIEW OVER RIGHT. FREAKING. NOW.

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130 Comments on “Review: Toyota Camry SE 2.5L, Track Tested...”


  • avatar
    carrya1911

    Interesting writeup. There’s a lot of bitching about the mass-market cars but the truth is that in terms of everything that matters like performance and handling they’re more capable than some “legend” cars of the past.

    As with firearms or guitars the rates of serious skill is significantly lower than rates of ownership, making for a lot of people talking nonsense on a topic they don’t really understand.

    • 0 avatar
      AFX

      “There’s a lot of bitching about the mass-market cars but the truth is that in terms of everything that matters like performance and handling they’re more capable than some “legend” cars of the past.”

      What I’d like to see is a car magazine review old “legendary” cars against today’s cars on a racetrack. Maybe stuff like an old 60′s V-8 Shelby Mustang Vs a new V-6 Mustang, a Porsche 944 against a Focus, and maybe do a test of an old big block musclecar against a V-6 powered RAV-4 or a V-6 minivan. It’d give a good real world comparison to see just how much cars have advanced over the years, and how much better an “average” car is these days.

      • 0 avatar
        vertigo

        I would also like to see this. It would be great!

      • 0 avatar
        67dodgeman

        As the owner of a big block musclecar, I’d be afraid to drag race it against my wife’s 4-cyl camry. I’m pretty sure I’d win, but the margin between the two would be close enough to generate a lot of embarassment. Then I’d have to explain to her that no a/c, piss poor brakes, horrible handling, 8 mpg, and a host of expensive repairs is really, really worth it on a car that can barely beat a 4 banger in a head’s up race.

        Keep in mind that a bone stock 68 road runner with a 383 could barely manage a 15 second quarter-mile. And that was considered fast.

      • 0 avatar
        Feds

        Ask and ye shall recieve:

        http://grassrootsmotorsports.com/articles/soccer-moms-revenge/

        • 0 avatar
          Piston Slap Yo Mama

          That classic GRM article was my first thought too. Re-reading it affirms my suspicions, it’s more relevant than ever. As a gear-head I’ll drive what I want based on its attributes, not what the prevailing opinions are. I’ve nothing to prove.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        I’d put a 5L F-150 against just about any stock muscle car from decades past.

        Same weight(?), more power(!), better suspension-engineering, and way better safety engineering. These probably more than compensate for the CG disadvantage of the truck (which is smaller than it looks if the bed is empty).

        The F-150 is not my kind of vehicle unless I’m hauling heavy objects at the moment you ask me, but engineering has come a long way since the “good” old days. And putting a big ol’ truck against a truck-frame-with-a-car-body would illustrate the point wonderfully.

      • 0 avatar
        stanczyk

        “There’s a lot of bitching about the mass-market cars but the truth is that in terms of everything that matters like performance and handling they’re more capable than some “legend” cars of the past.”

        What I’d like to see is a car magazine review old “legendary” cars against today’s cars on a racetrack. Maybe stuff like an old 60′s V-8 Shelby Mustang Vs a new V-6 Mustang, a Porsche 944 against a Focus, and maybe do a test of an old big block musclecar against a V-6 powered RAV-4 or a V-6 minivan. It’d give a good real world comparison to see just how much cars have advanced over the years, and how much better an “average” car is these days.’

        I belive it would be fair to comprare i.e: ’70GT Mustang with 2014GT Mustang .. , .. 1980 Golf GTI with modern 2013GTI .. 1987Renault5 Turbo vs Renault Clio RS .. etc .. than You could draw some conclusions about progress .. but ..

        Modern Minivan or SUV vs ‘good old muscle’ would be just interesting copmarision (..in TopGear fun-style .. but you can’t rely on Top Gear .. :) ..

    • 0 avatar
      sonata camry guy

      The SE is what it is! In reading many Camry reviews it is incredible
      the bashing that this car gets! I logged 42000 miles (real estate sales)
      in 21 months on a 2011 Limited Turbo Sonata. Great power, acceptable
      handling and like many reviews and comments my Sonata drifted annoyingly
      to left. Sonata Turbo gas mileage however never bettered 23 in mixed city and turnpike.
      I Replaced the Sonata Turbo with a 2012 Camry SE 4cyl
      and after 5600 miles , 4 cyl California engine gives me 27 mpg average.
      Handling is a tad better than Sonata and quiet inside cabin is
      very good for conversation. This Camry is somewhat fashionably bland but at first glance I was really taken by Cosmic Gray paint
      for this price point car. The SE 4 cyl is more of a keeper than The Sonata Turbo for everyday and long term use.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    “Look at that new Toyota”! I sure was echoed through the paddock. I think the Camry is about the lightest in class and on a tight course, maybe Waterford would be a close second in driver input, you don’t need allot of power except for the uphill straight.

    How many laps before the brakes started to fade?

  • avatar

    Test the Lexus next?

    Camry SE 2.5L, Track Tested: love it

  • avatar
    blau

    “The Kia Optima is obviously sexier but there’s something just a touch, um, Baume & Mercier about it: you get the sense that the whole thing might be made of chrome-plated foam that disintegrates in heavy rain.”

    Now that’s an IWC owner’s comparison if I’ve ever seen one.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Is Jack forbidden from reviewing anything other than what he can get his hands on at the rental counter?

  • avatar
    bludragon

    Wait what? Does this just prove that any car is fun around a track and Jack’s skills are such that he compensates for any handling deficiencies or is this car reallly quite good after all? Seems like we need a comparison with the new accord and mazda 6 to find out :-)

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      +1 – seems like the best way to actually see how it performs for the money.

      Jack did a comparison for the Genesis Coupe, MX5 and FRS. So hopefully he will do it with these three sedans.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      “Does this just prove that any car is fun around a track and Jack’s skills are such that he compensates for any handling deficiencies or is this car reallly quite good after all”

      I would think an experienced driver would be able to make the most out of any car but quickly notice and describe faults as well. I get the impression from this review that the car is really quite good.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      +2 – I’d like to know how it compares to the Accord Sport CVT.

      • 0 avatar

        Jack commented on this own blog: “Nobody’s seen fit to let me near a Mazda6 so I’ll have to rent one if I want to try it, which I will. Same goes for the Accord Sport manual, which has genuine interest for me.” So, apparently no interest CVT.

    • 0 avatar

      Note that Jack is not one to place too much emphasis on the gearshifts, never was. I picked it up first when he blogged about instructing and how the perfect shifting was worth something like 0.2s on a 2-minute course. That tranny would drive someone else mad.

  • avatar
    Jean-Pierre Sarti

    The problem with those 90′s camry is that they took a lot of maintenance to keep running right, especially the the puny V6s. Our family owned 3 of that model line over the years (1 new and 2 used) so I’ve had first hand experience. Yes they were rock solid in so many ways but I much rather prefer the modern drivetrains and safety of today over even those from Toyota’s alleged heyday.

  • avatar
    racebeer

    Uhhhhh ….. “power-steering switch plate on the driver’s door”. Just exactly what option package does this come with?????

  • avatar

    I will be a RWD, hydraulic steering, supercharged junky till the day I DIE.

    • 0 avatar
      Easton

      Until one day in the future when the “fun police” come along and those vehicles no longer exists. Don’t laugh.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        “Until one day in the future when the “fun police” come along and those vehicles no longer exists. Don’t laugh.”

        Karma Fisker Police
        By The Global Technocratic Planning Commission

        Karma Fisker police, arrest this man
        He talks of petrol
        He buzzes like an ICE
        He’s like a tuned Coyote

        Karma police, arrest this girl
        Her Cabrio hairdo is
        Making me feel ill
        And we have crashed her party

        This is what you get
        This is what you get
        This is what you get when you mess with us

    • 0 avatar

      Electric PS is just fine when done right. My better half has one of those rack thingies, it works great. Very inobtrusive. Also, if it short-circuits and goes crazy, you can still overpower it because it applies the force on the rack, not the column. Unfortunately most electric PS actuators are column mounted, because they are cheaper.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        “My better half has one of those rack thingies, it works great. Very inobtrusive.”

        I think that’s what most guys are looking for, a girlfriend with a nice rack.

        Another nice thing about the newer cars is that they have those big plastic foam filled bumpers, so when the car breaks down you’ve got more cushion for the pushin’.

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      I an-ah nevah gots used to these new fangled self-adjustin distributors. I can advance my own spark better than any set of weights and springs. THAT’s real drivin’ consarnit.

    • 0 avatar
      theeastbaykid

      Man. You know you’re getting old when the old cranky guy in the thread (there’s always at least one) is grousing about which TYPE of power steering is preferred. I mean, several of my cars haven’t had any power steering at all, but then again I’m over 30. I’m lucky the gub’mint hasn’t taken away my license.

  • avatar
    AFX

    I always thought of Toyota as the Japanese GM, and the Camry would be their take on the Malibu, with maybe a little Buick Century thrown in for good measure. Some of the Toyota cars do feel like they’re built to a price, the late 90′s Corolla didn’t even include a front swaybar until they were forced to put one on because of the lousy handling. Decontenting the cars to build them to a price and fit and finish are one thing, but then they also had the engine oil gelling on the 2.4 and the V-6, and they had really bad issues with oil burning on the 1.8 engines too. If you see an older Corolla, Prizm, or Celica from the early 2000′s with a 1.8 advertised for sale with “uses a little oil/engine light on/catalytic converter recetly replaced” RUN AWAY.

    If you’re looking at buying a Camry at all chances are performance and handling aren’t high on your prioity list, same goes for the average Malibu buyer. Most people looking at a Camry just want a basic “midsized” car, they don’t want sporty, they don’t want luxury, they just want a basic “midsized”. The Camry’s marketing slogan should be “The Ultimate Driving Appliance”, because basically that’s what their owners are looking for, reliability with no drama. The Camry isn’t built for the car enthusiast, it’s built for the average American who doesn’t give half a crap about cars, other than it should be reliable, quiet, get you from point A-to-B, and the monthly payments are reasonable. If you’re researching buying a Camry you’re not going to be the type of person reading Car & Driver, Rodent Track, Automobile magazine, or TTAC. More than likely the average Camry buyer does their research by reading Consumer Reports, where they have the Camry review in between the reviews for refrigerators, vacuums, and laundry detergent.

    • 0 avatar
      Easton

      Well put. There is a certain charm in these cars in that they look ok, they are good on gas, they have all the basic features you need, they are fairly reliable and comfortable. For most people, who only drive because they have to, this is what they are looking for. 0-60 times and g-forces mean very little in daily rush hour traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Yes, and there are many good everyday cars in the midsize sedan category. If you don’t like the Camry, test drive the cars that directly compete against it. They’re relatively economical to own and drive and they have plenty of room for 4 adults. To me the relatively large interior reminds me of the big sedans my dad likes, but they drive more like a smaller Japanese car. Why buy a penalty box subcompact when you can buy larger safer car with similar total operating costs?

    • 0 avatar
      spw

      you dont like reading reviews right?

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      I must not have gotten the memo. I bought a 2013 Camry and I read TTAC, Car and Driver, etc.

      I wasn’t planning on buying a Camry, but was planning on replacing my RWD 300 HP car with something else.. On a whim decided to check out the local Toyota dealer and drive a Camry. Was blown away at how nice it drove.

      This car will be with me for a long while.

      Most people have other priorities than performance. And some of those people can be automotive enthusiasts too. But prefer to have a car they don’t have to think about.

      • 0 avatar
        WaftableTorque

        Our 1998 Camry LE is still in our family, albeit my dad is driving it now. I laugh when I hear stories of much newer cars with problems with gaskets, trannies, ignition coils, etc. I’m still pleasantly surprised by it’s competence and driving dynamics 15 years later. It’s fun to drive, and I really have no idea why others think otherwise.

        • 0 avatar
          84Cressida

          I have a 1991 Camry V6, and it’s a joy to drive every single time. It’s super comfortable, the seats are supportive, it’s quiet (quieter than a lot of newer cars), has good visibility, and has great steering feel and handling. It’s amazingly fun to get behind the wheel in and putt around town or go out on the freeway in and it looks good, too. Camry haters can pound sand, my car is not an appliance, I do not hate my life, nor do I hate cars nor am I any other of the tired old drivel those so called “enthusiasts” think they have a right to label me and thousands of other people as. Besides the Cressida, Camrys are some of my favorite cars to drive and there really is a charm about them that people who have been around them for years can feel. I grew up in the things and we have the aforementioned 1991 and a 2007 Hybrid. We also used to have, strangely enough, a 1994 XLE V6, and it was a great car, my mom loved driving it.

          I’ve driven every single Camry generation, from the first generation to brand new 2013s. LE, SE, XLE, V6, I4, Hybrid, you name it (no Gen 1 Diesel or Gen 2 All-Trac though..yet). Not one has ever been a floaty, un-fun, sterile car like they’re portrayed as.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          I have a theory…I think the 97-01 Camry is more trouble free than the legendary 92-96.

          Toyota focused on making the car less expensive to produce for the new ’97 over previous version, that is really about trim bits, much of the car is the same between the two generations.

          I have an 01 ES300 myself I’ll keep driving it and see how it goes.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      That’s a whole lot of generalizing, there, AFX.

    • 0 avatar
      DRJJJ

      “The average enthusiast in the street will probably laugh at you for driving one but there are a hundred-plus track rats out there who saw the thing in action and won’t chuckle at all. I could see buying one myself”

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    “the Camry showed the whole paddock the sterling qualities of its chassis”

    “Toyota makes sure you get a decent steering wheel for your money, which is more than anybody’s ever been able to say about the Corvette”

    “This car steers very well”

    “unshakeable stability and talkative steering”

    “there are a hundred-plus track rats out there who saw the thing in action and won’t chuckle at all”

    These are not the quotes I was expecting after Solowiow’s predictably negative review. I have no f-ing idea what I’m doing behind the wheel, but the SE I test drove felt stiff, light, and nimble. Perhaps I wasn’t hallucinating after all. And the seats are genuinely good.

    Could someone get the word out to the rest of the automotive press who reflexively pull out the decades old Toyotas-are-numb-appliances rhetoric when reviewing this car?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Last time I rented a 4 cylinder Camry, it far exceeded my expectations. It possessed most of the things that made West German cars great, things that I miss when I drive a 2012 Audi or BMW. The light, stiff body structure, light, crisp and communicative steering, supportive fabric seats, and linear power delivery are still more important to my definitions of quality and luxury than a bunch of dashboard toys, insta-date styling, and forced induction.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Driving an Optima right after the SE kind of drove that concept home. The Optima has more engaging styling and technology, but the Camry had far better seats, a more refined powertrain, better visibility, and superior steering. Hyundai/Kia are rapidly ascending the ladder, but it seems they are still lacking some of the fundamental refinement in Toyota and Honda DNA that even recent decontenting hasn’t removed.

        • 0 avatar
          bd2

          And yet the older Optima has BEATEN the Camry (much less the new Altima and Malibu) in every comparison test and the refreshed Optima is on the way.

          Also, the Azera has beaten the Lexus ES in a no. of comparison tests and the Kia Cadenza is considered to be a good bit better than the Azera.

          As for the Camry, even in SE form, it has generally gotten lackluster reviews for its driving dynamics and handling.

          The V6 Camry has oodles of power, but the rest of it is a bit underwhelming.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Two things:
            1) I trust what I experience in a car, not what auto reviewers (credible or otherwise) feed to me. I’ve driven both of these cars. The Optima is an inferior product in several categories that are important to me: seats, NVH, steering, drivetrain. If those aren’t important to you, the Optima is a great car.

            2) There aren’t many comparison tests between the Optima/Sonata and redesigned Camry. I could only find one: C&D ranked it below the Optima, but reflexive disdain of Toyota is part of their culture and they have been known to hit the crack pipe and do inexplicable things like rank the Sonata a 10 Best.

            Motor Trend decisively placed the Sonata behind the new AND old Camry in separate comparison tests. But I think they hit the pipe a bit, too, so I am not placing much value on these results. And Edmunds squeaked the Sonata ahead of the Camry primarily because it was cheap. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

            So if you’re going to buy your car based on what paid strangers tell you, you’ve got some muddy waters to navigate.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      The lower trim level Camry LE with taller tire sidewall and softer suspension provides more isolation for customers prefer that. The Camry SE has a little more aggressive tires and suspension for customers who don’t mind feeling bumps in the road. Both are soft enough to drive all day without killing your back, but body motion of the SE feels better controlled.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        That’s a key point. I haven’t driven the current-generation Camry, but I’ve read that the SE has meaningfully different suspension tuning vs the LE. Confusingly, I think the SE designation does *not* correspond to suspension changes in some other Toyota models; i.e., you’re adding weight via a body kit but gaining nothing in driving dynamics.

        GM aficionados are familiar with this concept. It’s easy to mock something like the Celebrity Eurosport as a marketing ploy, but those cars actually did have a differently tuned suspension vs the standard A-bodies.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          I think the Eurosport only had the F41 suspension that you could order on a regular Celebrity (though probably nobody did) not really aggressive enough in the day. The Pontiac STE was better.

          The history of “sport” models with slightly stiffer shock tuning and maybe a thicker sway bar or two thrown in is long…

    • 0 avatar
      DRJJJ

      Won’t happen! These are guys with big egos that spend big bucks on look good vehicles that don’t handle, ,get poor mpg and have terrible re-sale ,reliability, but make big noise and they’re determined to stay the course!
      The SEs are to stiff on slow bumpy roads but only then! The V6 Camry turns about the same 1/4 mile mph as a 1967, 427 450 horse vette did FYI-102mph or so and gets 30 mpg at a steady 75mph on regular!

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Keeps you milk cold, your cheese fresh and hauls a$$ on a track. Good to know.

    On of my coworkers has a 4th gen one, looking for a 5th gen. Motivation to buy it: it feels good/refined. He knows a thing or two about FAST cars.

    I like this model of fridge (alsoe the 3rd gen and the 5th is growing on me). The previous Bangle-wannabe styling was insufferable.

    And remember that GRM has “tuned” a 4th gen one.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    So this is a good question.

    Can you take a comfy sedan and acceptably hot-rod it? Could you add better brakes? Does a JDM suspension kit exist?

    Is it possible to have it all?

    • 0 avatar
      AFX

      “Can you take a comfy sedan and acceptably hot-rod it? Could you add better brakes? Does a JDM suspension kit exist?”

      Maybe if it was a Honda.

      The good thing about buying a used Corolla or Camry is that the previous owners never riced them out, unlike Honda owners. The chances of finding a modified Camry are about the same as finding a modified Buick Century. Camry owners just don’t give a crap about modifying them, that’s why you’ll never see Craigslist adds for Camrys advertising “cold air intake, lowered stance, underdrive pulleys, purple anodized strut tower brace”.

      If you want JDM buy an older Civic.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      Well, TRD used to offer bolt-on superchargers and some chassis parts for older generation Camry’s. It’s not outside the realm of possibility.

  • avatar

    Thanks, Jack – Your typical out-of-the-box piece leaving smiles in its wake. In many ways, I suspect that what you found with the Camry is the amazing march which cars in general have made over the last 20 years. Possibly the Fusion, Altima, Sonata and Malibu would fare similarly?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Baruth isn’t some hillbilly that’s been driving the same GMC Stepside for the past 45 years. He isn’t comparing the Camry’s competence to vague memories of a Pontiac 6000 and a Ford Fairmont. When he praises a car’s dynamics, he’s saying it stacks up well against other cars produced in the past year.

  • avatar
    carguy949

    Great write up. How about a similar review of the new Accord for comparison?

  • avatar
    AFX

    “there are a hundred-plus track rats out there who saw the thing in action and won’t chuckle at all”

    Kind of like the reaction they got when they saw Bob Tullius running a 1964 Pontiac Tempest in the Trans-Am series back in 1970.

    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3002/5823129140_b114fe30ea_z.jpg

    When asked about how other racers responded to the Camry on the track Mr Baruth replied “I’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day so satisfied I’m on my way”.

    Seems like Jack can track review any vehicle and make it look pretty good. I’m looking forward to Jack’s next track testing review on the latest John Deere product, and such superlatives as “I started from the back of the grid, and it mowed through the field”, or “Understeer doesn’t begin to describe the handling, when pushed hard through a corner the front end plows like a tractor”.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    The Camry is such a damn good appliance because Toyota never forgot about it. No, they aren’t built like the 92-96 Camry anymore. But Toyota(Honda) never forgot that the Camry(Accord) is the big seller and always keeps some attention focused on it. GM didn’t do that for the Malibu because SUVs became so popular and profitable. And the seven product lines to keep going. Ditto for Ford minus the seven product lines.

    Most Camry buyers or Toyota buyers in general could care less about steering feel, track times,etc. They want smooth, quiet, turn the key and go vehicles. Most people want this in their cars, that’s why us enthusiasts don’t get what we want.

  • avatar
    Byron Hurd

    The first car I ever drove on a track was my 2006 Mazda6s. Jack knows. He was my instructor. Modern sedans can handle quite a bit more than is typically thrown at them.

    For a little context, I was able to coax 1:51s out of a bone-stock FR-S at the same event Jack attended. Accounting for Jack’s experience, I’d say the real difference between them is probably closer to five seconds than three.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      If the Camry was running on 60,000 mile treadwear rental car all-seasons, that could be five seconds right there.

      • 0 avatar
        suspekt

        so true… can you imagine the lap time he would have turned simply moving to more aggressive rubber on the OEM wheels..

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I think the SE’s impressive laptime might be partially explained by the wide rubber those 17s are wrapped in.

        My gf has a 2012 SE 4cyl, and I immediately noticed just how composed it was and how flat it cornered. it feels very light and athletic. The brakes are good to boot. Personally, I find the steering fairly lifeless, but then again I’m just a regular guy, not a seasoned racer. The engine/transmission combo is fantastic, it’s always in the right gear, very smooth, and keeps the rpms down at 2k at 80 mph. Very punchy from a light. I found the seats to be a bit uncomfortable after my second 8 hour day driving down to Florida from Ohio.

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      I don’t know about five seconds, but certainly better tires would have improved the time of either car. The FR-S’s low-rolling-resistance summers aren’t exactly the cream of the crop either, and they’re rather narrow to boot. I also found those 1:51s after Jack spent half a session drifting the FR-S mercilessly around the course with me riding shotgun. Those tires went back a bit worse for wear, I’m afraid.

  • avatar
    swilliams41

    If you get the Lexus you get the V-6, more weight over the front wheels, maybe softer springs, dampening rates, etc.. I am not so sure the experience would be the same. At least the quality of the bits and pieces in the interior would be better.

    Not a car for folks who care about the experience and act of driving.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Excellent review, Jack!

    A coworker has this exact car, and I was stunned at the interior room, particularly in the back seat. At 6’6″, I was able to sit behind another fellow who is about 6’2″ but maybe 50 lbs heavier.

    It is a very roomy car.

  • avatar
    canddmeyer

    Nice write-up. I agree with just about everything written about. I was shopping this exact vehicle but failing the overlap crash test took the Camry off my shopping list.

  • avatar
    darrinkaiser

    After reading this, I’m feel compelled to search craigslist and autotrader for 1994 Camry XLEs.

    My boss would hate Jack if she knew what he did to my productivity.

  • avatar
    cRaCk hEaD aLLeY

    Everything is relative.

    I just arrived from Brazil. A 4-cylinder Toyota Camry in Brazil is a VERY exclusive ride. One has to be quite wealthy to purchase a Camry there. They are “special-order” cars. People will stare at you and you will be valet-parked at restaurants before others “lesser” cars.

    On your way out you will find your Camry proudly parked in front of your restaurant next to Romario’s Ferrari.
    Ask me how I know.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    JB may be one of the industry’s best trolls. I mean, the story is legitimate for sure and I have been saying the Camry is a good car for years. But the timing is just kind of funny. Mainstream hate is at an all time high and the Camry is the internet enthusiasts’ whipping boy. So for dude to write about a positive experience in on ON THE TRACK is… serendipitous???

    In any case, I dont know what world the Camry’s haters live in, but for trudging around on public roads with speed limits and traffic laws it seems like a better tool for the job than say, the ///M3D CSL wagon with 1 seat and no sound deadening that folks here seem to think would be a volume leader, despite themselves not being in the market for such a car until it is in the 4 digit price rance. The car is reliable, comfy, gets out of its own way and drives decently. That combo is actually not very common. Toyota deserves respect for that.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Thanks, Jack.

    Your reviews of ABC (already been chewed) rental cars, of the mundane and plain vanilla type, in the context of tracking them has become one of my favorite automotive reads here or anywhere (apart from the smart writing, I’m exactly sure why, but it may have something to do how well(or not) these commuter sedans do two nearly polar opposite things).

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      This right here. It’s the juxtaposition of a commuter car being thrown around on a track by a decent wordsmith with no agenda or advertising dollars to protect. You can’t find this anywhere else.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        Jack is the one writer TTAC simply cannot afford to lose. That is not a knock against anyone else, because I love all you guys… but only Jack would entice me to be *eager* to click on a Camry review… a SLUSHBOX Camry review.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        ” This right here. It’s the juxtaposition of a commuter car being thrown around on a track by a decent wordsmith with no agenda or advertising dollars to protect. You can’t find this anywhere else.”

        I haven’t seen writing like this since Mark Twain did a road test review for the 1875 Studebaker Phaeton.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I had an 8 hr trip in a Sonata and a few yrs earlier in an Elantra and both times my back ached like hell, deal killer for me. Not so with the Camry I rented for an even longer trip a couple of yrs back, no back issues at all, to me that would seal the deal for the Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      The Optima I test drove had shameful front seats as well. Sagging and uneven support, like a tired old sofa. I already made one mistake buying a car without properly examining seat comfort & driving position, and never again.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s opposite of my experience with Elantra. Best seat ever, at least on this side of Sprinter. And definitely better than Camry (got that one from Enterprise when Lexus was in a body shop).

  • avatar
    wmba

    My goodness. Well, that’s it. I must immediately go out and buy a Camry instead of believing my lying eyes about the interior quality. The king has spoken!

    Who knew about the world class in extremis steering? The unflappable engine? Or the amazing seats?

    Yessir, this thing is ready for the WRC with the stereo blasting at full volume, and Sebastien Loeb glancing nervously in his rearview mirror as Baruth and the Toyota from hell fly over the forest roads at superhuman speeds in the RAC Rally, worrying at his trunk lid, while Jack’s two rear seat passengers have already fainted and the navigator is filling in life insurance forms in the zero g intervals between bends.

    What I get from this review is that Jack is a talented and fearless driver, and looking back at a lot of his reviews, never really met a car he didn’t like in one way or another. From Elantra to Versa, they’re all good.

    None of which makes a Camry an interesting drive on normal twisty roads at the slightly elevated speeds a typical enthusiast would use.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      So he’s a talented and fearless driver who is nonetheless so blindly undiscerning and complementary that he cannot recognize a good car from a bad one? An simpler explanation is that as a “typical enthusiast” you are irritated to find a positive Camry review written by someone with enthusiast credibility.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Exactly. This is exactly the kind of cognitive dissonance Jack sought to elicit from the TTAC population, and is what makes for such great… trolling (I cant think of a better word to describe it). “I dont care how many Porsches he OWNS or how many track days hes BEEN AN INSTRUCTOR AT. A Toyota Camry is BAD and NOTHING will change my opinion on that!!!!”

  • avatar
    daiheadjai

    I demand to know who this impostor is, and what he’s done with Mr. Baruth.

    Seriously, very surprised to read this review.
    My first car was a 94 V6 Camry LE.
    With that V6, it made 188hp and about 210 lb/ft of torque (IIRC).
    SO this new 4cyl SE is actually not too far off, power-wise from that old car…

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Well said Jack. It echoes my experience renting a base no option Camry L. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I liked it, but the car couldn’t be faulted for anything. It was a hard car to dislike. I had the same impression of the stereo and infotainment; not whiz bang impressive, but easy to use, but with great sound quality from iPhone, even streaming through bluetooth. It really seemed eager to please and take care of its driver’s owners needs as a daily runabout commuter. I had rented an Altima the day before, and have also rented a Sonata, and I could instantly feel and see what you were paying for. I realize the current gen isn’t a 94, but to me the quality, refinement, and solidity felt a step above the other utilitarian competition.

    Not to restart a flame war that began in another thread here, but the other comparison I found amazing was between that Camry and the F10 528i I rented the next day. I’m a BMW owner myself, but I couldn’t for the life of me give a compelling reason to spend double the cost of the Camry for that BMW unless you absolutely must have a premium badge.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Two things:
    1. Remind me to NEVER buy as a used car anything that was ever used as a rental in Columbus, Ohio
    2. Jack’s Top 3 favorite cars, from what I have read lately, are: (3) Mazda CX-5 crossover; (2)Dodge minivan; and (1) Toyota Camry.
    Who’d a thunk?

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Was the Camry ranked higher than the CX5? I would imagine the new 6 does better than the CX5 (lighter, lower center of gravity etc). Would be good to get that review.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Another fine Cars-that-suck-less-than-you-think review. So tell us Jack, if you had to choose only one: Camry or Caravan?

  • avatar
    Summicron

    “Camry or Caravan?”

    If my wife doesn’t mind trading the Rio5 and driving my Camry, both.
    She does love that little hatchback, though.

    I’m just mesmerized by the fact that there are no two more dissimilar males than Baruth and I on our fair planet, yet he has given big kudos to the two new vehicles I most value.

    I got my mind right and didn’t even know it.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Thanks for the ‘commoner’ review, Jack! This and the Grand Caravan seem likes it’s ok to have these for a daily driver.

    A couple of years ago I had my BILs ’97 Camry LE for a week. I bitchslapped that thing all over the place, and although I certainly didn’t win any drag races or cornering awards, at the end of the week the car was like “meh”. I was impressed. It had 170k on it then…I believe it’s up to right under 300k now….

  • avatar
    A D H

    Had the new Accord w/ 4 cyl and CVT as a loaner recently while taking our new Odyssey in for the second recall in its very short life. I had to look in the glove box to ensure that I was indeed driving the 4cyl and the CVT. Felt like a regular Autobox, a good one at that. Would be interested in how the Sport model with CVT would compare to this Camry.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Well, now we need a Camry towing test.

  • avatar
    Slave2anMG

    Something must have changed in the recent cars. In 2011 had a low mileage 4 cylinder Camry as a rental from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Nashville, TN. In the rain it terrified me as I had no idea what the front wheels were doing. In the dry it wandered badly, snorfling to and fro in the turbulence behind trucks. The steering took about as much effort as the steering in my Dad’s 1976 Grand Marquis. The Camry scared the hell out of me…I don’t dispute the review but the Camry I drove was wildly different than the one described here.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I drove a 2012 Camry LE as a rental car, and it was downright sleep-inducing on the interstate; however I also drove a 2012 Camry SE V6, and didn’t find any of the issues that Mike Solowiow did in his SE V6 test. To me, it felt a step or two above the other Camry models in terms of sportiness, and had plenty of power.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    My mom had a 96 V6 Camry LE that drove better than my 2009 Camry. She had it for 17+ years but I get it for two months and crash it. It was extremely nose heavy and the side glass is extremely close to your head.I ended up hitting my head against the glass really hard. It was also quite noisy with road noise.

    The 2013 Camry’s crash scores and the video crossed this off my list as did the cheapish interior. I went with a 2013 Accord instead. If you keep a car for almost 20 years, you’re bound to be in a bad accident or two and safety is really important.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Mt parents friends had these issues with there Camry plus- windows that fog up constantly in bad weather and refuse to clear even with blowers on full blast, front wheels bearings that failed with less than 60K miles, bad intake manifold along with a leaky brake booster that liked to squirt brake fluid at the leaky intake which cause the car to skip going up hill and have a jittery idle. Needless to say 2 grand later that was fixed by there friendly Toyota dealer. It looks like the 2009 will be there last Camry. Hello Honda Accord for them next time.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        Boy you sure seem to have a sister or uncle who has a friend that has a brother that has a lover that always seems to have loads of problem with a Toyota or Honda, and one that is conveniently the topic of a TTAC thread. And then your W-body Impala has never had any of the problems they’re having. N

  • avatar
    db

    Funny how things work…
    I bought this week-end this car, after I tried and researched every car +/-…
    For my killer commute and occasional family trips.
    The new Accord is stunning, but the Sport is more expensive and it has the hated CVT. Plus it can not be driven in manual mode.
    The Nissan Altima has a CVT and can be manually driven only with V6.
    Mazda 6 and Ford Fusion are too small for me.
    So, I took advantage of a phenomenal sale for the Memorial holiday and bought the Camry SE.
    Overall I feel very confident I got the best car for the money.

    • 0 avatar
      84Cressida

      But wait a minute, I thought Toyota shoppers were lemmings that walked like sheep straight to the Toyota dealer and get reamed into buying another one of those blandmobiles? Surely you can’t be telling the truth.

      Congrats on the car. What color did you get? Cosmic Gray Mica looks great on the SE.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Yes wait a minute most Toyota buyers do minimal research and to use your words “walk like sheep straight into the dealership”. db is unusual and congrats to him on that. As said in other posts the Camry is a reasonable car and will suit most people, it is just that there are for those so inclined better options (whether that is real world fuel economy, styling, dynamics).

        • 0 avatar
          84Cressida

          Got any proof or meaningful statistic that most Toyota buyers do that? And don’t give me the “I know someone who did that line” since there are people who do that for every single brand.

          • 0 avatar
            mike978

            This work for you?
            http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2012/10/10/cars-delivering-the-most-brand-loyal-buyers/

            I erred – 47% is not quite most!
            I never said people who buy other makes are not equally lazy and sheep like and just go to what they know, or the nearest dealership.

            I like to look around hence why I have owned a Subaru, a Toyota, a SEAT, a VW, a Peugeot and a BMW in my time. Never repeat bought.
            I am in the market for a mid size car and will not be getting a new Legacy but will go with Honda or Mazda. Those have better real world fuel economy, better styling (IMO) and at least as “good” handling.

      • 0 avatar
        db

        Wifee chose the other gray, unfortunately….
        But as I live in CA, the car may not overheat as much, though.

  • avatar
    AFX

    “During my on-track adventure the power-steering switch plate on the driver’s door elected to abandon ship and pop out of the armrest, but a sharp bang with the elbow put everything right.”

    Power steering switch plate on the armrest ?. I think Jack is getting this Camry review mixed up with his upcoming Rascal power scooter review.

    One thing I wanted to say to all the car owners and car reviewers complaining about the lack of soft touch plastics or cheap hard plastic pieces in modern cars. There’s two options you have to fix that issue:

    1. Find a decent Mexican upholstery shop like the one they used on American Hotrod, and have them cover up the hard plastic bits with leather, naugahyde, velour, or tweed.

    2. Get a Wagner power sprayer and a coupla cans of Plasti-Dip and go at it.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    It is not that uncommon that the smaller engined version of a car handles and drives better. A 4 cylinder weighs less than a 6 and therefore puts less strain on the front suspension, lighter in the nose means faster steering response. Also the higher power output of the 6 can show up the weaknesses in the Chassis.
    Often the acceleration difference at public road speeds is so small that it is meaningless in the real world.
    As most people would not tow with a V6 Camry, having a V6 is an emotional choice, not a rational one.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I had one of these in white for a 10 day rental in Florida. (PA plates for no good reason). The engine made a lot of noise without much shove when pushed, but it was in all other ways a great car. I was flat out shocked by the feel when going “fast” (mine not JB’s) on bendy bits. The stereo played Pandora over Bluetooth from my wife’s Brickberry. I was really peeved to realize I couldn’t think of a good reason to spend more on a car. That is, until an extended uncle took me for a joyride in his laguna seca boss… Camry’s suck again.

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    Well, it is an SE so it was grounded to the ground.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    Jack,

    Thanks again for the instruction on day 2 there. Those laps in the camry were crazy, I had no idea that it could do that.

    -Jim

  • avatar
    VelocityRed3

    I traveled from Atlanta to Dayton, OK & back over Memorial Day weekend. I kid you not, I must have been passed by about 30, new models, of this car. I hate those horizontal tail lights, but at 80 plus, I kept thinking Toyota must be really onto something….

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    OMG another Camry review! You guys must be really bored at those rental counters.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The corollary to “Run What Ya Brung” is “Drive What Ya Want”.

    If a 4cyl Camry suits you then eff the haters…

  • avatar

    One of us is a three year Nurburgring racing instructor with thousands of laps behind their belt. The other a weekend warrior. Decide which experience you value more.

    • 0 avatar
      Tankslider

      Pretty undignified, Mike.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Oh for… Girls! You’re both pretty!
      If we hadn’t chased the suspension tuner off the site he’d be sure to mention that you didn’t drive the same cars. Balance affects steering feel in a big way.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Oooh so serious…aren’t you a pilot? What series have you raced in before you started teaching it? I tried Googling no luck.

      You guys should totally have a head to head

    • 0 avatar
      b787

      So you are saying you have to be a Nurburgring racing instructor to realize a car has “the worst steering since the days of British Leyland”?
      If that is so, I would say it is completely irrelevant since Jack has far more track experience than average car enthusiast (let alone an average driver) and he obviously liked the steering.

    • 0 avatar
      DRJJJ

      Thanks for your honesty Mike-it’s the best policy! Were you a family of 4 passing sports cars- how many in the car?

  • avatar
    DRJJJ

    Just rented a 2012 V6 camry and the thing honks! Read where some have coaxed over 102 mph out of it in the 1/4 mile-that’s very fast for a vanilla family sedan-about the same mph through the traps drag racing a Honda 900F motorcycle in 83! Wonder what he would have got for lap times in the 6? Feels like more than the 275 horse-300 at least, must be the Johnny on the spot tranny? The 4 banger turns about 90 in the quarter which was muscle car territory in the 60s/70s FYI and rare in the 80s! I believe the 1980 vette didn’t make any more HP than this 2.5 Camry and the Camry has a better tranny and is lighter-so see ya! 40mpg @ steady 65mph too! Well done Toyota production systems!

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Took someone here’s advice and Friday we took my wife’s Lexus in for service, asked for and received an ES. It’s been less than a month since we had the 4 pot Camry so I think I had some memory of the feel. The front wheels in the ES were easily overwhelmed by the combo of weight and torque. The on center dead zone was very much more pronounced in the ES than the SE. I know they’re the same car, ’cause I read it on the inter webs, but you wouldn’t know it from the drivers seat. My wife thinks I’m crazy (ok, she knows) but I’d rather have the SE 4 banger.


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