Comparison Test/Review: Fourth Place: 2009 Toyota Camry

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
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comparison test review fourth place 2009 toyota camry

During his first inaugural speech, given at the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Once again, Americans find themselves living through days of economic infamy. Uncertain times and erratic energy costs have cured fearing suburbanites of their predilection for gargantuan SUVs. It’s time for practical pragmatism; inexpensive family haulers that dine lightly on 85 octane and stay firmly bolted together for years to come. To fully understand this segment, I tested and compared a quartet of economy sedans. First up: the Toyota Camry.

As fear-fearing Americans fretted over the possibility of $200 per barrel oil, the Camry surpassed the venerable Ford F150 as the national best seller. The Camry is synonymous with reliability: a veritable rolling appliance. The Camry is now the benchmark against which all others are measured. The mid-sized market is crowded with more models than is practical to test at one time. Of course the Honda Accord LX, also a sales leader with significant mindshare for affordable quality, had to be included. To round out the field I chose Toyota and Honda’s leading home country competition, Mazda Mazda6 Sport and Nissan Altima 2.5.

In keeping with the economy theme, I opted for entry level four-cylinder, front wheel-drive models with base option packages. The four cars are remarkably similar in size, capacities, fuel economy, power, options and price. Drawing distinctions between the sedans largely fell to subjective styling taste and driving impressions. Before I delve too deeply, I suppose it’s proper for me to disclaim that I’ve owned three Toyota Camrys and currently drive an aging Accord LX. As you will see, this didn’t necessarily help either of these cars in this comparison.

The success of the Camry franchise is indisputable. What’s even more remarkable: with the possible exception of the first generation, on the aesthetics scale Camry looks have ranged from dull to homely. I guess that shows what a reputation of practical reliability can do for you.

The current model, with us since March 2006, is the ugliest-ever iteration. What Adrian van Hooydonk did for trunk lids, Toyota’s designers have done to Camry’s front end (pray that the automobile industry doesn’t follow suit). The Camry’s hood and grille are formed into an unsightly bulge in the center, as if an Alien baby were about to emerge. Or, if you prefer, it’s straight from E!’s “Rhinoplasty gone wrong!” series.

The Camry’s countenance looks like it was inspired by a Sperm whale’s brow. It prompts the sardonic critic to ask, is that a 12-cylinder under your bonnet or are you just happy to see me? Camry’s Bangalized hind quarters are nearly as unsightly as the front. In profile the Camry looks like a cooked Ball Park Frank®.

What a relief to get behind the wheel, where occupants are greeted by purposeful class-compliant gauges and switches. HVAC knobs turn with all the firm assurance of dials on a safe. Otherwise, the components are largely made from weight (and money) saving hard plastics that are a qualitative step down from Camry’s of yore.

Let’s face it, none of these 3300 lbs cars with economical four cylinder power plants are gonna set your hair on fire when your inner hoon gets feeling a little randy. Among these weaklings, Camry is the wimpiest by 12 hp. Yet mom and dad will happily shuttle young’uns from home and school to football practice and dance lessons. Stoplight to stoplight dashes from zero to forty and back to zero are what this 158 hp 2.4-liter engine does best.

Just don’t count on getting out from behind a slow-moving semi on a two lane highway without your heart rate going anaerobic. The move from fifty to eighty mph is almost as slow as waiting for a Dancing with the Stars verdict.

Flop and wallow. The Camry’s handling dynamics in a nutshell. Driven hard, the Camry gets your blood pumping; again for all of the wrong reasons. Through twists and turns the Toyota pitches and rolls with a distinctly nautical flavor. In every respect, the Camry, which lacks so much as a hand brake, is the least driver’s-oriented car of the bunch. BUT this is a superb passenger’s car. Its refined, glossy-smooth ride outclasses its mid-sized competitors. Horrendous county roads are quietly dispatched with limousine luxury worthy of its Lexus-badged siblings.

Comfort-oriented buyers might find Camry’s ride sufficient cause to overlook its visual and performance shortcomings. For me, it’s not nearly enough.

William C Montgomery
William C Montgomery

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  • APfromToronto APfromToronto on Nov 06, 2008

    Hope you guys review the SE-V6 Camry. I test drove a hybrid Camry at a mall nearby where Toyota was having hybrid test drive promo and I actually liked it. Except for the whine that I think was coming from the transmission? (Didn't bother to ask them), and the fact that it didn't take off like a regular car from a stop. But I like a comfort oriented car. I also test drove the Hybrid Highlander and didn't like that as I could sense the weight of the battery at the back!

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Dec 17, 2008

    The current 07-09 style Camry is the perfect car for people that don't care about cars. The vast majority of folks that I see driving them are over 70 years old in fact. The 158 Hp 2.4 4 cylinder as found in base, LE, SE and XLE models gets the job done but note is less powerfull than all it's 09 competitors including the new restyled Kia Optima/Hyundai Sonota which have 169 HP from the base 2.4 engine, the new Malibu 2.4 which has 169 HP, the Nissan Altima which packs 175 HP, the Accord which had 177 or 190 HP 2.4's and the Ford Fusion which has 160 HP and will soon have over 170 for the new model. The drab all gray interior with so many odd fitting pieces and cut lines screams rental car and the electric steering assist, ponderous handling with float and wallow will never inspire confidence in me. The exterior is a mixed bag. Like so many car manufacturers are doing today, Toyota stupidly removed(decontented/cheapened) the bodyside door moldings which protect from careless parking lot dings and dress up the plain boring sides of the vehicle which just goes a long way in making this car a forgettable appliance. The grille is odd along with the bangle butt stolen from BMW. The overall appearance of this car isn't horrible but neither is it inspired. The new Malibu and Altima win hands down on exterior styling. As a choice in a sea of boring mid size Asian car choices, the Camry comes near the bottom of my long list.

  • 285exp If the conversion to EVs was really so vital to solve an existential climate change crisis, it wouldn’t matter whether they were built by US union workers or where the batteries and battery materials came from.
  • El scotto Another EBPosky, "EVs are Stoopid, prove to me water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius" article.It was never explained if the rural schools own the buses or if the school bus routes are contracted out. If the bus routes are contracted out, will Carpenter or Bluebird offer an electric school bus? Flexmatt never stated the range of brand-unspecified school bus. Will the min-mart be open at the end of the 179-mile drive? No cell coverage? Why doesn't the bus driver have an emergency sat phone?Two more problems Mr. Musk could solve.
  • RICK Long time Cadillac admirer with 89 Fleetwood Brougham deElegance and 93 Brougham, always liked Eldorado until downsized after 76. Those were the days. Sad to see what now wears Cadillac name.
  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.