15 March 2007

Blast From The Past- Mags And The Camry

Another classic but relevant review.


Rented a car. Was about to take a Monte Carlo, saw they had a new Camry LE (base model) on the lot, next thing you know, I'm behind the wheel of the automotive equivalent of Jesus.

Found some surprising things...

The Outside
A lot of people have delivered a verdict of ugly. I deliver a verdict of 'nice evolution'. The previous generation Camry was a disjointed blob of weird shapes, sharp creases, and overall looked as though it was constipated. This new one cribs some stuff from other automakers, and some stuff from upscale brother Lexus, and comes off a lot better.

In the front, you've got a knockoff Mazda grille with an enormous Toyota logo. The model I drove had a colour keyed grille, and it looked pretty damn good. The headlights look like they belong on a Lexus. For my liking, the side of the car is sculpted WAY too much. Coming back to the car earlier today, I thought someone had hit me while parked, and quickly realized it was just the shaping of the doors. The rear of the car is also the best part of the car- I like the extruding rear light cluster, and I especially like the overall shape- again, the point of this vehicle appears to be, 'mini-Lexus, but sportier', and I think the rear exemplifies this the most, drawing cues from the Lexus GS and the Avalon.

Fit and finish on the outside was impeccable and the dark gray paintjob had no noticeable orange peel effect.

The LE is shod with 16 inch steel wheels adorned with ridiculously ugly plastic wheel covers. My annoyance with plastic wheel covers has been well documented, so I'll stop here.

The Inside
On first glance, the Camry is the best looking interior of the midsize class- and that includes the Accord, which to me has been the benchmark all these years. Nice swooping lines, beautifully integrated stereo, Indiglo-style instrumentation on the HVAC/stereo, nicely contoured dash, Lexus-style instrumentation.

On second glance, the materials inside are top notch. Soft rubber and plastics everywhere.

On third glance, everything goes to hell.

I cannot believe the assembly quality inside this car. Ill fitting dash parts were everywhere. On the center stack. On the vents. Around the stereo. Around the upper pod above HVAC/stereo which gives airbag/time info. I was shocked. This was not a worn in rental- this car had approximately 5k KM on it when I picked it up last night. On top of all this, there are some fairly obvious cost cutting measures to be found, primarily in the use of plastics. Remember I said that it was all soft rubber and plastics? Well, after the top most portion of the door, it's hard stuff. And midway down the center stack, it's hard stuff. In addition, Toyota has decided to throw in the rat fur on the roof of the car, eschewing a woven headliner. Like I said, first impressions are deceiving.

The base stereo included with the Camry is pretty much crap as well. Although it has 6 speakers, it was the tinniest 6 speaker system I have ever encountered. I quickly retired the iPod for the day, and reverted to talk radio. On the plus side, it did have MP3/WMA compatibility, and was very legible, in addition to providing a hilarious 'Welcome To Camry' message on every startup.

What did I like about the inside? For one, the driving position and seats- the seats themselves were upholstered in soft cloth and were VERY comfortable. I logged about 600 KM today, and didn't feel uncomfortable once. It was all manual adjustment, but it was very easy to find the sweet spot. The driving position in the Camry is upright and tall, very much like the Ford Five Hundred. Maybe I'm getting old, but I liked it. The versatility of the interior is also a plus- this thing is large inside, and offers a nice sized trunk with 60/40 passthrough, however it does not use struts for the hinges, and intrudes on space. Another like about the interior were the aforementioned gauges. Simple layout, but very bright, and the font that Toyota uses looks upscale. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the standard airbags- driver, passenger, front curtains and rear curtains. Kudos to Toyota for making these features standard across the board.

Apart from those things however, the interior of the Camry was a resolute disappointment- much like a MILF who is makeup hot- scratch under the surface, and you find some nasty ass birthmarks, wrinkles, and zits.

The Drive
With 158 HP, and 161 lbs/ft of torque, you'd imagine that the Camry LE would be a slug around town in a car. You'd be mistaken. As much as I was disappointed with the interior of the car, I was impressed with the base engine. The VVT-i is smooth as butter all the way up to the redline, and is more than capable around town. Ring it out, and it actually sounds quite nice. Merging on the highway was not much of a problem, and I never felt underpowered in the car, unlike the Fusion SE which was breathing heavy above 100 km/h.

Unfortunately, the sweet I4 is mated to a clumsy 5 speed automatic transmission that had a propensity to hunt for gears. This wasn't all too noticeable on the highway, but around town there were noticeable lapses in power if I needed it quickly, as the tranny would try to figure out which of the 5 gears were right for the situation.

Braking was a non-issue.

Handling and steering dynamics were yet another sore spot for me with the Camry LE. The steering reminded me a LOT of the Buick Allure (nee Lacrosse) I drove a few months ago. WAY too light, WAY too hard to keep on center on the highway, and it didn't give very good feedback. Combine the floaty steering with a floaty suspension that seemed more tuned to provide comfort rather than road feel, and I didn't dare approach on-ramps at more than the posted limit. I know, I know- it's a base model- but only the SE models in the lineup provide a 'sport suspension', so I can only assume that the other Camrys ride the same way. It was once said that Toyota was morphing into a Japanese Buick- I can't say I disagree after driving the Camry.

So in the end, a willing engine mated to an oafish 5 speed auto and a light and airy suspension. Not the best combination.

And So...
The 2007 Camry is a horrendous disappointment. It doesn't drive better than any of the older competition (Accord, Altima, G6, et al), and it sure as hell is not assembled as well as most of the competition. This is offset somewhat by a nice base motor, and an exquisite LOOKING interior, but there are simply too many other glaring problems with this car. It seems like Toyota rushed this car out too quickly without ironing out a lot of the assembly line problems, and it shows. Without driving a sport suspension model, I can't make a final verdict on the entire line, but the base Camry LE stinks like 3 day old half eaten McDonalds cheeseburgers sitting in a G6 GT (I might know something about that, but that's a story for another day). If, and that's a very big if, the assembly could be improved, it would be in the top tier of the midsize offerings, but certainly still not at the top of the heap, which one would expect from a totally new vehicle.


Mr.Burns said...

generally i agree with your review, i personally love the looks of the new camry (i saw one today behind a new C-class merc and was surprised at how cheap the merc looked in comparison). I didnt at first, but it's grown on me. And i agree with the assembly quality, Every one that i looked at had problems, be it parts that moved when they shouldnt have, or things that just didnt fit properly. I think this mainly has to do with the styling. For once toyota actually decided to add style to the camry's interior, and when you add style to something (especially with sweeping curves), quality tends to go down. The build was definitely better on the last one. Also, the new camry has alot more creases than the old one (which had barely any), and the only car that looks constipated is the Crossfire imo.

Shady said...

The only model I like of the new Camry is the SE.

Old Dood said...

I would like to see Mag's thoughts on an XLE V6. there is a big difference between the XLE V6 and the LE I4 in my opinion since I have owned both of them.

Also I am curious to know if the Camry he drove was a Kentucky Car or a J-Car. There is a difference in build quality between the two.

My "guess" would be he drove a Kentucky built car.