Toyota's mid-size Camry has been one of the best-selling cars in Canada for going on two decades now.
Why is that? We'll take a look at a base 2010 LE model to find out.
Toyota's Camry arrived in North American as a 1983 model, a larger and more substantial car than those that had established the Japanese beachhead in the previous decade.
It was timed perfectly to expand interest in vehicles from that faraway land, which were rather exotic unknown quantities then, but which today we are as comfortable buying as we once were the products of the now much-reduced-in-status North American brands.
Since then, through six generations and 10-million-plus sales, the Camry has established itself as one of the most popular cars on the continent, as well as elsewhere in the world.
In the United States, the Camry brand has been the top-selling passenger car for a decade - up until recently they were rolling off dealers lots at more than 1,000 a day. And in Canada it ranks sixth in terms of all passenger cars sold since 1990, with some 430,000 purchased. Of the three mid-sizers on that top-10 list, it sits between the fifth-place Honda Accord (520,000 units) and Ford's seventh-place Taurus (380,000 units).
I've reviewed every Camry generation sold here and can't think of a single one that caused my word processor to froth over with hyperbolic praise for styling, performance or handling, which I can be guilty of generating after driving one of the industry's more exciting creations. It's just never been that kind of car.
But looking back on those reviews I can't find much in the way of negativity either. It's that kind of car, too. A good value (new and at resale), well built and reliable, safe, practical, comfortable and in virtually every way a pleasant car. I'm sure some of those 400,000-plus buyers have had some bad experiences with one, but overall it has a very solid reputation.
The latest generation of the four-door, five-passenger, front-drive Camry arrived here for the 2007 model year and typically wasn't a major departure from the one before. Although, and also typically, it was refined in virtually every area.
For the 2010 model year, it has benefited from minor mid-cycle styling and equipment enhancements and a new fully loaded model has been added to the four-cylinder-powered offerings, for those who want all the toppings on their cake but want to help pay for them with money saved at the gas pump.
Four-cylinder Camry's start with the LE at $24,900, move up to the SE at $26,205 and jump to the new XLE at $30,925. These are also offered with V-6 engines starting at $28,345.
The test car is an LE, which comes with a fully configured audio system, 60/40-split rear seat, tilt/telescope wheel with audio controls, air conditioning, front, side, side curtain and driver's knee airbag systems and electronic stability control.
To that was added $470 worth of eight-way power driver's seat and electro-chromic rear-view mirror with compass, which brought the price, including delivery, to $26,790.
The Camry's exterior styling isn't eye-stopping but is certainly attractive and for 2010 is differentiated by new grille and headlamps, bumpers, LED taillights and wheel design.
The tester's interior is very "nice." An attractive - with a hint of Lexus - darker grey over lighter grey scheme highlighted by a backlit gauge pack, silver trim on the steering wheel and centre stack and with Camry embroidered on the floor mats.
Front-seat cushions are too short and the bolsters soft, headroom is fine front and back. The back-seat area is roomy with a low floor hump, the bench not uncomfortably hard and behind it there's a trunk with 425 litres of cargo space.
Mirrors are okay, same for the audio and climate control systems and the headlights. Road noise, somewhat noticeable at low speeds, disappears into an overall low ambient noise level at highway velocities.
The pleasant and comfortable interior has also gained an audio input auxiliary jack, satellite-ready antenna and auto-up/down power windows for 2010.
The most significant change, however, is under the hood. There, you'll find a larger 2.5-litre, twin-cam four-cylinder engine with advanced valve control, rated at 169 hp at 6,000 rpm and 167 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm and a new six-speed automatic transmission. The combination delivers improved drivability, acceleration and fuel economy, now rated at 9.0 L/100 km city and 6.1 highway compared with the old engine's 9.5 city/6.4 highway.
All this adds up to a pleasant driving experience. Steering feel is a little on the light side, but response is direct and body roll well controlled, so it corners confidently and changes direction without drama. Ride can best be described as supple. Brake pedal feel is firm too.
Throttle tip-in a little abrupt, acceleration from a standstill is more than quick enough, and the six-speed transmission promptly selects an appropriate gear when you step on the pedal to pass or merge (you can shift for yourself, too, if you like).
It's a car that in mechanical and dynamic terms does just about what you expect it to do in every circumstance, and you can't say fairer than that.
And all that is why the Camry remains a popular choice with Canadians.
2010 TOYOTA CAMRY LE
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base Price: $24,900; as tested, $26,790
Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 169 hp/167 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.0 city/6.1 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord V-6, Mitsubishi Galant, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata V-6, Buick Allure, Kia Magentis, Nissan Altima, Saturn Aura, Subaru Legacy, Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Avenger
- Attractive styling
- Decent power and performance and good fuel economy
- Roomy interior and trunk
- Seats could be firmer and more supportive
- Somewhat-abrupt throttle tip-in