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2011 Toyota Camry LE

Deals to be had on soon-to-be revamped Camry Add to ...

With Toyota getting ready to launch the next generation of its mid-size Camry - it will likely appear in showrooms in the first part of next year - why would you consider buying a last-of-the-current-generation 2011 model?

Well, that fine old tradition of kick 'em while they're down might be one good reason; Toyota is still scrambling to pick itself up off the pavement after its public thrashing over quality and safety issues.

Toyota sales are off almost 11 per cent in Canada so far this year so there are particularly good deals available on the 2010 model, but with the new model's arrival imminent, dealers should be pretty keen to get 2011 models off their lots in a hurry, too.

And the Camry didn't suddenly turn into a bad car over the past couple of years.

Since its early 1980s launch, it's been a perennial family car favourite, particularly in the United States where mid-size cars rule, but also here in Canada.

With a new one waiting in the wings, it's no surprise the 2011 edition is virtually the same as the 2010, but that's no bad thing. The 2010 benefited from a mid-cycle re-do that gave it a new-ish look up front with grille, fascia and headlight changes, bright LED taillights and some electronic updates that included Bluetooth and standard stability control on the base LE. Plus a new and more powerful 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission that manage to boost both performance and fuel economy.

Toyota marketers have stretched the Camry's reach well into the entry-luxury zone - tick off all the option boxes and you can top $42,000 - but prices start at a more family-friendly $25,310 for an example like the magnetic grey metallic LE four-cylinder I test drove. A convenience package - alloy wheels, integrated XM satellite, USB audio input, vacuum fluorescent display, power driver's seat and auto dimming mirror with compass - plus delivery charges - elevated this to $28,120.

The last major redesign (for 2007) gave the Camry, which has often been accused of being dowdy looking, a new sheet metal suit that might not be quite Armani, but certainly isn't off the discount rack. And this stylish wrapper surrounds a roomy interior that, while it's a long way from Lexus, won't be mistaken for the inside of a Yaris, either.

It's simple enough inside, but created with a sense of style with some bright trim, Optitron gauges that look high-tech neat, controls that operate with a quality touch, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes and an audio system that produces pleasantly rich sound. The seats? Well, typical of Toyota they're short-ish and soft-ish. Call them acceptable, no more. The rear bench isn't much better, but there is decent space back there, and behind its 60/40-split seatback there's a generous 425-litre trunk.

Standard equipment includes air conditioning, power locks, keyless entry, windows, mirrors, outside temp gauge, cruise control, a clock and front/side/side curtain and driver's-side knee airbag systems. All you need, plus a little more.

The LE's 2.5-litre engine produces 169 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque, which is fed to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic that makes the most of both to deliver enough off-the-line jump to keep up with the cab in the next lane. And quick-enough-to-be-safe when you're passing, or merging with highway traffic. Fuel economy numbers will please even the parsimonious at 9.0 litres/100 km city and 6.0 highway.

Behind the wheel, you won't mistake the Camry for a sports sedan, but the best definition of "handling" is having the car do what you expect it to do when you turn the wheel - and it does. The steering is direct, as is response and although there is some body roll, it's controlled well. An unexpected track session revealed it's actually amazing, and reassuring, how hard you can thrash without it exhibiting any bad behaviour. Braking is positive and progressive, too.

Overall? Call the Camry a car with solid virtues.

2011 Toyota Camry LE

Type: Mid-size four-door sedan

Base Price: $25,310; as tested, $28,120

Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 169 hp/167 lb-ft

Drive: Front-wheel

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.0 city/ 6.0 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, Mazda6, Ford Fusion

globedrive@globeandmail.com

If you're looking for a 6000-pound, $480,000 car built with a craftsman's touch, consider the Rolls-Royce Phantom

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