2007 Toyota Camry Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Toyota Camry (XLE shown)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2007 Toyota Camry LE

The Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in this country for the past four years, and for eight of the past nine years. It's been in the top few for even longer. I see numerous examples from the previous three generations, models going back to 1992, on a regular basis, and even a few earlier ones, going all the way back to the Camry's debut in 1983. Over six and a half million Camrys have been sold in America since then. The words ``rare'' and ``exotic'' will never be applied to the Toyota Camry.

With its position at the top of the sales charts, the Camry is a serious target for all competitors. Toyota has recently made their jobs much more difficult by replacing the fifth-generation Camry, introduced in 2002, with a new and very different sixth generation debuting early as a model year 2007 vehicle.

Little about the 2007 Camry has been left unchanged. Most apparent is new styling, bolder and more international than previously seen on a Camry. Overall size is not much changed, but a longer wheelbase and wider track translate to even more interior space. Crashworthiness has been improved by changes to both materials and design. Wheels and tires are larger, and all models feature four-wheel antilock disc brakes.

And ``all models'' has more significance, with an expanded lineup. After all, the Camry didn't reach the peak of popularity by being a niche vehicle. Even the entry-level CE grade is well-equipped, with power windows. mirrors, and locks, Optitron backlit gauges, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with a jack for an external MP3 player, and seven air bags. The core-model LE adds remote entry, a power driver' seat, and a long list of available options. The SE has gotten sportier, with an aero body kit, extra chassis reinforcement, and a specially-tuned suspension. The premium XLE gets as standard equipment many of the LE's options, and upscale options including a DVD navigation system, leather upholstery, and a keyless push-button starting system. For the first time, there is a Camry Hybrid model, but that's another vehicle for another week.

The standard engine is all non-hybrid 2007 Camrys is an upgraded version of Toyota's 2AZ-FE 2.4-liter four-cylinder, now with 158 horsepower. It's matched to a five-speed manual or automatic transmission. Optional in all but the CE is a new 3.5-liter V6, with 268 horsepower. It comes with a six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. In contrast to the usual press fleet-spec fully-loaded premium model, in this case an XLE V6 with the works, my test car for the past week has been a four-cylinder LE with a few key options. It's the most popular model, and for good reason. The Camry LE four-cylinder may be statistically average, but with good power and economy, plenty of passenger and trunk space, and typically Toyota high build quality, it's the benchmark family sedan.

APPEARANCE: In styling the new Camry, Toyota wanted something less conservative. But a careful balance needed to be struck, as too-radical styling could be invitation to disaster. With its sharp, European-inspired looks, the 2007 Camry should be successful. Its combination of rounded shapes and chiseled character lines makes it look smaller than its immediate predecessor, but it's not. While the two are equal in length, the new Camry is over an inch longer in wheelbase, an inch wider, and a touch lower. The passenger cabin is noticeably longer, with the base of the windshield pushed forward and the bottom of the backlight moved toward the rear. The new Toyota look pioneered on the Yaris is at the front, with the corporate badge prominently displayed in a piece of sheetmetal that drops down into the grille, giving that grille a winged appearance. It's flanked by long, low headlights with projector-beam low beams, multifaceted high beams, and integrated turn signals. Twin character lines in the hood, blistered front fenders, and a strong shoulder line give a muscular look that has not been seen before on a Camry. The rear window and trunklid pay homage to a trend-setting and very expensive Bavarian luxury sedan, while the bulging taillights provide interest to the rear.

COMFORT: The extra length made by increasing the 2007 Camry's wheelbase all went into the passenger cabin. There is more front and rear legroom, and the front seats have a longer range of adjustment. New seats further improve space, and comfort. All grades feature an upscale interior design that looks like it was taken from Toyota's upscale relatives at Lexus, with a flowing two-tone instrument panel and easily-visible backlit ``Optitron'' gauges. Materials are high-quality synthetics, with textured material for the dash, a thick rubberized steering wheel rim, and grippy velour-like upholstery. In the LE, the driver's seat is power-adjustable. Seat comfort is very good, as is visibility, and the tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel aids driver comfort and control. Although it is contoured for two, three people can fit in the rear bench, helped by a nearly flat floor. Trunk space is very good, and a low liftover height and the 60/40 split of the rear seatback come in handy when loading oversized cargo. Even the standard audio system has a jack to connect an external audio device, like an MP3 player or iPod. The optional JBL sound system also can play MP3 CDs in addition to regular ones, and provides very good sound quality.

SAFETY: Safety is improved by the new Camry's stronger structure, larger antilock brakes, and standard brake assist. Seven airbags - dual front, front side, side curtain, and a driver's knee bag - are standard in all grades.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The 2007 Camry's improved structural rigidity results from both stronger materials, like the high-strength steel used for B-pillar and rocker panel reinforcement, and new design. While its fully-independent suspension is similar in basic design to the previous model, with MacPherson struts in front and dual-link struts in the rear, the suspension geometry and spring and shock tunings have all been changed. The result is a ride that is slightly firmer, for better handling, but still very comfortable and well-damped. Comfort is paramount, but its controlled comfort. Steering effort is low, but not too low. Despite the longer wheelbase, the new Camry has a tighter turning circle than last year's version, for easier parking.

PERFORMANCE: With 158 horsepower and 161 lb-ft of torque, power from the Camry's four-cylinder engine is more than adequate for everyday use. While displacement of the dual overhead cam, 16-valve powerplant has remained the same, at 2.4 liters, internal changes have reduced noise and vibration and improved power output. If a quick glance at the specs makes it appear to be peaky, with the torque peak at 4000 rpm and the horsepower peak at 6000 rpm, don't believe only numbers. Torque is good right off idle, making the five-speed automatic an excellent match. Good shift logic and the engine's broad torque band ensure both performance and economy - the transmission quickly downshifts under full-throttle acceleration, and doesn't upshift until near the 6200-rpm redline. When descending a steep grade, or sometimes merely slowing toward a stop, the transmission unobtrusively downshifts, for better engine braking. Fuel economy, rated 24 mpg city and 33 highway by the EPA, and around 26 mpg in mixed city and highway driving, is good for a car with as much room as the Camry, and it runs on regular unleaded. I never felt the need for a V6 during my week with the car.

CONCLUSIONS: With new style and increased space, the 2007 Toyota Camry is better than ever.

SPECIFICATIONS
2007 Toyota Camry LE


Base Price			$ 20,500
Price As Tested			$ 24,638
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve aluminum
				 alloy 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.
Horsepower			158 @ 6000 rpm 
Torque (lb-ft) 			161 @ 4000 rpm 
Transmission			5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		109.3 in. / 189.2 in.
Curb Weight			3,285 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		20.8
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/60 R16 Bridgestone Turanza (opt)
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent dual-link strut
Drivetrain			front engine, front wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy  - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		24 / 33 / 26
0 to 60 mph				est 9.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
16-inch alloy wheels				$   410
JBL premium audio system			$ 1,000
Power tilt and slide moonroof			$   940
Vehicle stability control with traction control	$   650
Carpet mats					$   199
VIP RD3200 Plus security system			$   359
Destination charge				$   580

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