Toyota Camry 2014 still a top midsize pick
Toyota Camry SE V6 2014 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Mid-size sedan
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 24-valve, DOHC 3.5-litre V6 (268 hp and 248 lb/ft of torque)
FUEL ECONOMY: as tested with 3.5-litre V6 9.7/6.5/8.3 L/100km (city/hwy/comb)
CARGO: 436 litres
PRICES: base LE $23,750; SE $27,070; SE V6 $29,810; XLE $30,560; XLE V6 $33,625; as tested SE V6 with Premium Package $32,900
If I had to pick two nameplates synonymous with Toyota’s success on this continent, hands-down it would be Camry and Corolla.
The latter has been around longer, but Camry’s history of more than three decades and seven generations speaks to its key role in the company lineup
It continues as North America’s top selling mid-size sedan, with 400,000 leaving dealerships last year in the U.S. alone. And although this segment isn’t as big a deal in Canada, more than 15,000 Camrys sold here in 2013.
It hasn’t been performance and panache drawing carbuyers to Toyota showrooms. I know, having owned both second- and third-generation models.
Neither turned heads, but the former logged nearly half a million kilometers before I drove it to the wreckers. Our 1993 model was better at resisting rust, and its interior showed not a crack, split or tear until we retired it in 2010.
Both savvy purchases should be credited to my wife who, like most Camry buyers, is a slave to all that left-brain stuff like build quality, long-term reliability and resale value.
That kind of sensibility is still front and centre for 2014, along with styling no less conservative than Camrys past. Mind you, I do like this current model’s clean slab sides, particularly in SE trim, which features a full skirt package that visually lowers the body. Also included are 18-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler and dual chrome exhaust finishers.
SE trim, however, is more than an appearance package. It gets a sport-tuned suspension, and its six-speed automatic is equipped with paddle shifters.
Power comes from either a four-cylinder engine, or as tested, with a DOHC 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 that puts it near the top of the model range at $29,810.
Camry is available in three grades (LE, SE and XLE), three powertrains (V6, four cylinder and hybrid), not to mention several upgrade packages. You can get a base LE with 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder from $23,750, or spend large on a top-trim XLE V6, starting at $33,625.
But let’s leave that ‘build and price’ minutia to the website, and focus instead on why Camry remains so popular.
Which in my half-baked analysis is that engineers didn’t putz around trying to win over the auto enthusiast.
I’m not saying that Camry is a dull ride – far from it. In SE trim, handling is surprisingly tight, enabling it to carve corners better than previous models, and with 268 hp on tap (and 248 lb/ft of torque), there’s no shortage of thrust when you plant the pedal.
But it isn’t a sport sedan. And that’s not a knock, as the families and mature buyers who’ve been loyal to Camry’s core values comprise a much larger market than our small community of auto journalists and gear heads.
Indeed, Camry has always been more about steak than sizzle. It’s obvious in the sheet metal, and equally true in the passenger cabin, where the look remains conservative, clean and uncluttered.
There’s plenty of attractively stitched soft touch in the dash and door panels, and the available heated front seats in my tester were a nice combination of stitched leather bolsters and ultra-suede inserts.
The black centre stack has a brushed metallic finish, with functions that are easy to see with older eyes. HVAC is a simple set of buttons and knobs, yet there’s a touchscreen for other functions like audio and navigation.
In back, you’ll find loads of leg and headroom where three full-sized adults fit nicely. The 60/40 rear seats drop to expand the capacity of its commodious 436-litre trunk.
Although my SE, at nearly $30K, included a lengthy content list, even the base unit is well equipped.
Its 178-hp engine won’t knock your socks off, but buyers still get a comfortable – and very quiet – mid-size sedan that includes keyless entry, power windows, air conditioning, tilt/telescopic steering with audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth, backup camera and six-speaker audio system with 6.1-inch display.
There are upgrades available to replace the 16-inch steel wheels with 17-inch alloys, add heated front seats, power adjust for the driver and more.
Or you can step up to higher trim.
My SE V6 rolled on 18-inch alloys and in addition to the features above, included smart key with pushbutton start, power moon roof, navigation, eight-way power adjust for the driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum scuff plates and more.
This was stepped up by the $3,090 Premium Package, which added a 10-speaker JBL audio system, blind spot monitor and the seating upgrades mentioned earlier.
My week with this car was, in a word, pleasant. The hushed, almost Lexus-like cabin was a refuge during several rush-hour runs in Toronto, and although I’m often spoiled by automatic climate control in most testers, it’s not a stretch to operate the A/C myself. XLE models, however, provide the opportunity to set it and forget it, with two-zone climate control.
The SE’s sport-tuned suspension is less mushy than in other Camry grades, but still compliant as its MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar in front and independent, dual link with stabilizer in rear, was adept at soaking up Toronto’s ubiquitous road imperfections.
Back in the early 1980s, the Camry was a squared-off compact sedan that wouldn’t hold a candle to today’s car, but like the Honda Accord, was a groundbreaker for its time. Today, the bar has been raised for all manufacturers, and Camry has far more competition than in years past.
Still, it remains a solid choice for the mid-size buyer who now benefits from far more conveniences, comforts – and technology – than have ever been available.
Style too will hold more of a wow factor, with the all-new 2015 Camry on the way. But that’s a topic for a later review, and with plenty of 2014 models still on dealer lots, now is a good time to drop by.