Driving Northwest: The 2010 Toyota Camry

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by TOM VOELK / KING5

NWCN.com

Posted on December 3, 2009 at 12:15 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 3 at 1:10 PM

Ask people about their dream car and they often talk about exotic performance machines. Mercedes. BMWs. Maybe a Mustang GT convertible. Reality check. The car people buy most often is Toyota’s Camry.  It is certainly possible to pick up a nice pre-owned dream machine at an affordable price but in these uncertain times certainty gets the nod. For 2010, there’s a number of changes but the general shape and mission remains the same. Eagle eyed card carrying Camry club members will notice a new front fascia and tailamps.

Camry is Kevin Spacey-Good looking but not a candidate for People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. Talented and disciplined but not Payton Manning athletic. Like Mr.  Spacey, Camry is the quiet understated one that doesn’t seem like much of a threat… until it’s walking out the door with your date. Enthusiasts call this car “appliance” and “vanilla”, but I think we all know which flavor of ice cream is most popular. Camry has been the best selling car in America for 7 years straight, something the others can’t crow about.

My favorite upgrade is under the hood.

For 2010 a new 2. 5-liter 4-cylinder bumps the power to 169 horsepower. The 11 extra ponies are appreciated. A 6-speed manual is available, my fancy XLE tester comes standard with a 6-speed automatic with manual control using the console lever. SE models get 10 more HP from that engine plus a revised suspension for those looking for more engagement during the act of driving. There’s also a hybrid model.

For most buyers there’s no need for the optional 3. 5-liter 268 horse V6. For its intended task of hauling the family around town the 4 is just fine . EPA rates fuel economy at 22 city, 32 highway for the setup I’m driving. That’s just one highway mile shy of the best-in-class Malibu IF the Chevy is ordered with the 6-speed transmission.

When it comes to driving dynamics Camry is tuned for the masses. Ride quality is comfortable, steering feedback is slight and cabin noise is moderate. It comes off pleasantly during a test drive. Want athletic handling?Go with Altima, Mazda6 or Honda Accord. Camry devotees will find those too stiffly sprung.

Moving inside…

This top ‘o the line XLE gets some welcome pizzazz with wood-like trim. Good thing. Without it things would be a bit blah, especially in the grey interior my tester sports. A little extra bright work here and there might be nice. Materials are a mix of soft and hard plastics. Ironically the material that’s most pleasant to the touch (the top of the instrument panel) is the one least likely to fall to hand. Being persnickety, a couple parts have visible seams from the molding process and some pieces don’t butt up perfectly true to each other. If I’m expecting too much it was Toyota who set the standard.

The as-tested price of 29 grand includes optional leather chairs, both with power but just one level of heat. The good JBL sound system has XM radio and, hallelujah, a USB port for iPod control and charging. Bluetooth for phones and stereo audio streaming is here too.

It’s easy to get comfortable with an adjustable armrest and tilt and telescoping wheel. Gauges are clear and bright. There’re plenty of spots to store small stuff too. Camry is available with satellite navigation and keyless ignition if so desired. These aren’t available on all competitors though at that point things are getting a little pricey. Might be time to check out Avalon or even Buick LaCrosse.

A pet peeve of mine, the side view mirrors don’t break away. Not a big deal until you have to duct tape it back on when it gets wacked.

Camry is a safe choice in more ways than one.

It gets 5 stars in all government crash tests accept rollover (earning a 4, pretty typical). It has all the expected airbags plus one for the driver’s knees. Electronic stability, traction control, and Brake Assist are all along for the ride. Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management has migrated from Lexus down to the Toyota brand. VDIM ties all the electronic stability controls and braking systems together, making it smarter and more effective.  Push Camry hard in the corners and you’ll feel these systems coming on quickly to save your bacon.

For the most part the carpool gang will be pretty happy in the back seat. Foot and leg room are generous for the outboard positions. Put the short person in the middle position though. I’m 5’9’’ and due to the raised seat in the center, I hit my head when sitting up straight. No 12v power plug in back (there’s two up front). There’s a manual sunshade that’s not very useful if old sol peeks out while underway. Seats don’t fold down to expand cargo on this XLE or the SE. This model swaps practicality for seats that recline. A ski pass is all you get here.

One industry standard meets another.

Hard to believe I’ve never done the Costco Toilet Paper Test on a standard Camry before. I’ve always driven the hybrid model and its battery takes up some space in the cargo hold. Pop the deck lid and it politely rises up a bit due to the gooseneck hinge arms. Those and some undulations take up a little bit of space. The trunk looks large and it appears that 7 might fit but the lid won’t close without seriously mashing up the 2-ply.  Officially this one goes down in the book as an average 6 though I’d give it a 6. 5 in the real world.

Word is, the name Camry is taken from the Japanese word kanmuri, which means “crown”. In Scottish and Gallic Camry apparently means “crooked nose” but I digress. Toyota knows and cultivates their buyers very well. Many will simply trade in their old model in for a new one without a test drive of the competition. Camry is certainly well done but there aren’t many “surprise and delight” features to be found. These days Camry has fierce competition in Accord, Altima, Fusion, Legacy, Sonata, Malibu and Mazda6. Some are flashier than the Toyota, but hey, the people have spoken. For now Camry wears the crown of popularity.

An important safety note

No doubt you’ve heard about unintended acceleration in certain Toyota models. Below is their press release on which models are affected and what you should do.:

Torrance, Calif. , November 25, 2009 - - Toyota Motor Sales, U. S. A. , Inc.  (TMS) announced today details of the vehicle-based remedy to address the root cause of the potential risk for floor mat entrapment of accelerator pedals in certain Toyota and Lexus models.  Toyota issued a consumer safety advisory on September 29 on this issue and has, as an interim measure, commenced the mailing of safety notices to certain Toyota and Lexus owners on October 30.

The models involved are: 2007 to 2010 MY (model year) Camry, 2005 to 2010 MY Avalon, 2004 to 2009 MY Prius, 2005 to 2010 MY Tacoma, 2007 to 2010 MY Tundra, 2007 to 2010 MY ES350, 2006 to 2010 MY IS250, and 2006 to 2010 MY IS 350.

The specific measures of the vehicle-based remedy are as follows:

1.  The shape of the accelerator pedal will be reconfigured to address the risk of floor mat entrapment, even when an older-design all-weather floor mat or other inappropriate floor mat is improperly attached, or is placed on top of another floor mat. For the ES350, Camry, and Avalon models involved, the shape of the floor surface underneath will also be reconfigured to increase the space between the accelerator pedal and the floor.

2.  Vehicles with any genuine Toyota or Lexus accessory all-weather floor mat will be provided with newly-designed replacement driver- and front passenger-side all-weather floor mats.

In addition, as a separate measure independent of the vehicle-based remedy, Toyota will install a brake override system onto the involved Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350, IS350 and IS 250 models as an extra measure of confidence.  This system cuts engine power in case of simultaneous application of both the accelerator and brake pedals.

Toyota is in the process of completing development of these actions and for the ES350, Camry, and Avalon will start notifying owners of the involved vehicles via first-class mail by the end of this year. The remedy process regarding the other five models will occur on a rolling schedule during 2010.

Dealers will be trained and equipped to make the necessary modifications to these models starting at the beginning of 2010. Initially, dealers will be instructed on how to reshape the accelerator pedal for the repair. As replacement parts with the same shape as the modified pedal become available, they will be made available to dealers for the repair, beginning around April 2010. Customers who have had the remedy completed will have the opportunity to receive a new pedal if they desire.

In the meantime, owners of the involved vehicles are asked to take out any removable driver’s floor mat and not replace it with any other floor mat until they are notified of the vehicle-based remedy, as notified in the consumer safety advisory and the interim notice.

The brake override system will be made standard equipment throughout the Toyota and Lexus product lines starting with January 2010 production of ES350 and Camry and is scheduled to be incorporated into new production of most models by the end of 2010.

The safety of our owners and the public is our utmost concern and Toyota has and will continue to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate measures to address any defect trends that are identified.

Owners who have further questions are asked to visit www.Toyota.com or www.lexus.com or contact the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus Customer Assistance at 1-800-255-3987.

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