2009 Toyota Camry: it endures without being sassy


By Jim Meachen

More than once through the mountains of Colorado and into Yellowstone National Park and across Wyoming cattle country into the Black Hills of Dakota we heard praise for the 2009 Toyota Camry from the four people it was transporting on a 2,500-mile vacation late last fall. While our back-seat passengers commented favorably more than once on the roomy interior and comfortable seats, we were equally impressed with the gas mileage from the 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine powering our LE trim-line sedan.

On one 425-mile leg we enjoyed the benefits of 32.5 miles to the gallon (the Camry is EPA rated at 31 mpg highway, 21 city). That was achieved on open roads and included some mountain passes. When the final tally was made as we awaited our Denver flight back to the real world, we figured that we had achieved overall mileage of about 30.

In this new era of fluctuating gas prices, that kind of mileage under rather extreme driving conditions is very welcome.

And we were pleasantly surprised at the sedan’s performance from its rather meager, as measured by 2009 standards, 158-horsepower engine. With about 700 pounds of passengers and another 100 pounds of luggage on board, the Camry managed to negotiated the steep grades of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Grand Tetons and the Black Hills.

We had initial concerns over the car’s ability to seamlessly negotiate elevation changes. After-all in some circles the Camry has a reputation of a flatland point A to point B appliance with basic function and little form or excitement and again that 158-horsepower 4-banger.

No race car, certainly, but to its credit the Camry performed flawlessly. Yes, we had to push it at times, forcing the Toyota into the noisy realm of second and third gear to climb steep grades without losing speed. But it handled everything thrown at it.

Probably not much will be written about the base Camry during the 2009 model year because it’s in the third year of its sixth generation and its hybrid model is pretty sexy and getting all the attention. Throw in the new mid-sized products from Chevrolet, Mazda and Honda that have attracted the bulk of the attention over the past 12 months and you get the idea. And the Camry, particularly in 4-cylinder configuration, is anything but exciting.

But we discovered again why the Camry leads new-car sales virtually every year and why it lead again at the end of the 2008 calendar year even as Honda and Mazda came out with new products and Ford, Hyundai and General Motors improve on their offerings.

The Camry as noted is probably as close to an automotive appliance as can be purchased. Excitement, even in the more responsive V-6 edition, is not part of the equation. But the Camry delivers everything you look for in a family car including handsome if somewhat conservative styling, reliability, easy-to-use switchgear, and a quiet interior. You’ll also find comfortable seats, a good driving position, predictable driving dynamics, room for four or five adults and excellent resale value.

Perhaps that’s why the Camry continues to outsell its mid-sized competitors in this very tough market for the automotive industry.

When measured against the current competition, the 4-cylinder mated to a five-speed automatic transmission looks unimpressive on paper with that 158 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque. But in real-world driving it did the job for us. And that near 9-second zero to 60-time is on par with most of the competition,

The Camry’s chief competitors in the 4-cylinder ranks include the: Honda Accord with 177 (or optional 190) horsepower; the Chevrolet Malibu with 169 horsepower; Ford’s Fusion with 160 horses; the Hyundai Sonata with 175 horsepower and the Nissan Altima with 175 horsepower. The Malibu can now be purchased with a six-speed automatic giving it extra performance and better mileage.

Although Toyota gave us the 4-cylinder for our trip, we think some people may opt for the more performance-pleasing V-6, which actually gives up very little in gas mileage rated at 19 mpg city and 28 highway from 268 horsepower. Consider also that the V-6 starts at $24,935 in LE trim and the base 4-cylinder in CE trim begins at $20,915. Our LE vacation car carried a base price of $22,270 including destination.

Although it had everything we needed for comfortable travel, we wished several times for satellite radio and a navigation system. While satellite radio in either XM or Sirius is available as a $450 option, navigation is not an option on the LE. If you want to keep the 4-cylinder, you must move up two trim levels to the XLE starting at $26,295 to get optional navigation, which is another $1,200. We find this unacceptable. We believe navigation should be offered on lower trims as well.

Another option we think should be standard across the lineup in 2009 is stability control. But if you purchase any of the 4-cylinder models you must pony up another $650 for this safety feature, which also includes traction control.

What is standard across the lineup are air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system with CD player, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split rear folding seat, keyless entry, cruise control and full power accessories.

As we noted, stability control is optional, but the Camry does come with a rather impressive list of standard safety including antilock brakes with brake assist, front-seat side airbags, driver’s knee airbag and full-length side-curtain airbags.

One thing that concerned us prior to our 10-day journey was trunk space. But the Camry, with a cargo volume of 15 cubic feet, proved up to the task of holding two large roller-boards, two carry-on rollers and several other assorted bags and cases. By the way, the Camry has one cubic foot more trunk space than the new Accord and the same amount as the Malibu; the Ford has slightly more space.

At the end of the trip we were pleased for the opportunity to re-visit the Camry, which we had not tested since driving the new 2007 model late in 2006. It gave us an insight as to why Toyota continues to sell more mid-sized sedans than any other automaker.

No one thing stands out with the Camry, but like the Maytag the excellent overall package keeps it ahead of the pack and the repairman at a distance.


Base price: $20,915; as driven, $22,370
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 158 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 161 @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Length: 189.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,270 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 15 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 31 highway, 21 city
0-60: 8.9 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima

The Good
• Spacious, comfortable cabin
• Outstanding resale value
• Excellent gas mileage

The Bad
• Must move to expensive trim level to get some popular options

The Ugly
• Is it a point A to B appliance?
• Stability and traction control optional