Neither a rocket scientist nor a car critic is needed to figure out why the Toyota Camry has been America's best-selling car nine of the past 10 years. This mid-size sedan does just about everything well, and it's supported by Toyota's well-earned reputation for quality, reliability and value retention.
One year after a wheels-up redesign, the 2008 Toyota Camry changes not at all.
The Camry benefited from a complete overhaul for 2007, starting with a new, airy interior and continuing with more powerful engines, more transmission choices and increased fuel efficiency. Yet the hallmark of this sixth-generation Camry is Toyota's effort to shake the stodgy, plain reputation the car had developed in some circles. The Camry's aerodynamic styling shows more vitality than we've come to expect from a car many have labeled, and not necessarily in unkind fashion, as Japan's Buick.
Wash-and-wear, no-worries reliability is not a bad thing. Owners depend on the Camry, and they're seldom disappointed. This four-door sedan seats five in reasonable comfort, yet it's relatively compact and easy to park. It's smooth and quiet, but it can accelerate with vigor. Its cabin is attractive, functional and as refined as anything in its class. The Camry is thrilling in no respect, and no particular aspect of its performance is outstanding. Yet it's good in nearly every respect, bad in almost none, and it has a steady, set-and-forget quality that many drivers appreciate. It's pleasant to drive in all circumstances. In SE trim, with the manual transmission, it approaches fun.
Models range from the surprisingly well-equipped Camry CE to the near-luxury Camry XLE, with nearly all the bells and whistles. In between are the popular LE, a modest step up from the base CE and available with the V6, and the SE, decked out with suspension, tires and trim to please the sporty crowd. Toyota's four-cylinder engine is not the strongest, but it's more than adequate with the manual transmission. The smooth V6 is one of the most powerful in the class.
The Camry Hybrid features a combination electric motor/gasoline engine powertrain and a super-efficient continuously variable transmission, or CVT. The Hybrid is a good performer and one of the most fuel-efficient mid-size vehicles anywhere. It's also a great statement for environmentally conscious buyers, though it's worth noting that all Camry models offer good EPA mileage ratings and low emissions in their respective categories.
Since its debut in the United States nearly 25 years ago, the Camry has earned a reputation for smart design, pleasing function, build quality and durability. It's not all hype. The 2008 Toyota Camry remains the benchmark by which its competitors are judged.
The 2008 Toyota Camry is a four-door, five-passenger sedan offered in five trim levels, including the gas-electric Camry Hybrid.
Camry CE ($18,570) features a 158-hp four-cylinder engine. It's equipped with cloth upholstery, air conditioning and pollen filter, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, manual tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, a multi-function information display with outside temperature, a 160-watt stereo with six speakers, single CD player and auxiliary jack for MP3 devices, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and 16-inch steel wheels.
The CE comes standard with a manual transmission; a five-speed automatic transmission is optional ($1,000).
The Camry LE ($20,025) and LE V6 ($23,640) add an eight-way power driver's seat and remote keyless entry.
All Camry V6 models get a 268-horspower 3.5-liter engine and a six-speed automatic with manual shift feature.
The sporty Camry SE ($21,240) and SE V6 ($24,915) add a firmer, lowered suspension, flashy styling cues, unique interior trim, fog lights and P215/55R17 tires on 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
The high-zoot Camry XLE ($25,000) features glossy wood-grain interior trim and comes standard with the automatic. Leather comes standard on the XLE V6 ($28,120). The XLE models add dual-zone auto climate control with an electronic ion filter, a JBL audio upgrade with 440 watts, 6CD changer, Bluetooth wireless telephone interface, power passenger seat, power sunroof, split 40/20/40 reclining rear seat, rear reading lamps, manual rear window sunshade, 16-inch alloy wheels. An automatic comes standard on the XLE.
The Camry Hybrid ($25,200) has a 147-hp version of the four-cylinder engine, mated with a 40-horsepower electric motor and continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission. The motor augments the gas engine's performance and captures energy that would otherwise be wasted as the car slows and brakes, so it can reduce fuel consumption substantially. The Hybrid is equipped comparably to the XLE four-cylinder, and adds Toyota's Smart Key pushbutton-start feature.
Options include premium JBL audio ($1,000) for the LE and SE; it can be packaged with a voice-activated navigation system in the SE ($2,200) or XLE ($1,200). Stand-alone options include power tilt/slide sunroof ($940), leather-trimmed interior ($1,040), heated front seats ($440), auto-dimming rearview mirror ($150), heated outside mirrors ($30), 16-inch alloy wheels ($410).
Safety features on all Camrys include a full complement of airbags: dual-stage front impact airbags, a driver's knee airbag, upper body-protecting side-impact airbags for front passengers, and head-protecting side air curtains for the front and rear seats. All models come with anti-lock brakes (ABS), which aid steering control during a panic stop. The ABS features Brake Assist, which applies the brakes more quickly and consistently when it senses the onset of a panic stop, and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), which balances brake application front and rear for optimal stopping distance. A tire-pressure monitor is standard. Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control are optional ($650) on the CE, LE, SE and XLE, and we strongly recommend getting it.