Recently, ahead of a beautifully clear, albeit cold day in the nations capital, I woke up to the prospect of being one of the first journalists to test North Americas number one selling midsize car. What a daunting prospect. Not that the new 2007 Camry is the worlds fastest, best handling or all-empowering super-sedan, or anything so intimidating, but the very fact that more of North Americas new car shoppers will hang on my assessment than is normally the case makes me consider each word with weighty reverence. Of course, theres a justifiable argument that implies fewer prospective Camry buyers will read my words than those investigating Hyundais impressive new Sonata or Mitsubishis comparatively invisible Galant, being that Camry owners, a group that continually buys into a brand that enjoys six new customers for every one it loses, according to a J.D. Power and Associates customer retention study done last year, dont tend to look anywhere else before trading up to the new and improved version. So, for the few that bother reading about North Americas most popular sedan, youre in for a treat.
Its ruddy-well near perfect! Yes, its even good looking, something I havent been able to say about a Camry, well, since never. The new 2007 Camry is assured, confident and dare I say bold (as overused as that word is) from the front end rearward. Its grille is thoroughly unique, true to Toyotas "Vibrant Clarity" design language; whatever that means. I especially like the saber-like headlamps; pointed to a razor-sharp edge at their lowest, most inward extremities, and almost vertical in presence thanks to how quickly they dive from high on the fenders to the bottom portion of the bumper, flanking the V-shaped sculpting pulled inward from the hood and gathered around the grille.
From its side-view that grille appears almost 300C-like, only because it stands almost completely upright due to a "bump" at centre that carries the stylized "T" crest. Looking backward, the remainder of the car is more aggressively raked than any previous Camry, or at least the optical illusion brought about by those low-slung front fenders and sloped shoulder lines make it appear so. And like the 1997 through 2001 design, one of the nicest in the cars prior five generations, the taillights are thin, horizontal and wrap around the rear fenders to form integral elements of the Camrys side-view styling.
They look even better from behind, mirroring the headlamp clusters as they point downward at center, not totally unlike the rear lights on Lexus new IS 350. The rear valance integrates one right-side chrome-tipped tailpipe if in four-cylinder trim, or twin pipes at each corner if a V6 is strapped to the opposite end, finishing off a rear styling statement that is not only a great deal more enticing than any previous Camry, but is arguable more stylish than anything currently on the road, except Hyundais new Sonata.
The Sonata, as much as I am impressed with fit and finish and value for money, completely pales in comparison as soon as you step inside, which makes sense considering the price premium needed to move up to Camry interior quality. Truly, from a design standpoint to the materials used, its almost in a different class. I suppose, factoring in that this new Camry will also be represented as a Lexus, being the basis for the new ES 350, its interior is forced to be rise up to premium expectations, and after leaving the current ES 330 behind in design and layout, at least, the Camry trumps everything currently being sold in this class, other than VWs new Passat; which, next to the Camry, should only be compared to Audis, BMWs and Lexi.
What is it exactly that sets the Camry apart from its competition? Still only focusing on interior design and execution, everything. From the perfectly sorted steering wheel with its array of ancillary switchgear framing a gauge package that houses stylish Optitron dials, to a center stack, elegant in its overall tapered form and finished in realistic metal surfacing plus ultra-cool green glass-like plastic, the Camry, also much roomier than in previous iterations, is worlds apart. When "environmentally friendly" simulated wood accents are added throughout the XLEs cabin, that are so well done that I had trouble figuring out if they were real or not, I start wondering why theres any need to upgrade to a premium brand. I suppose there are always details such as the specific grain of plastic or leather used, but unless placed side-by-side Id find it difficult to fault the top-line Camry in this area, as everything looks and feels very upscale.
Even the seats, which are often used as a true litmus test for weighing entry-level status from premium, are superbly crafted, offering generous support and decent side bolstering, necessary when taking the new Camry through the corners. Yes, it handles, not surprising to those who, like me, have already waxed poetic about the Avalons merits. The new Av was the first to ride on Toyotas new midsize, front-drive architecture, and while its ride quality is firmer than any previous flagship Toyota sedan, it rewards with an uncanny stability mid-corner than ever before. The same holds true for Camry, which now, even in non-SE trim, SE being the sportiest of Camrys, is an enthusiastic performer.
At the launch Toyota took us on a journey that included some spirited curvy sections, interspersed between long stretches of highway travel. Of course, most current Camry owners will be happier to hear that their updated ride is adept at overcoming highway expansion joints, uneven pavement and otherwise discomforting road surface irregularities, much ado to its longer wheelbase and up-rated suspension components, although there will be some in the crowd that will be elated to hear of its composure when that highway tightens up and begins to wind. The Camry is by no means a sports car, but in SE trim comes close to sport sedan status. It really takes to the turns well, transitioning from one corner to the next with confidence and transmits a decent amount of feedback through its electro-mechanic rack-and-pinion steering system, an ability which bodes well for any accident avoidance measures its ever asked to perform.