Easily the question I get asked the most goes something like this: “So, Mr. Smart Guy automotive critic, what would you buy if you were in the market for a new car?”
Depends. What are you looking for? Sports car? Hatchback? Mini-van? SUV? CUV? Wagon? Mini-hatch? Four-door sedan? Family hauler? Convertible? Pickup truck? Full-size? Mid-size? Compact? Small car? Front-drive? Rear-drive? All-wheel-drive? Hybrid? Electric?
The choices are almost endless. The point is, you have to focus on precisely what you want and factor in how the car will be used. What kind of duty it’s going to see. Not to mention things like fuel economy, dependability, price, interior dimensions, storage capacity, depreciation, and, yes, performance. If you need to carry kids and groceries around, a Mazda MX5, for example, won’t work. If city parking is a consideration, forget about a full-size pickup truck (which, quite frankly, you should do anyway, unless you’re a tradesman). If there’s just the two of you, you don’t really need a mini-van….and on and on.
But to narrow things right down for me personally, were I in the market for reliable, affordable, comfortable, economical five passenger transport, I’d probably still be looking at a conventional four-door sedan. Yes, the compact SUV market is exploding, and manufacturers can’t make full-size pickups fast enough, but the best all-round choice for sensible-shoes transport is still the mainstream four-door sedan.
And nothing is more mainstream than the Toyota Camry. These days it comes in six variations, with four cylinder, V6, and hybrid drivetrains. It ranges in price from a base LE, which starts at just a hair under $25,000, right up to a full-zoot XSE, which is about ten grand more. There are also three hybrid versions, ranging in price from about 30 grand to almost $35,000. Over the years, I’ve driven just about every variation of Camry there is.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that, dollar-for-dollar and pound-for-pound, it’s probably the best thing out there.
Why? A few reasons:
- Lots of elbow room. You can slide in and out of the car with ease, and won’t be banging shoulders with your passenger up front or pranging your head on a low roofline. Ditto with back seat riders; Toyota says the car will seat five adults and it’s true….in comfort. I wouldn’t want to spend a whole lot of time in any car with four other people, but the Camry does just fine.
- Goodly sized trunk. Toyota is pegging it at 15.4 cubic feet, (436 litres), which compares to about 440 litres for the Honda Accord and 460 for the Hyundai Sonata. So, not the biggest, but big enough.
- User-friendly controls and switchgear. Cars these days seem to be getting more and more complicated to operate. Toyota is not without blame here….its Lexus models, for example, are an exercise in frustration when it comes to distracting, convoluted, counter-intuitive controls. The Lexus IS, for instance, is a dog’s breakfast. The Camry is a more relaxing car to drive because of this.
- Decent fuel economy. A base LE will deliver some 8.6 L/100 km (33 mpg) combined rating, while a V6 is slightly thirstier at 9.6 (29 mpg), and the Hybrid, which is what I drove this time around, is good for about 6.0 /100 km (48 mpg). These are very good numbers and near the top in this market segment.
- Cast-iron reliability. Look back over the Camry’s 30-year history and you find time and again that it’s either the most reliable car on the road, or one of them. Toyota has managed to build in virtually flawless dependability with the Camry and for many buyers, this is ichiban reason to buy an automobile. For what it’s worth, check out the taxi fleet at any airport these days…..virtually all Toyota products, with a large percentage being Camrys.
The Camry is not thrilling. Nor is it particular entertaining to drive. Nor is it vastly superior to rivals such as the Accord or Sonata. But it’s comfortable, dependable, thrifty, affordable, and holds its value.
That’s why Toyota sells so freaking many of them.