For the last 10 years, Toyota sold an average of 400,000 Camrys per year. With the 2011 Camry, Toyota's mantra seems to be, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The 2011 Toyota Camry shows little change from the previous model year, and isn't a huge step forward from the 2001 model.
The 2011 Camry gets either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V-6, and both are just a little bigger than the 2.4-liter and 3.3-liter engines in the earlier generation. Although the current generation of Camry gets variable valve timing to improve efficiency, Toyota hasn't jumped on the direct-injection or turbo bandwagons.
However, the Camry has gotten appreciably bigger over the years. The 2011 model pushes the boundaries of the midsize sedan, and in some countries would be considered appropriately large for a chauffeur-driven vehicle.
During the model's 2006 update, it acquired the badge bump up front that has become a common design piece on Toyota cars. The general look of the car is nondescript, appropriate for the segment, with bulky sides and a wide D pillar. The SE model, equipped with Toyota's Extra Value Package, attempts a sporty look with a trunk lid spoiler and black-painted grille.
The toaster of cars
The Camry has been criticized by automotive enthusiasts as being a transportation appliance, a car that gets you from point A to point B reliably, but without excitement. For 95 percent of the car-buying public, that is just fine.
The cloth-lined seats in the 2011 Toyota Camry SE feel cushy, like you could put them in the living room facing the entertainment center. Toyota says the wheel is leather-wrapped, but the finish gives it a plastic feel. And probably a half-life of 5,000 years.
Keeping pace with decades of tradition, the Camry demands a twist of its metal key in the ignition--no push-button starter here. However, one nice touch not always seen in cars of this price range is automatic up/down windows, with enough play in the rocker switches to easily arrest the window motion for partial opening.
With the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the Camry idles quietly, despite the fact that dual rear mufflers suggest booming power. That robust exhaust system is most likely designed for the V-6 Camry, but not downgraded for the four-cylinder.
In SE trim, a little more power trickles out of the four-cylinder--179 horsepower, up from the standard 169 horsepower. Likewise, torque gets a boost from 167 to 171 pound-feet. Why Toyota thinks the SE trim warrants this slight power increase may go down with the likes of mysteries such as the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and the location of Troy.
When you step on the gas, the car floats forward with less-than-lively acceleration, accompanied by a strained sound as the engine winds out at high rpm. It offers enough acceleration to merge on the freeway, as long as you've got a good sense for timing the pace of traffic.
The six-speed automatic, shared with Lexus models, includes Drive, Sport, and Manual modes. The Sport mode is like the dual exhaust: overkill for the humble Camry. Manual mode gives control over the transmission for hill descents, but in this application a low range would make more sense. Camry drivers shouldn't be bothered with picking specific gears.
Toyota says the SE trim Camry has a sport suspension, with front and rear antisway bars. Even so, the ride feels soft, designed to provide comfort. In corners, the car shows a moderate amount of lean, suggesting the antisway bars are not screwed down too tight. As with the little extra power from the engine, the sport suspension seems unnecessary, as this car would not be a good choice for autocross events.
Designed for a daily commute, the Camry should excel in useful cabin electronics. Toyota did not make great strides in this area, although some upcoming smartphone integration tech will improve matters substantially. The car that found its way into the CNET garage lacked the DVD-based navigation system, and therefore only offered limited voice command and Bluetooth phone systems.