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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.
Toyota's current styling language includes a bump on the nose, where the badge sits.
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.
No poseur exhaust system, mufflers sit behind each tip. It is robust for a four-cylinder.
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.
The automatic transmission offers Drive, Manual, and a completely unnecessary Sport mode.
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.
Without navigation, the Camry gets a Bluetooth phone system along with a USB port for flash drives and iPod integration as part of an option package. This technology should really come standard, as it does in many less expensive cars, such as the Kia Soul.
The Bluetooth phone system does not interface with a paired phone's contact list.
Pairing a phone with the car requires going through a tedious process with plenty of voice prompts and confirmations. But that is just a one-time thing. Once paired, the phone worked well with the car, but this Bluetooth system lacks integration with the phone's contact list. The car has its own phonebook, but you have to manually enter contacts. And dialing by name works with the car's internal phonebook only.
During that painful pairing process, the car asks if the phone should also be allowed to stream music to the stereo. Bluetooth streaming in the Camry is about the best feature of the car's stereo system. With an iPhone, music almost immediately started streaming to the stereo, playing the most recent track. Of course, the limitations of the Bluetooth streaming audio specification mean no song information on the car's display, and the car's controls allow only for pause, play, and volume.
The USB port is a nice feature for digital music, as it works with MP3 tracks saved on a USB flash drive or via an iPod cable. But as in other Toyota and Lexus models, the iPod integration is terrible. Although Toyota did a good job of designing the interface, making it possible to browse artists, albums, and genres on the small radio display, the interface is very buggy.
When you turn the tuning knob to scroll through a list of artists, the screen takes a long time to refresh, going blank in the meantime. Waiting for the screen to refresh is a distraction from the road. When an iPod Touch was used, the system basically did not work at all. The radio display refused to show anything and eventually brought up an error message.
The iPod interface works very slowly, if at all.
Another problem that also occurs in other Toyota models is that the stereo starts playing any artist or album that the selector lands on. When you're scrolling through a list of artists, browsing for a favorite, the stereo spits out a choppy stream, similar to what it sounds like when you slowly move a radio dial through the frequencies.
Playing an MP3 CD in the single-disc player, the interface is very basic, with controls for sequentially moving from folder to folder. The XM radio stations are easy to scroll through, but there is no option to jump from category to category. Presets save the day here.
The base stereo in the Camry produces surprisingly good sound from its six speakers. Detail is very strong, with highs coming through very clearly from the two large tweeters mounted in the dashboard. Bass isn't exactly thumping, but the system does a good job of enunciating the various instruments in a musical track. Toyota offers an audio upgrade, an eight-speaker JBL system, which would probably have more satisfying bass due to its subwoofer.
Getting the navigation option in the Camry will improve the features all around. For example, it would offer a large screen on which to display phonebook entries. The features for this system are similar to what we've previously seen in the Toyota Avalon.
The most exciting feature, launching later this year, is Toyota Entune. This smartphone app brings in a number of connected services, such as local search through Bing, restaurant reservations from OpenTable, and Pandora for customized Internet radio. Entune requires the navigation option.
In many ways, the 2011 Toyota Camry is an exceedingly average car. The engine hasn't changed much in five years and the soft suspension is neither particularly comfortable nor sporty. The transmission is the most up-to-date piece of drive-train tech in the car.
Cabin tech also refuses to push any boundaries; the most cutting-edge feature is Bluetooth audio streaming. That will change when Toyota releases Entune, but at present, the Camry is behind the curve. And at a price in the low 20s, the Bluetooth phone system and iPod integration should really be included.
Beyond the badge bump at the nose, the car looks generic, a trait that has some appeal for midsize sedan buyers. But the design is also practical, with good visibility and easy access front and back.
|Model||2011 Toyota Camry|
|Power train||2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/32 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||Not recorded|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Optional 8-speaker JBL audio system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera (with navigation)|
|Price as tested||$25,760|