When it debuted in the U.S. in 1983, the Toyota Camry quickly established its reputation as a reliable, utilitarian car for the masses. Consumers liked its legroom and performance, which stood out among small sedans. In the 1990s, Toyota widened and contoured the body to enter the midsize segment, and the Camry shot to icon status. Now, more than three decades later, the Camry remains Toyota’s bestselling model, routinely ranking among the top three most popular vehicles in the U.S.
Our 2016 Best Midsize Car for the Money has trounced the competition so far this year, selling almost 200,000 units through June. Its affordability, coupled with Toyota’s longstanding leadership in quality and reliability, makes it a practical choice for many shoppers.
“Camry does a lot of things well that those midsize consumers are looking for,” said Rick LoFaso, corporate manager for car marketing at Toyota. It’s family-oriented, comfortable, and spacious, particularly in the backseat. “That’s why you move into a midsize sedan.”
Last year, after the Camry’s 2012 facelift was deemed too conservative, the staid sedan got an extensive midcycle makeover to keep up with the increasingly competitive market. Toyota’s mandate: Heighten the Camry’s aggressive stance and emotional appeal.
“We have historically been very conservative in our approach to styling,” LoFaso said. “We made a decision as a company to make an unprecedented investment. Now we’re starting to pull emotional levers that we haven’t been able to pull before.”
The makeover seems to resonate with buyers. The Camry once again claimed the mantle of bestselling car in the U.S. last year, well ahead of the No. 2 Honda Accord. Although not as sporty or upscale as some rivals in the midsize segment, the new Camry provides a quiet, smooth ride, intuitive dashboard controls, and a roomy back seat, in addition to the solid reliability ratings for which Toyota is known.
“It hits the sweet spot for midsize buyers,” LoFaso said. “It’s all about the value proposition, the totality of the package.”
The current Camry comfortably seats tall passengers, with ample head- and legroom in the front and back seats. The extra space also makes installing a rear-facing child seat easier. It has a quiet cabin, enabling conversation at highway speeds. The trunk is larger than average, and storage space increases with the Camry’s 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a standard feature.
Prominent knobs and buttons to control temperature, volume and, audio make the Camry’s dashboard user-friendly. Its touch-screen infotainment system is straightforward and responds quickly when pressed, although its picture isn’t as sharp as some rivals’.
Toyota offers five trims for the 2016 model year: the comfort-focused LE and XLE and the sportier SE, XSE, and Special Edition. A hybrid version is also available. Starting at about $23,000, the base Camry LE comes with a peppy 178-horsepower four-cylinder engine that should provide enough handling and acceleration for most buyers. The Camry is on par among competitors for fuel economy, achieving 25 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.
The base model is well-equipped with an automatic transmission, Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free iPhone integration, and Toyota’s Entune audio system with voice recognition, as well as a USB port, a rearview camera, and a power-adjustable driver’s seat.
For $800 more than the base model, buyers can have a Camry SE that comes with a sport suspension and alloy wheels. The Special Edition, which is new for 2016, starts at about $25,700 and includes wireless smartphone charging, a moonroof, and Toyota’s Connected Navigation system. Starting around $26,300, the XSE comes with a more upscale interior with leather seats and faux-suede inserts. For the same price as the XSE, the XLE comes with all-leather seats and wood grain interior trim.
However, some safety options, such as blind spot monitoring and automatic pre-collision braking, are only available in the higher-end XLE and XSE trims. A 268-horsepower V6 engine is also available on those models.
Buyers considering a Camry may want to wait until its 2018 model year redesign, which is likely to feature an even bolder exterior and several upgrades to its interior.That’s because Toyota and its Japanese rivals are starting to cede sales growth to American and Korean automakers that are now producing top-quality sedans as well.
The Chevrolet Malibu and the Hyundai Sonata, which tied for the top spot in our mid-size sedan rankings this year, have surprised shoppers with their comfort and performance. Redesigned for 2016, the Malibu has garnered praise for its fuel-efficient turbocharged engine, excellent predicted reliability, and spacious back seat.
“If you look across the board now, everyone from Toyota to G.M. and Hyundai-Kia all make good-looking sedans,” said Morningstar analyst David Whiston. “The Chevrolet Malibu has done very well in retail channel sales this year, so Camry needs to step up its game again with the new model next year.”