Full 2008 Toyota Camry Review
What's New for 2008
Redesigned last year, the Camry is unchanged for 2008. Toyota has dropped the CE name from the base trim level.
While various SUV nameplates have won and lost favor with consumers' changing tastes, the Toyota Camry's popularity has remained constant over the last decade. There's good reason for this, as the Camry has never wavered in its mission to be the perfect American family sedan. It's not perfect, of course, but the current Camry rates highly in most of the areas mainstream buyers will consider important: It's roomy, comfortable, safe and easy to drive. And when it comes time to sell it, you'll get a nice price for it.
The 2008 Toyota Camry represents the second year of the nameplate's sixth generation. Although the car retains a midsize classification, this is the largest Camry ever and that fact is immediately apparent when you get inside: Headroom, shoulder room, hiproom and legroom are abundant in both the front and back. This is also the most powerful Camry ever by a wide margin. The optional 3.5-liter V6 engine develops 268 horsepower, and using the services of a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, propels the sedan to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds -- as quick as some sport sedans and coupes. It also returns fuel economy that's not far off from what you'd get with the Camry's base four-cylinder engine.
In spite of the current-gen Camry's speed, performance is still not among its major selling points. Instead, buyers are likely to notice how easily this family car executes passing maneuvers and maintains utter composure and serenity when going over just about any road surface. Handling is also sharper than on any previous Camry, although the car's abilities are masked by its ride-biased tires and lack of steering feedback. Truly, those seeking a truly sporting drive in a midsize sedan will continue to be better served by such cars as the Mazda 6, Nissan Altima and Subaru Legacy.
However, for most consumers, it's cost rather than a lack of athleticism that tends to be the chief sticking point when they're shopping for a Toyota Camry. Properly equipped, the Camry usually ends up more expensive than most midsize sedans. That's hard to overlook when value-packed and worthy rivals like the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata are available. Also making things tougher for Toyota's big seller is its longtime chief rival, the Honda Accord, which has just been redesigned. The Accord may not be as hushed at freeway speeds, but it handily beats the Camry in terms of driving enjoyment and overall cabin refinement. Considering the amount of strong entries in this class, we suggest back-to-back test drives before making an automatic decision for the 2008 Toyota Camry.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Toyota Camry comes as a midsize four-door sedan available in four trim levels -- base (formerly CE), LE, SE and XLE. The base Camry comes exclusively with a four-cylinder engine, while the three higher trims offer a choice between the four-cylinder and a V6.
Base Camrys include 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a six-speaker CD audio system with an auxiliary input jack, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, full power accessories and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat among its standard equipment. The Camry LE adds keyless entry and an eight-way power driver seat. The SE includes a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, and special interior and exterior styling details. The luxurious XLE reverts to the LE's softer suspension settings and 16-inch wheels while treating its occupants to a 440-watt JBL sound system with an in-dash CD changer, Bluetooth connectivity, an automatic dual-zone climate control system with a high-tech air filter, reclining rear seats, a moonroof, wood-tone accents and, on the V6 model, leather seating. Note that neither the SE or XLE offer folding capability for the rear seat, though each has a center pass-through.
Most buyers' needs should be satisfied by the assorted trim levels; however, a few key options are available, including a navigation system and heated seats. A keyless start system is available on XLE V6 models.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard engine on all trim levels is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated for 158 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque. In most states, the four-cylinder carries Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) certification. It meets the more stringent Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) standard in California and certain Northeastern states, but has slightly lower output ratings -- 155 hp and 158 lb-ft. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual and a five-speed automatic, and buyers should note that four-cylinder Camry XLEs take the automatic only. Fuel economy ratings for the '08 model year are 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway with either transmission.
For those seeking a faster Camry, Toyota offers a 3.5-liter V6 capable of 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic drives the front wheels of all V6 Camrys. Fuel economy is rated at 19 city/28 highway.
Every 2008 Toyota Camry comes with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. Antilock brakes with brake assist are also standard. Stability control (which includes traction control) is optional across the line. In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Camry earned a perfect five stars in all frontal- and side-impact categories. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the top rating of "Good" after administering its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
In base and LE models, the Camry's interior design is function-driven. Controls are oversized and neatly arranged, the seats are wide and capable of accommodating a range of body types, and there's a nice selection of cubbies and compartments to collect whatever personal effects that may be accompanying you. The seat fabric isn't much to look at, but it's durable and does a fine job of camouflaging lint and dirt. One of the few exceptions to Toyota's hyper-practical aesthetic is the uncharacteristically stylish ice-blue backlighting for the audio and climate controls. Camry SE and XLE models have different interior treatments that raise the sedan's style quotient. In particular, the cloth upholstery in four-cylinder XLEs is coated in silkworm cocoon extract, which makes it very soft to the touch. Additionally, rear-seat passengers in all XLE models can recline their seatbacks. Trunk capacity is 15 cubic feet in base and LE models and 14.5 cubes in the SE and XLE.
The base four-cylinder engine should be adequate for most buyers, though it's surpassed by the more potent four-cylinder offerings in the Altima and Passat. A more appealing choice for those with fewer budget constraints is the smooth and vigorous V6, which transforms the Camry into one of the fastest mid-priced sedans on the road. A soft, quiet ride characterizes the Camry's on-road demeanor, though the SE sedan's handling capabilities will likely impress you if you push it a bit. Still, the overriding impression is one of refinement and a somewhat isolated feel from the road compared to more athletic competitors. Toyota knows that the majority of buyers in this market segment are more interested in comfortable, stress-free travel than tearing through corners, and the refined and very capable 2008 Toyota Camry should prove a hit with them.
Read our Toyota Camry Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test