Full 2009 Toyota Camry Review
What's New for 2009
The Toyota Camry sees no major changes for 2009.
Constants can be strangely comforting. Knowing, for example, that your Grandma's tasty lasagna or your tennis partner's solid serve are going to be as you expect may even cause warm and fuzzy feelings. Of course, in some cases constants can wane over time -- such as the Red Sox losing or Paul McCartney producing good music.
As one of the best-selling vehicles over the past 20 years, the Toyota Camry has been a comforting constant in its own right. Buyers are frequently working on their third or fourth Camry because of their prior positive experiences. The 2009 version of this Toyota stalwart continues to offer what most folks are looking for in a mainstream midsize family sedan: a roomy cabin, a comfortable ride, an easy-to-drive demeanor and a reputation for reliability and low maintenance costs. A strong resale value doesn't hurt either. However, like Sir Paul, this automotive constant has started to wane.
The current generation of the Camry is the largest version of the car yet. Although categorized as a midsize car, the Camry offers plenty of passenger room front and rear. This is also the most muscular Camry ever, with an available 268-horsepower V6 at the driver's beck and call. Matched to a smooth six-speed automatic transmission, that powerhouse can propel this family sedan to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds -- as quick as some sport sedans and coupes. It also returns fuel economy that's impressively close to that of a four-cylinder Camry.
Likable as it is, the 2009 Toyota Camry has some significant caveats. One is that its historically excellent build and materials quality has slipped in the last few years, and reliability has slipped. Competitors who have trailed the Camry in the past have stepped up their game, surpassing the Toyota in many areas. One in particular is handling -- in spite of its quickness and speed, the Camry is not an athlete, placing light-effort driving over communicative steering that would lend a sense of confidence to the driver. For those who prefer greater feedback and a more involving driving experience, the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Mazda 6 and Nissan Altima are worthy of close consideration.
And then there is pricing -- the ever-popular Camry commands a premium over value-packed rivals such as the Malibu, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata. Of course, there is the Camry's chief competitor, the Honda Accord, which provides a more involving drive, though not as hushed a freeway ride as the Toyota. It also beats the Camry in terms of cabin materials and build quality.
With so many strong entrants in this segment, back-to-back test-drives are encouraged. Though the 2009 Toyota Camry may be as enticingly familiar as flannel pajamas on a cold winter's night, savvy consumers may find that trying on brand X yields an even more comfortable fit.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Toyota Camry is a midsize four-door sedan that comes in four trim levels -- base, LE, SE and XLE. The base Camry comes only with a four-cylinder engine, while the other trims offer a choice between the four-cylinder and a V6.
The base Camry features 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. 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 and satellite radio), Bluetooth connectivity, automatic dual-zone climate control (with a cabin air filter), reclining rear seats, a moonroof, wood-tone accents and, on the V6 model, leather seating. Note that neither the SE nor the XLE offers the folding 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, a sunroof and heated seats. A keyless ignition system is available on XLE V6 models.
Powertrains and Performance
All Camrys are front-drive and the standard engine on all trim levels is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated for 158 hp 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-emissions states, but has slightly lower output ratings -- 155 hp and 158 lb-ft.
With the four-cylinder engine, one may choose either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission, except on the XLE, which is automatic only. Performance is relatively spirited, as we've timed a four-cylinder with the automatic at 8.9 seconds for the 0-60-mph drill. Regardless of which transmission is selected, fuel economy ratings are 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
For those seeking a swifter Camry, there is the 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission choice. Outfitted as such, the Camry can sprint to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds, while fuel economy is still impressive at 19 city/28 mpg highway.
Every 2009 Toyota Camry comes with antilock brakes (with brake assist), front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. 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" in its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
In base and LE models, the Camry's interior is more about function than flash. Large controls are logically placed, and the wide seats easily accommodate most body types. There are plenty of functional storage cubbies, too. One of the few exceptions to the hyper-practical design dictum is the stylish ice-blue backlighting for the audio and climate controls.
The upper trims step up the style and comfort level a bit -- the XLE features simulated bird's eye maple accents that are so convincing you might find yourself breaking out the furniture polish when detailing the car. The XLE also features a luxury not typically seen in this segment -- reclining rear seats. Trunk capacity measures around 15 cubic feet.
Sadly, build and materials quality aren't up to the high standard set by previous-generation Camrys. Specifically, we've noticed that some plastics are mediocre in quality and the panel fitments aren't uniformly precise. Many competitors are now better.
Although the base four-cylinder engine should be adequate for most buyers, a more appealing choice for those who can spend more is the smooth and vigorous V6, which transforms the Camry into one of the fastest mid-priced sedans on the road, with barely any penalty in fuel efficiency.
However, all that power isn't quite in keeping with the Camry's lackadaisical driving dynamics. A soft, quiet ride characterizes the Camry's on-road demeanor, and unless you opt for the more firmly sprung SE model, this Toyota asks its driver to forgo all involvement in the motoring experience. The overriding impression is one of a serene and 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 2009 Toyota Camry should prove satisfactory with them.
Read our Toyota Camry Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test