2012 Toyota Camry: Camry, Explorer, Quest or 3: Which One For Me?
May 16, 2012
The past few months I've spent a lot of time in the Explorer, the Quest, the Mazda 3 and the Camry. Notably, these are all vehicles that I think car shoppers with families might consider. I can certainly see the appeal of all of them, but if I had to choose just one of them for my personal use (as a parent), I know what I'd be.
Explorer: At first I liked the Explorer, and it does sort of seem like a no-brainer choice at first glance. But the more time I spent with it, the more its appeal waned. It is comfortable on the highway, and MyFord Touch -- once we finally get it updated -- is a pretty cool feature in my opinion. But I grew weary of its "drives big" persona, occasionally overtaxed turbo-4 engine and tight second-row seat space. No thanks.
Mazda 3: I'll start with the 3's biggest drawback first: it's just a little too small inside. But it's not that bad, and I think I could enjoy owning one, especially if my kids were out of the bulky child safety seat phase but still young enough that rear legroom doesn't really matter much. At that point, 3 is pretty appealing. It's the most nimble in the group and certainly the most enjoyable to drive. The hatchback body style also offers up extra versatility. Plus, the 3 is the cheapest car in this group.
Quest: The Quest, I suppose for obvious reasons, works a lot better for family use than the Explorer. It also doesn't have nearly as many drawbacks. It drives very well thanks to its V6/CVT combo and compliant suspension tuning. And I really like a lot of the features that are on our van, such as the easy-to-use nav/audio interface and push-button open sliding rear doors. The main drawback for me is that, yes, it's still a big minivan ... and an odd-looking one at that.
Toyota Camry SE: Well, this is the car I'd buy. It's still seems odd to say it -- a Camry. How prosaic. But the new Camry is so much better than the previous car that I don't mind the stereotype. It drives well in a modestly sized sort of way (especially in comparison to the Quest and Explorer), is very comfortable up front and in back, and has some nice features. Fuel economy is also very good. The big downside within this group is the inability to haul bulky items. But I'd live with that in exchange for all the other benefits. Go Camry.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor