If you listen to Toyota's representatives describe the all-new 2007 Toyota Camry, you'd think it was an entirely different car from the one it replaces. Words like "passion," "emotional" and "athletic" were peppered throughout the speeches by various Toyota folks during the car's first drive event. So let's get one thing straight before we begin — the redesigned 2007 Toyota Camry is not a passion-filled, highly emotional or super-athletic sedan. And by the way, that's OK. In fact, if Toyota ever does anything radical to the Camry we're going to lock the company's executive team up in a 1996 Taurus and let them see what radical design can do to an otherwise successful family car.
Don't mess with success
Certainly there are plenty of sedans in this segment that could use a good "shaking up" in terms of fundamental philosophy and execution, but the Toyota Camry is not one of them. It's been America's best-selling sedan for eight of the last nine years. The only model to upstage it, once, in nearly a decade is the Honda Accord.
With 400,000-plus sales a year, we'd like to think Toyota would simply take the Camry's strongest selling points and make them better. After experiencing the all-new 2007 version, we're happy to report that's exactly what Toyota did. Ask a current Camry owner — with over 10 million sold worldwide, they're quite easy to come by — why she/he bought it and you'll hear words like "quality," "reliability," and "refinement." Those same terms also describe the numerous versions available for 2007. As in previous years, the new Camry comes with either a four-cylinder engine or a V6. It also comes with an all-new hybrid drivetrain that makes 192 horsepower (as much as the current 3.0-liter V6 model) while earning EPA mileage figures of 43 city/37 highway.
A drivetrain for all seasons
The four-cylinder is essentially the same 2.4-liter engine used in the 2006 Camry, but some minor adjustments to the compression ratio and cam specs have pushed horsepower from 154 to 158 (using the new SAE standards). Fuel mileage is rated at 25/34 and transmission choices include a five-speed automatic or a five-speed manual.
Buyers shopping a six-cylinder family sedan will find a substantially upgraded drivetrain in the 2007 Toyota Camry. At 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque the new V6 propels the Camry with authority. It features Toyota's Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (Dual VVT-i) to maximize power and provide a broad torque band. It also utilizes a dual-stage intake manifold and electronic throttle control, both of which contribute to fuel-efficiency (rated at 22 city/31 highway) while allowing the V6 to meet ULEV-II emission standards in California. Connecting this power to the Camry's front wheels is an all-new six-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted or left in full auto mode where, according to Toyota, it will learn the driver's driving style and pick gears accordingly. No manual transmission is available on V6 models.
The family sedan goes green
If all that technology still isn't enough for you, there's an even more advanced model coming for 2007 — the Camry Hybrid. Like the Prius and Highlander before it, the Camry Hybrid will use Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system that couples an internal combustion engine to an electric motor-inverter and rechargeable battery pack. The engine half is the same 2.4-liter found in base Camrys, but this one uses an Atkinson cycle and makes 147 horsepower. Atkinson-cycle engines will delay the closing of the intake valves to improve fuel-efficiency while creating less horsepower. That's where the 45-hp electric motor comes in to assist with acceleration. This motor can also power the Camry Hybrid without the help of the engine, but only under light throttle applications at speeds below 30 mph.
Actually, during our time with the Camry Hybrid we did manage several seconds of electric motor-only operation at almost 40 mph — until the road sloped up. Toyota does claim a zero-to-60 time for the Camry Hybrid of less than 9 seconds, a number our internal accelerometers would agree with based on our short time behind the wheel. Certainly the EPA estimates of 43/37 mpg sound great for a midsize family sedan, but by now we've all come to expect real-world mileage figures well below those estimates, especially when it comes to hybrids. Yet company reps told us a current-generation Camry, with the new hybrid drivetrain, averaged 36 mpg over a 4,200-mile trip between New York and Los Angeles during early testing. They are confident the new, sleeker-bodied car will improve on that real-world number. Regardless, you'll be hard-pressed to discern the Camry Hybrid from standard versions, though it does have a bit more chrome on the front grille and vertical (versus horizontal) reverse lights.
"All-new" isn't just a sales pitch
Which brings us to the new car's updated look — a look described as "athletic and elegant" and "styled in a way that is certain to elicit a positive emotional response. People are going to want this car" (Toyota's emphasis, not ours). Styling is ultimately a purely subjective element in vehicle design, so we'll leave each of you to decide for yourself how successful Toyota was in its mission. We will say this much: The new Camry's look is more athletic, elegant and emotional than the current version.
Platform changes on the 2007 model go beyond new styling. A 2.2-inch-longer wheelbase and 1.2-inch-wider front and rear tracks have improved interior space and rear-seat legroom. While the new car sticks with MacPherson struts up front and a dual-link independent rear suspension, all lower control arms, spring rates and suspension geometries were completely revised to give the car a sharper feel without compromising ride quality. Wheel size has gone from 15 to 16 inches on base models, while the sportier SE trim gets its own set of 17-inch aluminum wheels. And all trims include a standard tire-pressure monitoring system that alerts drivers when pressure drops below a standard setting.
Technology comes standard
That tire-pressure monitoring system is just one of many examples of Toyota pushing the technology envelope with this latest Camry. Other standard features across the entire model line include halogen headlamps with auto on-off functionality, auxiliary audio inputs for external MP3 players, antilock brakes with BrakeAssist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, and seven airbags. That last item includes dual-stage front airbags, side and side curtain airbags, and a driver knee airbag. You get all that on a base CE model without checking a single option box. Step up to the SE, LE and XLE models (not to mention the hybrid version) and everything from keyless start to voice-command DVD navigation to Bluetooth technology can be yours.
We tried out each of these versions during the press introduction and came away impressed by the new Camry's quiet and comfortable cabin, its high degree of interior and exterior build quality, and its overall refinement. Sound familiar?
Toyota sold approximately 420,000 Camrys last year — before the car's redesign and before the availability of a hybrid version. Prices for the 2007 Toyota Camry haven't been released yet, but they should align closely with 2006 models. The company is expecting to sell at least 450,000 this year, with that 30,000 bump coming from sales of the Camry Hybrid alone. But with over 100,000 Prius sales last year, we think Toyota may be underestimating the numbers. Regardless, we don't think the Camry's "best-selling sedan" title is going anywhere soon.