Less-than-stellar materials quality; lackluster fit and finish; characterless handling.
There are times when you want to engage and times when you want to tune out. After a long day at work, the latter can seem like the more appealing option, and it's during these moments that you'll most appreciate the 2011 Toyota Camry.
The Camry's selling point is efficiency that asks very little of the driver. Our test car covers asphalt in the most considerate way, delivering a softly sprung ride that politely neutralizes the bumps and jolts of an artery bruised by recent rains. It dutifully hastens its pace when pressed, allowing us to zip past a dawdling slowpoke without a moment of anxiety. And when the sun calls it a day and sinks below the horizon, our Camry's center stack lights up in a gentle shade of blue that's easy on weary eyes.
Some midsize-sedan shoppers will prefer a greater degree of driver involvement, and for them, the 2011 Toyota Camry's colorless handling will be a poor match. Choices like the Ford Fusion, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima and Suzuki Kizashi do a better job of quickening the pulse. But the Camry's status as the segment's perennial top seller illustrates that there are lots of buyers who appreciate its tried-and-true formula: competence that makes no demands.
Two engines are available for this front-wheel-drive sedan, and while the smooth V6 is the Camry family's undisputed prom king, the quietly capable inline-4 in our test car is easily a standout within its own modest clique of friends. Governed by a six-speed automatic transmission, the four-banger is no wimp on the road, and its 169 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque combine to give it an assertive presence both off the line and at higher speed.
Its can-do attitude helps the inline-4 hustle the Camry from a standstill to 60 mph in an impressive 8.4 seconds; this time trails that of the Hyundai Sonata (8.2 seconds) but bests that of the Kizashi and Mazda 6 (both make the sprint in 9.1 seconds). At 125 feet, the Camry's stopping distance from 60 mph is about average for the class. The brake pedal feels as firm as a junior executive's handshake, though, and fade proves minimal even after a full day of testing at the track.
The 2011 Toyota Camry also acquits itself fairly well in the slalom. Its soft suspension translates into lots of body roll, but the car is reasonably tossable and easy to control. Steering isn't very communicative (you don't buy a Camry for the sharp steering), but there's a quick response when you turn the wheel.
With fuel economy of 22 city/32 highway mpg and 26 mpg combined, the Camry won't disappoint mileage-conscious shoppers. Its numbers are in step with those of rivals like the Sonata (22/35/26) and the Fusion (22/31/25).
Lately the buzzword in the midsize-sedan segment has been "sporty," but the Camry bucks this trend; someone over at Toyota realizes that not every buyer in this segment is hungry for tauter handling. The car's suspension is unapologetically tuned for comfort that prevails over most examples of pavement ruts and coarseness.
Texas has nothing on the Camry's seats, which are as flat as they come. The downside to this is that you feel less cradled and supported in the Camry than you do in other models. Take a sharp turn and there isn't even the vaguest suggestion of bolstering to hold you in position. The upside is that flat seats are easy to slide into and out of as you enter and exit the car, a benefit for those with mobility issues. Additionally the level seat design means that there's ample room to accommodate those with larger builds.
One area in which the 2011 Toyota Camry excels is cabin stillness (which is a far higher order of accomplishment than simple quietness). There's some wind noise at high speed on the highway, but other than that, the interior remains pretty tranquil. It's clear that this car is built by the same company responsible for the notably serene models offered by the Lexus brand.
The Camry's climate control system taps an instantly familiar three-knob layout that requires zero mental effort to navigate. The car's audio controls are similarly straightforward and pleasantly symmetrical, though the display's simple font and one-color layout look a bit basic and unimaginative.
We open the glovebox and find the space within to be reasonably roomy. The same can't be said for the door bins, though, which are narrow and ill-equipped to stow taller water bottles.
The center console bin scores points for being felt-lined, though it feels a bit flimsy relative to others in this segment. The Camry bucks tradition by placing the USB jack not in the center console bin, but in a separate, lidded nook, sized to accommodate MP3 devices. This placement strikes us as being pretty smart, since it allows us to use and privately store our iPod without eating up space in the center console bin.
Rear passengers find themselves with legroom that's near the top of the class, and headroom is also impressive. Just don't try to comfortably seat more than two passengers in back. It's a tight fit, and the forward placement of the car's center console reduces leg- and toe room for the third person in the middle.
A suitcase and a set of golf clubs are easily accommodated in the trunk, which offers a wide mouth and lots of usable space. Still, the Camry's 15 cubic feet of cargo capacity falls a hair short of what you'll find in rivals like the Sonata and Focus (16.4 and 16.5 cubic feet, respectively). Visibility is decent, though the sedan's C-pillar is on the wide side.
Design/Fit and Finish
"Anonymous" is the word that best sums up the 2011 Toyota Camry's sheet metal. Still, though the car's appearance breaks no new ground and is perfectly predictable, its inoffensive lines will probably suit many buyers just fine.
Though the cabin isn't unpleasant, it looks sterile and dated compared to others in this class. Our test car's monochromatic gray color scheme looks drab, many of its plastics look cheap and the velourlike fabric on its seats looks low-rent. Fit and finish is also somewhat inconsistent. We like the soft, robin's-egg-blue illumination, however; it adds a soothing glow to the cabin.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Toyota Camry is worth a look if you value smooth handling, a quiet cabin and strong resale value over pretty much everything else. It stands alone in its quiet, competent approach to daily transportation. Still, we'd encourage you to consider others in this segment if you're a bit more engaged with your daily drive, notably the Hyundai Sonata and Suzuki Kizashi.