- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It’s good to be king. That’s exactly what Toyota Camry has been for the better part of a decade.

It’s not the fastest, prettiest, best handling, roomiest or the cheapest sedan out there, yet year after year it’s No. 1 at the box office. In the automobile business you can’t sleep your way to the top, so what’s the secret? More so than with most automotive segments, sedan shoppers want quality and dependability above all else.

Even price takes a back seat to relentless durability. Having fostered a reputation for building vehicles that run until the wheels fall off and then still demand top dollar on the resale market, Toyota has earned the confidence of the sedan-buying consumer.

Camry may not be sexy, but you can count on it to get you and yours where you want to go.

Toyota redesigned Camry for 2007. We’ve grown accustomed to each succeeding generation of Camry being a little larger, more powerful and pricier than the edition that went before it. The new Camry doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

Although it is still the same overall length as last year’s version, the 2007 is bigger inside. Thanks to a longer wheelbase and a bit wider track — the distance between wheels on the same axle — all passengers find themselves with more shoulder and hip room, while rear-seat passengers get a little more legroom, too.

While you would need to pull out a measuring tape to notice it, the new sedan is also a hair wider and taller than the 2006.

Recently Toyota put a four-cylinder LE in my hands for a week, which will be the basis for this review because even without throwing the gas-electric hybrid model into the mix, the staggering number of combinations possible among the available five trim levels, two transmissions and two engines could make an insurance actuary’s left arm start to go numb.

It is worth mentioning, however, that the new 3.5-liter V-6 in this year’s Camry delivers 58 more horsepower than last year’s 3.3-liter V-6. That’s 268 horsepower — more than enough to get a bit of a head rush when goosing the accelerator.

The least you can expect to spend on a V-6 is $24,215 for the LE. For $21,650 you can get into the four-cylinder LE with five-speed automatic transmission. A willingness to delete the automatic from the option’s list and stir the transmission yourself provides even further savings of $1,050.

No featherweight, the Camry tips the scales at nearly 3,300 pounds.

Typically you might expect a sedan of such mass to be sluggish with nothing more than a 158-horsepower four-cylinder under the hood. Moreover, this reluctance to get going could only be exacerbated by an automatic transmission.

It is surprisingly not so with the Camry. Sure, the V-6 is noticeably quicker and more fun to drive, but the 2.4-liter four-cylinder won’t force you to the fringes of the herd where you would fall prey to serious meat eaters.

It more than holds its own in stop-and-go city traffic. On the highway, it has enough grunt to accelerate around slower traffic even when touring at speed. Fuel economy is healthy, too, with an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

Because Toyota doesn’t seem interested in the “best handling” title among midsize sedans, the Camry’s fully independent suspension is tuned with passenger comfort as the highest priority. Carried over from the previous Camry, the suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and multi-link arrangement in the rear.

Toyota says it has increased stiffness a little for 2007 to further improve stability and control. In normal driving situations you probably won’t notice any change.

It’s still a big car ride. Anti-lock disc brakes are standard on all wheels. Stepping up to an electronic stability control system will set you back $650 regardless of the trim level.

Passengers should find the Camry cabin comfortable and inviting. The instrument panel is uncluttered and the styling clean with just enough going on to make it interesting to the eye. One miscue is the sea-foam-colored panel surrounding the screen in the center of the instrument panel. Perhaps inspired by the 1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner, it looks even worse and more out of place at night when illuminated.

Otherwise, the interior is everything you would expect from Toyota. Excelling at providing a quiet passenger environment, Toyota has done it again in the new Camry. A six-bag array of air bags anchors Camry’s list of passive safety features.

Every Camry comes equipped with air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, tire pressure monitor and a multi-speaker audio system with CD player.

Camry — particularly the four-cylinder — may not satisfy your boy-racer needs, but it is roomy, comfortable and virtually bulletproof in quality. How well does it fulfill its mission to provide families with what they typically need and look for in transportation? Its reign as sales leader speaks to that.

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