The Toyota Camry is the long-time best-selling passenger car here in the U.S.. It’s offered as a four-cylinder mid-size sedan with V-6 and hybrid drivetrain options. Years back, there was also a coupe and convertible version of the Camry called the Solara.
Reliability, roomy interior, comfortable ride, and gas mileage are all attributes for which the Camry has become known. The Camry’s competition comes from the entire mid-size sedan segment and includes the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Chevy Malibu, and Subaru Legacy, among others.
Whether you buy a used Toyota Camry from the 1990s or a brand-new one, you’re getting a comfortable, spacious sedan that performs reasonably well but isn’t downright sporty. In recent years, the Camry has kept to the same formula, but Toyota has upgraded safety and added desirable options like a navigation system, heated leather seats, and a smart key system.
The Toyota Camry first was introduced to the U.S. market as a front-wheel-drive replacement for the rear-wheel-drive Corona. Quite boxy and basic, that first Camry won over masses of U.S. buyers who, during that time, were reaching a critical point of frustration over the reliability and quality of domestic-brand cars.
Subsequent Camry models became a little larger, more refined, and more comfortable and luxurious with each generation. At the time the second-generation Camry made its debut for 1987, the Camry’s 115-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder was quite technically advanced as it was one of the first engines in an affordable four-door sedan with four valves per cylinder. Wagon variants of the Camry were reasonably popular through this period, too, and a five-door hatchback version of the model was even sold through ’86.
Toward the late ’80s, Toyota added a V-6 option for the first time, and it began offering all-wheel drive (All-Trac) on some versions. That was the start of the Camry’s movement slightly upscale, and for 1991, Toyota broke the U.S. Camry line away from the version made for its home market, recognizing that U.S. families wanted a larger product and aiming the model solidly at the same shoppers who at that time were considering the Ford Taurus. Toyota had, in 1988, begun assembling Camrys for the U.S. in Georgetown, Kentucky, where it’s still produced today—and if there’s any doubt about how American it is, did you know it races in NASCAR?
Two different U.S. Camry generations spanned the 1990s. Of those, the first (distinguished by rounded sheet metal and soft features) offered a tremendous leap in luxury over the previous model. The latter fourth-generation Camry was panned at launch for its especially bland styling (and the wagon was discontinued), but it was an even stronger seller. Through these two generations the Camry didn’t make any tremendous advances, but its four-cylinder and V-6 engines grew in size and produced more power.
This past decade has seen two generations of the Camry. The previous generation, introduced for 2002, introduced a rounder look once again—this time making major advances inside with significantly upgraded materials—with a stronger 162-horsepower, 2.4-liter base engine. A 192-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 remained a popular option, and safety features were bolstered during this generation with the phasing-in of side airbags and stability control on some models.
Then, for 2007, the Camry was redesigned again, with a smoother, less slab-sided look, much-improved safety and safety features, and an all-new 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission at the top of the range. In this latest generation, a tighter suspension and upgraded wheels in the SE V-6 model brings a more sophisticated VDIM stability control system and a surprising level of responsiveness and performance satisfaction, if you can get past the bland appearance.
Also making its debut for 2007 was the Toyota Camry Hybrid, which paired a version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive (originally developed with the Prius) with an especially frugal version of the sedan’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Altogether the system made 192 hp—the same as the V-6 a year or two before—but with gas-stingy EPA fuel economy figures of 33 mpg city, 34 highway.
For 2010, the base Toyota Camry got an even larger four-cylinder engine—a 2.5-liter, making 169 or 179 hp, while fuel economy was actually made better thanks to a new six-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual remained available on a limited basis with the four.
A 2012 redesign didn’t recast the Camry, but brought substantial improvements to comfort, refinement, and handling, but from the outside the changes were so evolutionary that some might only see it as a mild refresh. Gas mileage was also improved across the lineup (up to 25/35 for the four-cylinder), and a completely reworked Camry Hybrid—with an EPA city rating of up to 43 mpg—was the star of the lineup. Safety features were also significantly upgraded, with ten standard airbags, newly standard side rear thorax bags, and an improved structure, while Bluetooth hands-free connectivity was made standard on all models.
The 2013 Toyota Camry earned a few more trim and feature changes—like expanded availability for the Blind Spot Monitor option, which is now packaged with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Even base Camry L models for 2013 got the Display Audio screen-based entertainment system, as they tightened their game against the all-new 2013 Honda Accord. The only blemish to the Camry’s longstanding rivalry versus the Honda Accord? A round of crash-test results for the new IIHS small-overlap frontal test, Honda managed the top nod, while the Camry was rated ‘poor.’