First of all, full disclosure: I do not actually own this car, I just happen to rent cars a lot normally, and even more during the past year. I rented a 2012 Camry for a full month, twice in a row, so now I have been driving it for two months daily, both long distance (highway) and in terrible city traffic. I even changed residence during this time, so the car was tested in all kinds of situations: from fully loaded with moving boxes, and driving long distance loaded with family and luggage, to being stuck in rush hour traffic.
Before I took this Camry to drive it, I already drove a Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, VW Tiguan, and a few others. Some have disappointed me to no end, e.g. the latest Jetta. Some gave an impression that they were engineered in a rush, or by people who lack attention to detail.
And then came the Camry.
I usually rent cars where I can choose which particular car I will take. I also tend to rent them on monthly basis. This serves one more purpose, other than the obvious one: I get to test drive the car for a full month before I buy it. Yes, rental cars are not the same as new ones, but they do give me a good idea about things that I cannot find anywhere in reviews.
So, I chose the Camry a little reluctantly. I am well aware of their "stuck gas pedal problem" from a couple of years ago. What really bothered me in that respect is all the manipulations that were (and are) going on, and the inability of Toyota to either discover or admit the true cause of their sudden acceleration problems: engine management software. To blame drivers, their age, floor mats and so on instead of seeing the true cause, is at least irresponsible. We are talking people's lives here. I have seen that Toyota cars behave in a little strange way when the accelerator is released: rather than coasting for real, they actually keep the throttle engaged (through the internal computer, the gas pedal does not move), and that software tries to simulate coasting, based on the current speed, engine load and so on. This under some circumstances can lead to trouble, as the software may make a mistake and rev the engine to the max, as we have seen in the news. Most other cars simply disengage the transmission when the gas pedal is released, and the car truly coasts.
Be that as it may, I have a few decades of experience of driving cars, so I am ready for most emergencies. The first few days I was a bit apprehensive as I did not know if this car may do the same thing and suddenly accelerate. But nothing like that happened, and over time I relaxed. In case you are not sure what you would do, the best thing in any car that is out of control, is to put it in neutral FIRST, and do the rest. That way you don't lose your power steering and brakes, and engine can scream all it wants. If worst should come to worst, turning off the engine via the ignition key is second best, although steering and braking will quickly become very difficult.
Most decent size cars are good cars these days, but I found that all those I tested carried at least one or more big problems too. For instance, the new turbo trend among mid size cars means terrible gas mileage in the city or under load, and questionable engine longevity. Or some cars have a problem with shifting gears and get on the driver's nerves right away (I normally drive a standard, so I can only tolerate the best of automatic transmissions). Some others are plain uncomfortable, or terribly slow (to the point of being dangerous, as they do not deliver power when you most need it).
The surprise with Camry is that it has NONE of those (or any other) problems:
- The power from its 2.5 L engine is truly surprising. It drives like a V6, and can deliver plenty of power in an instant. Whether you are driving up a steep hill, or on a highway and need to accelerate suddenly, you press the pedal (not to the metal), and the car flies. The only time I was so impressed by an engine was when I drove a VW Tiguan, which also has a great engine (a turbo 4).
- The size of the cabin and trunk is amazing. I could fit 12 big moving boxes of 1.5 cubic feet each (12 x 12 x 18in) in it with some space to spare.
- The creature comforts are great: plenty of little storage all over the interior, everything works and is within easy reach, great reception by the radio, great sound from the speakers, etc. I am not too crazy about the big screen for audio, where you have those touch-screen buttons, but they work OK and I got used to them over time. Bluetooth works fine too, although it was a bit of a pain to set it up, as it was neither intuitive, nor was it communicating properly to me how to set it up (e.g. if the car was moving, it would not connect, but would not say that it cannot allow connection while driving, only that "connection failed").
- MPG is quite good on highway if you are careful with the gas pedal. The excellent power delivery does come at a price though: if one is to push the car and drive it like an angry teenager, I can see the MPGs dropping like a rock. Also, driving in a busy city traffic, where there is constant braking and accelerating, the MPGs hovered around 20 MPG. On a highway, with a little care, 30 MPG is realistic. If you are into "hypermiling", you could achieve 25 MPG in a city (with a little luck), and 35 MPG on highway. The car also has an "eco" mode, which is automatically engaged when minimal throttle is enough to maintain current speed. If you learn how to use that "eco" mode, you can save a bit on gas (tip: get to your highway speed, then slightly back off on the gas pedal, and from then on be gentle with it). Also, to keep the "eco" mode ON, do not force the car up the hill, but let it lose some of its speed. I would not do that when there are cars behind me though, as a few cents saved are nothing compared to aggravation this creates for those behind (think of all those Prius drivers who are constantly looking at their MPG readout rather then the road).
- The Camry's combination of engine and transmission is amazing. I have a hard time with A/T in most cars, as I prefer standard transmission, but this car shifts like a top notch psychic - it never once left me wondering what it was trying to do, and it never failed to downshift when I needed it to. It is the most refined combo of engine and transmission I have ever had the pleasure to drive, period. In addition, the engine works with no strain in ALL circumstances even under high load, and gives an impression of something that will last a long time.
- Through these two months of driving, I have had no problems with the car, and it grew on me and my family so much that we are seriously considering buying a new one. All other cars had at least one or two serious flaws, which made us give up the idea of buying it (e.g. Tiguan is too small for an SUV, Sonata can be a death trap with its unpredictable and sometimes eternal turbo lag, American family cars I don't like to even try, as they tend to disintegrate too soon for my taste and look ugly, and German cars are expensive to maintain and have a questionable reliability record).
- The Camry is very quiet, feels and drives like a luxury car, absorbs the road noise and potholes, yet it handles really well and is more than just an "appliance".
- The only issue that surprised me a bit was the seat comfort: namely, the first Camry I ever rented was the older, 2009 model. That car drove really well and I liked it, except that it belongs to the generation of Camrys, which have a poor crash test rating (especially in the roof area). So I figured that the new one would be all that only better. However, as I drove to car rental place in the old Camry, and picked up the new one, my immediate feeling was that driver's seat is different, and is pushing my shoulders forward too much; it was almost making me slouch. Over time I have gotten used to it, but I am not sure whether that's a good thing...
So with the exception of the driver's shoulders comfort due to different seat design (which could be just me), I find Camry to be the most refined car I ever drove - and I drove quite a few of them, all long term. It is the winner in the "we are looking for a decent size family car that is just right in every respect".