2006 Toyota Camry SE
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by Haney Louka
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at CarTalkCanada

Because my memory is of the good-but-short variety, I rely on reminders all the time. Meeting reminders, pick-up-groceries-on-the-way-home-from-work reminders, deadline reminders, and the like.

Such is the case with certain cars that, while ever present on the automotive landscape, deserve a ‘reminder drive’ to show us that they are serious contenders for a reason. As reviewers of new cars and trucks, we’re usually bombarded with the latest new model or feature that a manufacturer has to offer, and often models that are several years into their product cycle are forgotten. But Toyota has chosen to send me a friendly reminder in the form of a 2006 Toyota Camry SE 4-cylinder model.

The current Camry generation was introduced more than four years ago as a 2002 model, which means it’s just about time for a new version to hit the streets. Indeed, the 2007 Camry is set to hit showrooms next year and will sport a completely new design. But even so, more than 18,000 Camrys found new homes in Canada last calendar year, and Toyota is poised to exceed that number in 2005. So for the time being, let’s have a look at the Camry that’s available now. It shouldn’t be discounted as a has-been in a fiercely competitive class full of newer entries.

2006 Toyota Camry SE

2006 Toyota Camry SE
Click image to enlarge

The Camry line starts at $24,990 for the base LE with an automatic transmission. For those who want to unleash the sporty potential of their Camry (you’ll have to dig deep), an SE can be had with a 5-speed row-it-yourself gearbox for $25,550. Our tester was an SE with the 5-speed automatic slushbox, listing at $26,895. V6 models start at $27,475 for an LE and go up to the top-end XLE with package B for a not-insignificant $36,835.

All Camrys are equipped with air conditioning, a split rear bench seat, power windows and locks with keyless entry, cruise control, automatic headlights, and a bunch of other stuff. SE models add a tighter suspension, three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum interior trim, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, and fog lights. The deletion of an automatic transmission from the standard equipment list on the SE means it’s only $560 more than the base Camry: quite a deal.

Nuts and bolts

While fuel prices have settled down a little over recent weeks, the increased efficiency of a four-banger is still an appealing proposition. And in the Camry, the base four-cylinder engine is a gem. So smooth and powerful, in fact, that agents of the Good Ferry press car delivery service guessed it was a V6 after driving the car from Saskatoon to Winnipeg. They’re not committed car guys, mind you, but after driving the car myself for a week, I can easily see how the car could leave this impression.

By the numbers, the 2.4-litre unit utilizes variable intake valve timing to produce 154 hp at 5,700 rpm and 160 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 revs. In this class, that ranks as strictly average, but going down the road the engine feels much more robust than that, exhibiting strong, smooth power delivery right up past highway speeds. Also note that Toyota has adopted a new SAE procedure for all of its 2006 horsepower ratings, resulting in a drop of 3 hp and 3 lb-ft in the Camry’s case.

2006 Toyota Camry SE
Click image to enlarge

Engine power is managed by a five-speed automatic transmission that incorporates no manual shift mode, but rather the more conventional lower gear positions for the shift lever as well as an overdrive lockout button on the shifter.

In addition to the smooth and surprisingly powerful demeanour of the engine, the transmission’s five forward gear ratios help to extract the most from the 4-banger. While generally competent in its endeavours, the slushbox did find itself hunting for the right gear occasionally under slow but steady acceleration.

The suspension configuration consists of MacPherson front struts and an independent rear suspension with — and here’s the “sport” part — a front strut tower brace to keep the struts aligned under cornering loads. Whether Camry drivers will appreciate a feature that’s normally reserved for high-performance and tuner cars remains to be seen.

Braking duties are adequately performed by four-wheel discs (vented in front) accompanied by anti-lock control, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist.

The suspension upgrades help the Camry to maintain control over body motions, but there’s only so much that can be done with a chassis that’s otherwise designed more for passenger comfort than tackling the twisties. Steering response is precise but never lively. And the brakes allowed more pedal travel than I expected during extended deceleration from highway speeds.

Inside and out

2006 Toyota Camry SE

2006 Toyota Camry SE
Click image to enlarge

While the styling of the current Camry generation represents a marked improvement over its blander-than-pablum predecessor, it still sports duds that easily get lost among mid-sized sedans. Its look is characterized by slab-sided doors and it sits taller than most mid-sizers for a more commanding view of the road. The oversized hind-quarters suffer from the form-follows-function spaciousness of the trunk.

That trunk, by the way, will swallow 470 litres of stuff compared with 396 for Accord and 429 for Mazda6. It also helps that the trunk is nicely shaped to accept bulky objects, with the only downside being conventional hinges that protrude into the cargo space.

Rear seat room is near the head of its class as well: legroom back there measures a generous 960 mm, compared to its competitors’ measurements of 927 mm for Mazda6 and 935 mm available in the Accord.

At the business end of the passenger compartment, drivers will find a logically laid out instrument panel and dash, free of unnecessary clutter. The controls for heating, ventilation, and A/C are integrated nicely high up on the dash just below the audio system controls. It’s all just so refreshingly simple, yet assembled in such a manner as to convey a real sense of quality throughout. Ditto the dash materials, although I found the ‘mouse-fur’ velour seat fabric to be too dated, reminiscent of the ’90s while today many vehicles have moved to more stylish fabrics that have a higher quality appearance. Similarly, the amber backlighting used to illuminate the instruments and controls is oh-so-’90s.

To sum it up

2006 Toyota Camry SE
Click image to enlarge

All of these factors mean that the Camry, in its current configuration at least, will not appeal to those who are enthusiastic about driving, no matter how much the SE package helps the appearance.

But good reliability, high resale values, lots of room, and high quality construction are all convincing reasons to give the Camry a serious look. Who knows: a little reminder just might help.

Shopping around

While the Camry is the “Old Faithful” of the segment, there are many newer entries in the ever-competitive mid-sized sedan market (prices shown are base price, 4-cylinder models where applicable):

  • Buick Allure ($26,295)
  • Chevrolet Malibu ($19,995)
  • Chrysler Sebring ($24,880)
  • Ford Fusion ($22,999)
  • Honda Accord ($24,800)
  • Hyundai Sonata ($21,900)
  • Mazda6 ($23,795)
  • Mitsubishi Galant ($23,998)
  • Nissan Altima ($24,698)
  • Pontiac G6 ($23,160)
  • Subaru Legacy ($28,495
  • VW Jetta ($24,995)

Technical Data: 2006 Toyota Camry SE

Base price $24,990
Base price (SE) $25,550
Options $ 1,345 (automatic transmission)
Freight $ 1,160
A/C tax $ 100
Price as tested $28,155 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-size family sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine 2.4-litre 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 154 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque 160 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission five-speed automatic (std. 5-speed manual)
Tires P215/60R-16 inch all-season
Curb weight 1,460 kg (3,219 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,720 mm (107.1 in.)
Length 4,805 mm (189.2 in.)
Width 1,795 mm (70.7 in.)
Height 1,490 mm (58.7 in.)
Trunk space 470 litres (16.7 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.0 L/100 km (28 mpg Imperial)
  Highway: 6.4 L/100 km (44 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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