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by Laurance Yap
Photos by Paul Williams
Alton, Ontario – Toyota’s getting emotional, or so they say, with the 2005 Camry. At first glance, it’s hard to believe this. Despite a facelift, the new Camry is still the same fairly-conservative looking sedan it has always been. It still has the same conservative proportions allied with fantastic build quality; a slightly tippy-toed stance thanks to its relatively large size and small wheels; and a large glass area that speaks of a roomy cabin rather than an intense driving experience.
Still, the designers have been busy, infusing passion into the shape where they could. The front bumper is new, and a bit bolder in design. The headlights are now more aggressive, with four separate projector-beam elements to them. The rear lamps have been redesigned, there are new wheels across the board, and some new paint colours are available. SE models, the sportiest in the lineup, get much more aggressive ground-effects cladding, rear spoilers, and on the SE-V6, a set of stunning graphite alloy wheels that, at 17 inches, finally fill out their arches to give the Camry the look it’s always deserved.
Detail changes are the story inside as well, for the Camry’s interior has always been functional and attractive. The big changes are a new centre console which more seamlessly blends into the dashboard (and has two big storage bins instead of the old one), and a new Lexus-like Optitron instrument cluster which is easier to read both night and day. The fuel-level and water-temperature readouts have moved outside of the main dials, making them easier to read, as well. The seats have been changed, too: they are now Lexus-based, and are fantastic in their plush supportiveness, and a power lumbar support is standard on all models, including base cars with manual seats. A centre rear headrest is now also standard.
Great stuff, you’re thinking, but hardly passionate. How does it drive?
Much like the current Camry, only better, is the answer. Automatic transmissions across the board – the base, $24,850, 157-horsepower four-cylinder car is still available with a manual as well – are now up to five speeds from four, meaning performance, drivability, and fuel economy have all improved. No matter which engine you’re using, be it the smooth, torquey and efficient four-cylinder, or the 3.0-litre or 3.3-litre V6, shifts are seamless and immediate, always anticipating which gear you’ll need next. Passing power goes from more-than-adequate in the four to surprisingly-fast in the SE V6, which has the largest engine and 225 horsepower. What there isn’t is drama: the Camry is happy to cruise all day at high velocity, but you never get the sense that it’s labouring hard, even when you’ve got four people in the car and are going uphill. An impressive performance, then.
The rest of the driving experience is similarly effortless. No matter which car, and which tires, you pick, cornering grip is always more than adequate, stability is always impressive, and the speeds you’re able to achieve are always a lot higher than you would expect a car of this size or comportment. ABS brakes with electronic force distribution are now standard across-the-board, and stopping distances are short; the Camry also has excellent stability under braking. We threw the new models around a tight, twisty autocross course during the launch and found it really difficult to squeal the tires, no matter how hard we tried.
I was asking myself where all the passion was after all of this, because while I came away impressed by the way the Camry drives, and was blown away by how well-assembled it was, and the quality of the materials, it’s hardly a vehicle to inspire sweaty palms on a Sunday drive. But, by the time I got out of it after several stress-free hours behind the wheel, I found the answer. The Camry inspires passion not in the typical automotive sense, through styling or speed or driving dynamics: it’s most impressive as a total ownership experience. You get into a Camry knowing it will never let you down, that it will always start first time, that it will always be reliable and comfortable and will take good care of you and your loved ones no matter where you go in it. It’s spacious, it’s easy to own, it’s decent to drive, and in many ways is the perfect family sedan.
Its personality comes from its perfection for its purpose. And what higher purpose can there be than to be such a workhorse, day in and day out?