Consider Toyota's popular mid-size Camry sedan a thriver among survivors.
Case in point; Camry's held the honor of best-selling passenger car (i.e. four-door sedan) in America for the past seventeen years with 2019 calendar year results reaching a robust 336,978 units.
While Big Boys GM and Ford quietly usher out four-door sedans from dealer floors, other manufacturers carry forward the family-friendly tradition looking to win over former Impala and Taurus loyalists. Domestics have gone all in with five-door crossover/hatchback designs at the expense of four-doors and conventional trunk.
The eighth-generation Camry went online in 2018, borrowing a page or two from Toyota's upscale Lexus side by incorporating bolder character lines and lower roof line. It's the most stylized exterior of the eight generations.
The first-generation Camry, a compact-sized product upon arrival, debuted in 1983 to the U.S. market with two body styles: a four-door sedan and five-door hatchback. Not until the third-generation arrival (1992-1996) did Camry upsize with enough girth to qualify as a mid-sizer.
Largely a carryover from the 2019 model year, Camry's major 2020 addition centers around a new beefed up trim with gentle guidance from Toyota Racing Development (TRD). Consider TRD an in-house tuning division upgrading existing vehicles with factory-built and specified parts gleaned from high-speed race track competition (NASCAR, etc.). No need for aftermarket boosts that could easily void a manufacturer warranty.
Everything from increased front disc brake rotor size and lower ride height to a TRD-specific exhaust note add to the narrative. Toyota's flagship Avalon sedan also offers a TRD version in 2020, as both represent Toyota's first four-doors to earn TRD badging. For the past 23 years, Toyota pickups and sport utilities enjoyed exclusive TRD performance tuning begging the question; 'why should big boned off-roaders garner all the fun?'
The new TRD joins six returning trims: L, LE, XLE, SE, the all-black tricked out SE Nightshade and top-trim XSE; representing a wide selection.
But wait...there's more. To better stifle crossover infestation, Camry now includes an all-wheel drive option. Not since 1991 has Camry offered this Midwest-friendly, get-a-grip nuance. The only caveat being all-wheel drive remains optional only with four-cylinder power. Front-wheel drive remains exclusive for Camry V-6s...at least for now.
Five-door crossovers gained a foot-hold in consumer consciousness by promoting all-wheel drive availability and Camry looks to even the playing field. The relatively reachable $1,400 premium added when choosing an AWD Camry reflects market dynamics working in consumers' favor as availability and demand grows. Not long ago shoppers needed to shell out two grand or more in additional cash for AWD. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced at last month's Chicago Auto Show that Chrysler's Pacifica minivan returns an all-wheel drive option after a long absence to beat back sales momentum from pesky crossover and their sport utility vehicle forerunners.
Multiple powertrains return unchanged from 2019. For starters, a naturally aspirated (non turbo), high-compression, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 203 horsepower comes in L, SE, LE, XSE and XLE. Need more oomph? Camry continues as one of the few sedan mid-sizers to offer the power and fun a V-6 provides in the form of a 24-valve 3.5-liter variety cracking the 300 horsepower barrier at 301 exclusive to XLE and XSE trims. Both team with a smooth, quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission with the V-6 sporting three drive modes summoned via buttons near the mechanical, vertical-slotted shifter: normal, eco and sport.
For those seeking a greener vision, Camry returns its fuel-extending, self-charging gas-electric hybrid (no plug-in required) delivering an estimated 52 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel. Toyota's sold more gas-electric hybrids in America than any other manufacturer, thanks to lessons learned from the trail blazing, mileage extending Prius hybrid.
While 52 mpg rates excellent, V6's perform admirably, exceeding 30 mpg highway with a 32, average, superb for a six cylinder.
Camry's smooth ride blends with predictable handling and best describes as a cruiser, not a racer (unless testing the hyped-up TRD variant). Built with quiet comfort in mind (a benefit of a noise reducing front windshield), Camry carries forward its hard-earned reliability reputation, continuing as a safe bet with a suite of standard high-tech collision avoidance features in the form of Toyota Safety Sense, which comes standard in just about all Toyotas sold in America.
Automatic high beam headlights, radar-enhanced cruise control (automatically speeding and slowing down at highway speeds based on the distance of the vehicle ahead), lane departure alert and pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection make up TSS. Top XSE trims upgrade to full-speed range cruise control, allowing speeding and slowing between zero and 110 miles per hour ideal for lower-speed following.
Our Georgetown Kentucky-built Camry XSE V-6 tester stated at $35,000 with a $40,334 bottom line after adding a $955 delivery charge and an assortment of extras. A $1,750 Driver's Assist package (rear cross traffic alert with braking, ventilated front seats, and bird's eye view in-dash camera) joins a $1,040 navigation package with premium audio system. Stand-alone items include rear spoiler with black side window and front "A" pillar trim ($500), illuminated door sill enhancements ($299), door edge guard among others. Camry starts at $24,425 for a front-drive L four-cylinder.
Up front, XSE includes an exclusive gloss-black front grille with sport mesh insert; in back, a dual exhaust with quad chrome tips.
A welcome 2020 tech upgrade standard in all trims, Android Auto, a Smartphone software interface allowing Android Smartphone apps and stored data to easily team with the in-dash sound system and multi-function screen. Apple CarPlay, an iPhone compatible interface, jumped aboard a couple years back.
The eight-inch, multi-function screen in XSE includes two twist dials monitoring volume and audio selections. Rather than flanking the screen, the duo utilizes an inline design found towards the upper left corner. More than once, muscle memory encouraged my right hand to twist the passenger's side temperature setting dial below the screen. While temperatures rose on the right side, the musical selection remained unchanged. Sometimes it's easier to employee secondary audio controls mounted on the steering wheel's face.
Fan speed controls and ventilation direction monitor from small, narrow, rectangular black push buttons below the screen. Front and rear defroster buttons orbit outboard and upward of dual temperature zone dials.
Three riders accommodate well in row two. Entry L and all-new TRD trims include a fixed second row seatback, all others incorporate 60/40 split folding backs allowing trunk access to assist transporting longer items.
Japan's largest automaker includes 'ToyotaCare' standard with every 2020 Toyota sold. It's a no-cost maintenance plan covering normal factory-scheduled service for two years or 25,000 miles including oil and filter changes, fluid level adjustment and tire rotation. A Roadside Assistance package is also included (with unlimited miles for two years) in case unforeseen jump starts, towing or emergency fuel delivery events become necessary.
Generation Eight reflects the best Camry's ever been. 2020 Toyota Camry
Price as tested: $40,334
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Wheelbase: 111.2 inches
Overall Length: 192.1 inches
Overall Width: 72.4 inches
Overall Height: 56.9 inches
Curb Weight: 3,572 pounds
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city/32mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Five year/60,000 miles
Assembly: Georgetown, Kentucky