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Auto Corner: Vanilla Reigns - the 2010 Camry

14 August 2010   John Dickerson
The 2010 Toyota Camry rules the practical.
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It may not take “First Place” at any beauty pageants, but the 2010 Camry remains one of the most practical vehicles money can buy.

Is the best-selling Camry losing its edge? Well, it depends who you ask. Some say the 2010 Camry – nearly identical to the 2007 Camry – is following in the tiretread tracks of the Ford Taurus and Buick LeSabre. Both those domestic sedans were once top sellers, but they failed to update their formula when consumer appetite changed.

Like the domestic best sellers of yore, Camry still does what it has always done best. With the exception of the Honda Accord, no other family sedan can touch Toyota’s reputation for reliability or its middle-of-the road family appeal. If resale value, gas mileage and crash ratings top your priority list, then the 2010 Camry is your baby. This car shines and ranks near the top in most, if not all those contests.

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However, Camry’s main competitors better reflect the formula many family sedan buyers want. Drivers hoping for any whiff of excitement in their commute will lean toward opponents like the Nissan Altima, Mazda 6, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy or Chevy Malibu. Those sedans also boast more luxurious interiors, while Camry’s remains Spartan.

Shoppers looking for a sporty family sedan should not write off the Camry, particularly in its sport-tuned SE trim package. I recently tested a 2010 Camry SE and was delighted with its gas mileage, handling and value. The SE offers a small step in the direction of driving excitement, while retaining Toyota value, reliability and resale value.

The new Camry can be had with either a 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine or a very potent and smooth 268-horsepower V-6, which may be the best V-6 engine in the family sedan market. The four-cylinder offers enough power for most drivers (179 horsepower in the SE model), while earning 22 miles for every gallon of city driving and a noteworthy 33 mpg highway. The V-6 delivers a more refined and confident drive with plenty more punch off the line. It lands 19 mpg city/28 highway.

The Camry also deserves a gold star for its safety score. Five gold stars, to be precise. That’s the perfect score that The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave for front and side crashes in the 2010 Camry.

If there’s one area where Toyota has lost its footing as leader of the pack, it’s interior build quality. The $19,000 base Toyota LE has a practical and competent interior. It’s not poor by any means, but the base Camry’s interior doesn’t shine against competitors like it once did. Of course, the more expensive and luxurious “XLE” trim package (starting around $29,000) makes up for all these inadequacies. The XLE is also the only sedan in this class to offer reclining backseats – a sophisticated touch handed down from Toyota’s upscale Lexus and Avalon.

Outside, the 2010 Camry does get a few grille and bumper tweaks to distinguish it from the previous the years of Camry. Like the rest of the car’s personality, its styling is pleasant and unlikely to offend anybody.

In all, the new Camry does what it’s always done best – deliver an unbeatable concoction of practicality.

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Toyota’s world-class ergonomics shape the bland interior of the new Camry.

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© 2010 John Dickerson

* Each month John Dickerson tests a worthy car. From smoking teenagers at stoplightsto cramming groceries and small appliances into the trunk, Dickerson examines the features you actually care about, like how well a spilled mocha cleans off the upholstery. Dickerson was raised on industrial pollution, deer venison and American steel in Detroit, Michigan. His co-workers often find him in a trance, slumped over his keyboard, uttering words like “torque steer, horsepower-to-displacement ratio” and “nav system.”