Constants can be strangely comforting. Knowing, for example, that your Grandma's tasty lasagna or your tennis partner's solid serve are going to be as you expect may even cause warm and fuzzy feelings. Of course, in some cases constants can wane over time -- such as the Red Sox losing or Paul McCartney producing good music.
As one of the best-selling vehicles over the past 20 years, the Toyota Camry has been a comforting constant in its own right. Buyers are frequently working on their third or fourth Camry because of their prior positive experiences. The 2009 version of this Toyota stalwart continues to offer what most folks are looking for in a mainstream midsize family sedan: a roomy cabin, a comfortable ride, an easy-to-drive demeanor and a reputation for reliability and low maintenance costs. A strong resale value doesn't hurt either. However, like Sir Paul, this automotive constant has started to wane.
The current generation of the Camry is the largest version of the car yet. Although categorized as a midsize car, the Camry offers plenty of passenger room front and rear. This is also the most muscular Camry ever, with an available 268-horsepower V6 at the driver's beck and call. Matched to a smooth six-speed automatic transmission, that powerhouse can propel this family sedan to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds -- as quick as some sport sedans and coupes. It also returns fuel economy that's impressively close to that of a four-cylinder Camry.
Likable as it is, the 2009 Toyota Camry has some significant caveats. One is that its historically excellent build and materials quality has slipped in the last few years, and reliability has slipped. Competitors who have trailed the Camry in the past have stepped up their game, surpassing the Toyota in many areas. One in particular is handling -- in spite of its quickness and speed, the Camry is not an athlete, placing light-effort driving over communicative steering that would lend a sense of confidence to the driver. For those who prefer greater feedback and a more involving driving experience, the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Mazda 6 and Nissan Altima are worthy of close consideration.
And then there is pricing -- the ever-popular Camry commands a premium over value-packed rivals such as the Malibu, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata. Of course, there is the Camry's chief competitor, the Honda Accord, which provides a more involving drive, though not as hushed a freeway ride as the Toyota. It also beats the Camry in terms of cabin materials and build quality.
With so many strong entrants in this segment, back-to-back test-drives are encouraged. Though the 2009 Toyota Camry may be as enticingly familiar as flannel pajamas on a cold winter's night, savvy consumers may find that trying on brand X yields an even more comfortable fit.