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Rental Review: 2017 Toyota Camry LE
I have always had a negative bias towards Toyota, the Camry in particular. I have considered it an overrated, vanilla car for years and cannot fathom why it would be the best selling midsize car in the United States. Admittedly, I have never driven one before now. Due to the fates, my brief trip to Boise Idaho to see a friend found me behind the wheel of a 2017 Toyota Camry LE for a few days. At least the rate was right (helps to have a co-worker whose wife is a Hertz local manager).
Admittedly, the current gen Camry is the best looking one in several years. The gaping front grille seems subdued in the base model. While the car doesn't scream for attention by looks alone, it is far less vanilla than it has been in the past. The interior was far less impressive to me and on par with my past experiences. It was a sea of hard plastics. Even the areas that looked like they would be softer and more inviting were still hard to the touch. Most of the controls were well laid out, but the cruise control was an odd anomaly. It's been a while since I've seen a dongle type interface for the cruise control. In this instance, it sits on the lower right side of the wheel.
There are two circular pads on the steering wheel. The left side controls radio functions (volume, track selection and mode) while the right side controls the DIS screen on the center of the binnacle. Don't expect much information to come from the DIS. On demand fuel economy is by bar graph, with a numerical read out for cumulative. Strangely, you can also select a digital speedo, in case the analog one isn't clear enough (which it is). Another oddity: The tripometer is a separate function via a more traditional push stalk.
The driver's seat had an 8 position electric function. You can adjust thigh, lumbar, height and back rake. It was surprisingly easy to find good lumbar support. I suppose it's to make up for the flat spot where your rump would sit. No matter how hard I tried, I could not find a comfortable long haul position that didn't make me feel like I was sinking into the seat.
The drivetrain is a mixed bag. The motor was surprisingly responsive and had some good pep. The 6 SPD automatic is another story. It did not like being pushed. Shifts got increasingly hard as the throttle was pushed farther down. The manu-matic function was completely useless when pushing the car hard. The transmission seemed happiest when given light throttle inputs so it could hurry back into ECO mode. Nevertheless, it did return some decent economy numbers. I averaged 26 city/38 highway with a 33MPG average in mixed driving. That included plenty of hills as I traveled north of Boise proper. That may have improved now that 2018 models are equipped with an 8SPD gearbox.
It's a pity that the transmission was stubborn, as I was most surprised by the handling. It was surprisingly agile and seemed limited only by the skinny stock tires it wore (205/65R16). It would be interesting to give it another go with some more aggressive tread.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the Camry was its lack of value. There was zero active safety on board the LE model, not even blind side assistance with the mirrors. No remote lock feature either, you had to use the key to start the car, as well as lock/unlock the doors. The stereo system had decent sound, but its compatibility with my Sony Walkman Z mp3 player was finicky at best.
In the end, I was happy to turn in the Camry and fly back home. For those who only want a reliable piece of transportation that they will never try to push hard, the Camry might suffice. If someone wants a no-frills midsize sedan with respectable fuel economy, it is a fair choice. But for those who want a base model car with a decent standard equipment package that is also modern and can exert a little soul, the Camry is an easy pass.