America's best-selling flavor of ice cream is vanilla. So say Toyota executives defending their Camry sedan, which is successful despite its ordinary nature.
But for the 2007 redesign, which was unveiled at the Detroit auto show, Toyota's brand of vanilla ice cream will add some sprinkles and jimmies.
The basics: Toyota previously stretched the Camry platform to create the Avalon sedan. For the 2007 Camry, Toyota shrank the recently redesigned Avalon platform.
Although the interior, especially the back seat, is spacious, the car's overall length remains the same.
The base four-cylinder engine is a revision of a carry-over design. The upmarket Camry gets a 3.5-liter V-6 borrowed from the Avalon. The 268-hp V-6 is teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission, the first front-drive six-speed Toyota has offered.
Buyers of the four-banger get a choice of a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
Notable features: Car companies like to talk about how "emotional" their newest model is. Toyota has never dared say that about its Plain Jane sedan -- until now.
The exterior design borrows its squinty headlamp look from the Mazda6, the Toyota logo is more prominent, the body-side character line exhibits more flair, and the rear deck lid takes cues from the bustle-backed BMW sedans.
Inside, a four-spoke steering wheel is sporty, the instrument panel is a melange of sweeps and curves, and the opening mechanisms of all ashtrays and cubbies are dampened -- just like a Lexus.
Toyota will gamble by making 48,000 Camry Hybrid models a year, even though that decision could steal sales from the similarly sized Prius hybrid.
The Camry Hybrid attempts to deliver V-6 power with better-than-four-cylinder fuel economy. It features 192 hp from its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine teamed with the electric motors, which is more power than the outgoing V-6. That means 0-to-60 arrives in less than nine seconds.
The Camry Hybrid delivers an estimated 43 city and 37 highway mpg, with a range of 680 miles. The car is based on the mid-grade LE trim level, to bring down the price premium.
The current base Camry was a stripped model, designed for fleet buyers and appealing dealer advertising. But the new base CE model has almost as many standard features as the old mid-grade LE.
Standard CE features include four-wheel disc brakes; cruise control; air conditioning; tilt and telescoping steering column; remote door locks; tire pressure monitors; AM/FM/CD player with iPod jack; and power windows, locks and mirrors.
On the safety front, antilock brakes, vehicle skid control and traction control are standard. The standard airbag array includes front dual-stage airbags, side curtains for front and rear occupants, seat-mounted airbags to protect front-seat occupants, and driver's knee airbags.
In addition to the expected body-kit upgrades, the SE sport model offers stiffer spring and shock-damping rates, a solid front anti-roll bar, a bevy of stiffening braces and brackets mounted to the body shell, and standard 17-inch wheels.
What Toyota says: "This is not just another new Camry. This is a revolution in our thinking," said Camry chief engineer Kenichiro Fuse, at a press event in Ojai, Calif. "We chose the path of higher risk, with the potential for higher reward."
Added Jim Lentz, Toyota Division general manager, "People are going to want this car."
Compromises and shortcomings: By making more items standard on the base trim level, the Camry's base price likely will be higher, perhaps nudging $20,000. The outgoing Camry's base price is $19,025, including shipping.
Nuts and bolts: The car goes on sale in March, and prices will be announced closer to the launch date. Toyota expects sales of the Camry Hybrid to be incremental and not cannibalize much from traditional Camry sales when the hybrid goes on sale this summer.
The skinny: Toyota not only raised the bar in the sedan segment, but it did so six months ahead of schedule. The design of this Camry even shows a trace of emotion. The competition should be very, very afraid.
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at [email protected]