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2015 Toyota Camry LE

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that with the new Camry, Toyota has made a statement. Yes, I know it’s been one of the top-selling cars in the country for years now, but it’s never been known as being very exciting. Boring is even a word that comes to mind.

Boring though, isn’t always bad. Having a boring partner can, for example, keep a relationship from being infiltrated by third parties. In the car business, boring can mean no surprises. But eventually the competition finds ways to trump boring (e.g. Hyundai Sonata).

Enter the new and (much) improved Camry. This time out, the emperor really does have new clothes. Toyota seems to emphasize the youthfulness of the new design, using words like “bolder body lines,” “handling agility,” and my favorite — “... for the 45 percent of Camry customers who have been choosing the sporty SE model (and who are, on average, 12 years younger than other Camry customers), there’s even bigger news.”

Its looks aren’t the only thing that will sell the new Camry to tens-of-thousands of customers, though. The comfort, the quiet, and the standard features should impress any test driver. My own drive began one day last week at Northtown Toyota, where sales guy Alex Burdick handed me the keys to an entry-level Camry LE. Entry-level doesn’t mean the same thing it did when my Dad was buying his new 1963 Ford Galaxie (no radio, three-on-the-tree, dog dish hubcaps). The Camry LE, with a starting price of just

$22,970 comes standard with the following: halogen headlights, heated outside mirrors, backup camera, eight-way power driver’s seat, and a six-speed automatic (among other things). The only option on my test car was the floor/trunk mats package ($225) which brought the total (with delivery) to $24,020. They’ll move a lot of cars out the door with that pricing.

Driving the Camry LE was also nothing like my Dad’s ’63 Ford. The 2.5L four-cylinder drives like many sixes. Power is never a problem, and this is no small car. I slid easily into the driver’s seat, found the dash layout to be extremely user-friendly, and for good measure climbed into the back seat where I was able to actually stretch my legs out in front of me without my knees touching the back of the front seat. The rear seat is a 60/40 folding affair, with the latch mechanism located in the trunk, which I often find awkward but maybe that’s just me.

That four-cylinder engine produces 178 hp and is EPA-rated at 25/35 mpg city/highway; a 3.5L V-6 (268 hp) is available on XSE and XLE models (21/31), as well as three Hybrid models (43/39). The power steering has a good road feel to it, and handling on the LE model, while adequate, is stiffened-up a bit on the upper scale XSE model what with larger rims, different springs and shocks, and unique power steering tuning.

Besides the LE, there are SE (a bit more sporty), XSE (extra sporty?), and XLE (L for luxury) models. The availability of the V-6 and the Hybrid brings the total number of models available to a saleman’s mind-boggling total of nine. They run the gamut from cloth seated, simpler audio-equipped LEs with plastic wheel covers, to leathered-up JBL audio-equipped tightened-up suspension sedans with 18-inch wheels. I priced-out a nicely-equipped XSE for just under 35 grand.

Will it be enough to keep the Camry at or near the top of the heap? It’s certainly a huge improvement, but the competition is very tough. I see Toyota holding on to its customer base, but they may find it tough bringing in new buyers. It’s a never-ending game of keep-up/catch-up which the competition is very good at.

Still, the new Camry is a worthy opponent.

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Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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