I’m not going to pretend the headline above is at all outrageous or contrary. After all, the Toyota Camry is one of Australia’s most popular cars.
But it did raise some interesting conundrums for me that I felt compelled to share.
The person I recommended the Camry to is by no means a car enthusiast. He’s a person wanting something reliable, safe, roomy and affordable. Excitement, dynamism and style are way down the list.
He is also a person currently driving an older vehicle, meaning his perceptions of what makes one brand-new modern car better or worse than another are very different to someone like me, who drives literally hundreds of new cars every year.
So while I, and others here, may state with confidence that a Mazda 6 or Ford Mondeo are more interesting vehicles to drive than a Camry, I’m comparing apples and apples. But if you’re comparing that new Camry to a decade-old Toyota Avalon, you’re not.
Frankly, to a person in that position as contrasted to mine, any new model will feel like a revelation.
This fact tells me two things. One: not to aggrandise, but it re-affirms why I think our car advice at CarAdvice is valuable. After all, if it’s part of your job to compare and contrast new cars across the spectrum, you have all the context and baseline information you need.
But it also pushed me to see the real-world merit in a Camry over a Mazda 6, even though if I wrote twin test right now the Mazda would win comfortably. Because giving car advice is a multi-faceted charge.
It’s also why someone buying a Hyundai i30 over a Golf is making a valid choice, even though against my metrics the Volkswagen is the better car. Or why a Honda Jazz might be far more suitable than a Polo or Renault Clio, which I prefer in almost all areas.
Part of this issue stems from the fact it is very difficult to grade the ownership experience of a brand new car. We don’t get to spend years with a car, nor do we get them serviced (unless it’s a long, long-term loan and the vehicle demands it).
Sure, we can access pricing for the service, and warranty data. But we aren’t the ones dealing with the service advisors.
This position means we have to test cars against a set of criteria that give the best estimation of its qualities as you roll it out of the showroom. To do more is fraught, because everyone’s individual experience down the line is very different.
Case in point, Volkswagen. We’ve not been without critics who note that VW product regularly wins in our comparison tests.
But the rationale is simple: in the areas of refinement, ride, powertrain and even price, the German company is outstanding. A Golf or Polo feels like a car twice the price at times.
And some people out there who own them love them until the car no longer suits them. But some don’t. Surveys show that your ownership experience may not match the driving experience.
I felt compelled to acknowledge that we understand this, and that we recognise the horses for courses approach as valid.
And this brings us back full circle to a Camry. Regularly priced at $26,990 driveaway, it may not be inspiring, but it’s a razor sharp deal for a comfortable four-door family sedan.
And since I don’t fork over my money for new cars as much as I tell others what to do with theirs, I’d be remiss not to recognise this. Or its cheap servicing costs and potential insurance premiums. You can extrapolate this to a variety of cars.
The point of all this?
I absolutely agree, for instance, that a Golf is a 9/10 car, but depending on the person buying, would recommend a 7.5/10 Hyundai i30 instead. And that’s where the subtler elements of both giving and consuming car advice emerge.
I also think I’ve just landed the keys to every Camry press evaluation car we get in the CarAdvice garage from here on in…