At some point, every motoring enthusiast has experienced the discomfort of being stuck behind a Camry driver. That maddening pain of being held back by someone completely oblivious to their surroundings, meandering through traffic (and life) slowly but surely as others (and life) pass them (and now you) by.
You eventually get past them and life is bearable once again, only for that moment of joy to be taken away when they roll up alongside you at the next set of lights. If there were a nuclear war, I am sure the only guaranteed human survivors would be Camry drivers.
I’ve always wondered what the actual reason was for such a high proportion of Camry drivers being so terrible. Was it the car or was it the driver? I finally got to answer this most confounding of mysteries when my Jaguar was involved in an accident. When picking up the hire car, I was initially filled with dread to know that I would be driving a base-model Camry for four weeks. What had I done to be consigned to this motoring purgatory?
Once I transitioned through the initial six stages of grief, I began to move to the seventh and final stage of acceptance and hope. Maybe it’s not a bad car and it will only be four weeks. Time would fly by quickly and I would be handing the keys back in no time. The first thing I noticed was how solidly the car was put together. It really is quite a tank. The hard thud of doors closing and firm feel of the switch gear. It wasn’t the nicest place to be, but it was entirely adequate.
My next surprise was the quick take-off when I prodded the accelerator. It caught me by surprise. This thing can get moving quickly if you really want it to. Makes me wonder why Camry drivers are so slow to move off from a set of lights. The gearbox defaults to fourth gear when stationary, which seems odd, but makes sense when rolling along in traffic. If you need to move off quickly, a light press of the accelerator produces a muffled but satisfying roar as speed builds.
Rolling acceleration was good. Getting it from 40km/h to 100km/h resulted in a quick surge of revs, the usual roar and a decent burst of speed. It did get a bit loud, but not in a bad way. Things settled down very quickly once at the required speed; it just sat at 100km/h unfussed. I could easily cover a lot of highway kilometres in this car.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the firmness of the suspension. You feel every bump, lump, pothole, road join, gap, corrugation, permutation, and imperfection. Saying the ride was unsettled is an understatement. When you live in Sydney, this is a bit of a problem. The upside was minimal body roll when cornering.
Adding further weight to the Camry’s nous was the entirely sufficient braking power. The brakes came on strong and the car pulled up quickly every time. Thankfully, I never had the need for emergency braking, however I felt confident they would have held up just fine. Having said that, the standard Michelin Primacy tyres were excellent, and I would certainly consider a pair for my own cars.
The steering is the only area that was a letdown. It was light and manoeuvrable at slower speeds. Getting around a car park was an absolute breeze. As speed increased, the steering felt heavier and turn-in was slow. I put this down to being a front-wheel drive, but it seems worse in the Camry compared to other cars I have driven. I could handle the firm ride if cornering was a joy. In this case, there is no such trade-off, so it’s just disappointing.
After spending a bit of time behind the wheel of a Camry, I did start to grow an admiration for its utilitarian approach to motoring. It just does what it's meant to do without any real fanfare or drama. I would have no hesitation at all in recommending a Camry to someone I cared about.
Would I buy one myself? Definitely not! Life is too short to drive a Camry. There are plenty more interesting cars with similar reliability and pricing.
So why do Camry drivers drive the way they do? That is the million-dollar question. I suppose you only drive a Camry because you have to (it’s a fleet special for good reason) or because you don’t care about driving, or maybe you had a bad experience with another brand and value the perceived reliability of Toyota. You certainly wouldn’t buy one if you really enjoyed driving.
As you may have guessed, I do have a few gripes with Camry (add in Corolla and Prius) drivers. I have compiled a list of their most annoying habits:
• Smugness about the reliability of their cars. Just about every manufacturer has lifted its reliability. My wife’s 10-year-old Hyundai and my previous 16-year-old Nissan were fantastically reliable. Reliability is not a trait solely limited to Toyota.
• Driving well below the speed limit and somehow managing to get through the green traffic light, leaving you behind stranded on red.
• Driving well below the speed limit and then speeding up when you try to overtake them.
• Drifting into the neighbouring lane to make a painfully slow turn into a side street. You are not driving a semi-trailer people!
• Sat-nav and phones placed in the middle of the windscreen creating blind spots. Because making sure you can read a text message or follow a map is so much more important than concentrating on where you are going.
• Those stupid doilies, tissue boxes, fluffy toys, wide-brim hats, bobble-head toys, replica Matchbox cars and other junk on display. You just know you are in for a painful journey when stuck behind one of these people.
And my pet gripe for Camry drivers:
• Going 20km/h below the speed limit in the right lane on a three-lane motorway.
A note to Camry drivers: if you feel this review is overly harsh and not funny, then you are probably the kind of Camry driver I am writing about.
*A stock photo was supplied with this review.