6,200 mile review (2011 Camry)

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Encouraged by The_Critic’s 5,000 mile review of his Altima, I figured I’d do the same of my Camry. Well, I’m a little late; it’s a 6,200 mile review. I bought the car on Mother’s Day weekend this past May. The miles have been piling on faster than I figured they would. I really enjoy the Camry, but I’ve never yet met a perfect car, one with no cons to go with the pros, and the Camry is no different. Many of the pros and cons are minor points, but to me, the difference is in the details, so I want to list them all. I will start with my dislikes: Dislikes 1) I bought the base model because of the deal they had on it, and stepping up to the LE model was a $1,300 affair that returned only keyless entry and a power seat. While I’m still fairly sure I made the right decision on trim level, the power seat would really be nice. The front of the manual seat is EXTREMELY low and I like a lot of thigh support. There is a manual adjustment to raise the seat, but it mostly raises the rear of the seat cushion, tilting the seat forward and reducing thigh support even further. My solution was buying some small wooden wheels at a craft store. Laid on their side, they’re about 5/8” thick, and I used them as spacers under the front seat rail mounts. This made all the difference in the world for seat comfort. I’m also in between seat rake adjustments. One detent is just slightly too far upright, and the next detent is just slightly too far laid back. I seem to be rather sensitive to seat adjustments, and power seats offer the slightest adjustments with a bump of the buttons, and I’ve come to appreciate that after having a few cars lately with manual seats. 2) The “oh s***” handles seem rather flimsy. They are damped so they don’t spring up with a thud after you pull them down, but they don’t feel all that sturdy. 3) There’s an aggressive fuel cut program in the PCM that cuts fuel to the engine above 1,100 RPM when you close the throttle, and the transmission will downshift as you coast to keep the engine speed above 1,100 RPM. This can be problematic, because if you coast down in traffic JUST to where the transmission downshifts, then get back on the gas, it’ll almost immediately upshift again (because the only reason for the downshift was for the fuel cut program). Fuel cut is only in speeds 4, 5, and 6. It does not cut fuel in the first 3 speeds. I wish Toyota would change that to cut fuel only in the top 2 gears, because you’re often in 4th gear when it wants to downshift into 3rd, then back up into 4th if you pick up the throttle. It’d be less annoying if it’d only cut fuel in 5th and 6th gears. 4) Although I really like the LED tail lamps, Toyota should have kept an amber turn signal segment. As it is, the LED stop lamp is red, and the incandescent turn signal segments are also red. With the brakes applied, the LED stop lamps are so bright it’s hard to see at a glance if the turn signal is also on. The Hybrid has amber turn signal segments; they should have used amber on ALL of the trim lines. Okay, the likes: 1) I really like the engine. The 2AR-FE is very refined, and during normal driving, you really can’t hear or feel it. With the 6-speed transmission, it’ll stay under 2,000 RPM all day long if you’re just putzing around, keeping up with traffic. The dual VVT-I seems to do its job, providing good low-end torque and good top-end power at the same time. So far, the engine hasn’t consumed any measurable amount of oil on the dipstick, and the oil just barely begins to darken in color after 4-5k miles. The two-stage intake manifold works very well, providing a noticeable kick in power above 4,000 RPM when you’re on the gas. 2) This “like” supplements the “dislike” above regarding the transmission’s aggressive downshift schedule. Many “cons” have a “pro” on the other side of the coin. On this side of the fuel-cut coin, engine braking is excellent, and it feels little different than my ’07 Corolla, which had a manual transmission. The brakes on this Camry should last forever! My other two vehicles (that don’t cut fuel on coasting) tend to roll down hills, requiring brake applications as you go down, but rarely in the Camry do I have to use the brakes other than when I intend to stop for a light or stop sign. Even in the ebbs and flows of traffic, I rarely have to touch the brake; it’s just like having a manual again, but without the clutch. 3) I also really like the lighting. Over the years, I’ve been a real stickler about automotive lighting, especially head lamps. This car uses H11 projectors on the lows and HB3 reflectors on the highs. The projectors have a VERY uniform beam spread, and a very well-defined beam shape as well. The upper cutoff is fuzzy enough to not be distracting (the projector lens is slightly dimpled), and the “squirrel spotters” add enough light above the cutoff so you can see reflectors on the road and road-side/overhead signs. Flip on the highs and it’s daylight all of a sudden. 4) Like most reviews of the Camry indicate, this car is supremely comfortable, and very quiet. With the Michelins aired up to a good pressure (38/36 F/R, 34/34 recommended), I think handling is actually fair-to-good. It doesn’t out-handle my former Corolla, but is easily on par with my old Cadillac STS. The ride is also notably quiet. The suspension soaks up bumps without a single clunk, bang, or rattle. I can’t say that about many newer vehicles I’ve driven and owned. On the road, this thing tracks as straight as a 747. The steering feel is light to the touch (which I like), and the brakes and gas are easy to modulate. Frankly, as someone who grew up on large cars (Crown Vics, etc), this is probably as “Crown Vic” as it gets for a modern 4-door sedan (let the flames fly). Most 4-door sedans today have gone the way of “Euro taut” and “great road feel”. I appreciate that this is an honest, comfortable sedan. 5) I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the fuel economy this car has returned. With an EPA rating of 22/32, I was expecting mid-20s, but I’m getting an honest 29.5 overall with this car. That’s overall, lifetime, and includes one trip to Virginia, and all of my commuting. My commute can probably be characterized as 50/50 city/highway. So I’m very happy with the fuel economy, and thought I’d take a bigger hit than I did when I traded the Corolla (I was averaging 34 MPG with that one). 6) There’s tons of storage space in this car, and I really like the center stack. The radio and HVAC controls are up high, at least mid-way up. Below the HVAC controls lies a large storage bin with a “garage door” cover. Press the cover, and it rotates up, like a solid wood garage door. In that cubby likes a 12-volt power source and the AUX input for the radio. Smartly, Toyota designed-in a small pass-through in the passenger side of the center column. If you leave the pass-through plug in place, you’d never know it was there if you weren’t looking. But pop out the half-dollar sized plug and you can now pass your 12-volt power and MP3 player cable through the small hole, without having to have the garage door open. I play Pandora from my Droid through the car’s AUX input and it works great. I can lay the phone in the seat or in the cup holder, but the center console still looks clean and uncluttered, with the cables passing neatly out the side where I can’t see them. 7) The base radio sounds fantastic. Lots of bass and good definition from the 6 speakers (driven via 4 channels). A friend has a Camry with the JBL system, and while I’d say it sounds a little better, I don’t think I’d have found the value in upgrading to the LE trim, and THEN upgrading to the JBL system, just to get the JBL. The base system sounds good as it is. Unfortunately, it’s just a single-disc player (my Corolla had a 6-disc changer), but I play enough music through my Droid anyway, I don’t hardly listen to CDs anymore. I can play an MP3/WMA disc, and the radio displays the artist and track on the display. Overall, I think the Camry is a comprehensive package. If you like Ford’s Panther cars or Cadillac’s larger FWD sedans, you’d probably like the Camry. It’s obviously not quite as big in the inside or out, but the driving dynamic is similar (quiet comfort), and the economy is fantastic. It doesn’t have the “road feel” that some other sedans do, but “road feel” sometimes translates as “harshness”, which is sometimes undesirable. It’s worth a test drive if you’re looking for a car with these qualities.
 
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Originally Posted By: hate2work
Very nice review, well done! What are "oh s***" handles?
Those are the handles above the windows. Also handles that you grab onto when I drive your car (or rental). grin
 

Bill in Utah

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Originally Posted By: hate2work
Very nice review, well done! What are "oh s***" handles?
Agree nice write up. The handles that are on the A piller, above the doors that you hold on to to get in/out of the vehicle and hold on to to steady yourself if the ride is rough. I've driven the Camry (we have Hybrids at work that I've "borrowed" for tasks) and the base one and I'm impressed. Personally love the motor when compared to the Accords. The Toyota motor has a bunch more torque. The little details really stand out on the Toyota. So far looking at the vehicles that I could own the Camry is right up there. Take care, bill
 
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Mind if I join in? I was on vacation last week and my rental was a 2011 Camry. I put almost 1100 miles on it, in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Based on your description, it sounds like I may have had the LE model since the car did have a power seat and the keyless entry. I will say that the car was roomy and I was able to get comfortable in it, which is not always the case in a larger car. I wish I know about that plug in the center stack because I had to leave the door open for my iPod and was going to pan the car for that, the Japanese having a reputation for ergonomics and all...but thanks to you, now I can't. wink The engine seemed to have enough power to keep up with the hills and the 75mph+ traffic, and I was consistently getting low 30's for mileage in mountain/touristy driving. My last tank that I tracked was from a Shell station in Gillette, Wyoming, and I think it was 100% gas (no ethanol). I took the back way home, through Hullett and Aladdin, and if my computations were accurate, that tank gave me 36mpg and some change. Impressive. I have some concerns about the longevity of the transmission though. Even though the car had only 12,000 miles on it, it whined and moaned. A lot. Another complaint I have is that the C-Pillar blocks a lot of the view. If I was driving at home I may not have noticed as much, but a lot of the small-town downtowns have angle parking and it seems like the pillar was a big handicap for me. One other thing that caught my attention and in kind of a disappointing way is that Toyota still relies on an idiot light oil-change reminder that only relies on 5000 miles ticking off on the odometer....I found this out when an amber "Maintenance Required" light came on and I looked up what it meant in the owner's manual. Come on, GM has figured out a better system, am I really supposed to believe that Toyota is stumped on this? All in all, I could live with the car. But it wasn't quite what the hype was leading me to expect.
 
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Originally Posted By: hate2work
Very nice review, well done! What are "oh s***" handles?
the handles attached to the to ceiling. The ones that when you have a passenger in the car and you take a sharp turn going a little faster then you should and they hold on for dear life. Nice review. I agree on the turn signal situation.
 
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Nice review! I may look at a Camry for a Buick replacement commute-a-box. I know beige is boring. Sometimes that's what a car needs to be. Especially for a daily driver box.
 

Hokiefyd

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Originally Posted By: opus1
I have some concerns about the longevity of the transmission though. Even though the car had only 12,000 miles on it, it whined and moaned. A lot.
The noise you were hearing may have been an accessory noise. Some owners on ToyotaNation are reporting early replacement of power steering pumps on the 2010+ cars. I can hear a noise that correlates with engine RPM, but it's not what I'd describe as "loud", and it's not louder than noises that any of my other vehicles make. I think I'm hearing the same noise, but my PS pump (or whatever is responsible for the noise) just isn't as loud as some others. Some people have reported that Toyota has replaced their transmission, chasing the noise, and the noise persists. The PS pump seems to be the culprit.
Originally Posted By: opus1
One other thing that caught my attention and in kind of a disappointing way is that Toyota still relies on an idiot light oil-change reminder that only relies on 5000 miles ticking off on the odometer...
Concur. I think the reason they do it is to remind owners of other mileage-specific services (like tire rotations, etc). They probably figure that an OLM might encourage owners to miss those other items. I still would prefer an OLM rather than a mileage dummy light.
 

Hokiefyd

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It does have a growl, doesn't it? And it moves out pretty well for also giving close to 30 MPG on my commute. The 6-speed really maximizes the engine's power. Acceleration seems to be without effort, and it'll be at 70 or 80 MPH merging on the interstate without you really knowing it. The exhaust is DEAD SILENT. It has a two-stage rear muffler with an internal baffle that opens up at higher volumes for more flow. I can't say that I've really heard a difference in exhaust note though. The growl is all engine. My Dakota is the opposite: the exhaust growls through the Super Turbo muffler and provides a good backdrop for the 8 cylinders hitting up front under the hood.
 
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I was VERY impressed with that U-tube video of Camry (until I realized that the numbers were in kph :-) On a different topic, can retrofit my car with kph speedo? That will make my car 1.6 times faster!! - Vikas
 
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Hokiefyd

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Originally Posted By: Vikas
On a different topic, can retrofit my car with kph speedo? That will make my car 1.6 times faster!!
My '97 Cadillac SLS would actually do that. The speedometer went to 150 MPH, and had only one set of numbers. When you pressed the digital button to change the speed units, from MPH to KPH, the needle would move to the appropriate number on the fly. For example, if you're driving at 62 MPH, and switch to KPH as you roll down the road, the needle would jump up to 100 (and the dash light for MPH would go out and the light for KPH would illuminate). It was fun watching the needle in KPH as you accelerated. 0-100 was in 6.7 seconds!!
 
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Google Sprint Booster! Somebody is making a good living selling this device for $300. It essentially fools the ECM by telling it that you have pressed more gas pedal than you did. It is a signal amplifier for the throttle pedal position sensor. What impresses me that somebody actually thought of such a product and went through all the trouble of productizing it. An engineer would have laughed it off. At the best an April Fool joke! But no, this actually saw the light of the day and won some award at annual SEMA show and it has been sold by boatload. Even intelligent and level headed people ended up buying it once they got hooked on to it. Volume control knob going to 15 comes to mind :-) - Vikas
 
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It has been alleged that some automakers used a non-linear gas pedal to make the drivers of their cars think they were more powerful than they really are, so that (for example) 1/2 gas pedal was actually 3/4 throttle opening. Not really a new idea in that regard.
Quote:
Some people don't like the fact that Sprint Booster reaches full throttle before full pedal travel - if you routinely mash the throttle to the floor, Sprint Booster may not be for you.
If I want to accelerate as fast as possible, yea, I push the throttle to the floor. I know that doing so won't break my car.
 

Hokiefyd

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Originally Posted By: brianl703
It has been alleged that some automakers used a non-linear gas pedal to make the drivers of their cars think they were more powerful than they really are, so that (for example) 1/2 gas pedal was actually 3/4 throttle opening.
That's interesting. I'm getting a bluetooth OBDII dongle soon, so that I can use Torque on my Droid phone as a Scangauge. I'll be able to monitor anything and everything OBD. I'm interested in seeing exactly what the computer is doing.
 
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In the old days, the curve of the "thingy" on to which your gas cable was hooked determined how pedal movement translated in to throttle plate movement. Not all of them were circular; some were elliptical. This is not much different from most of the gas gauges in the car. Doesn't everybody get more miles in 1st half of the tank than the 2nd half?? Is "Torque" a freebie application or it costs money? I presume it can use generic ELM3 based hardware.
 
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