Metro Weekly

All in the Family

2007 Camry SE and Camry Hybrid

Not that it’s the kind of conflict of interest that would spark the interest of rabid media watchdogs, but I should probably point out that I have a slight, yet former, familial interest in the Toyota Camry.

Back in the 1980s, when Toyota came to Kentucky on a bed of roses and a truckload of economic incentives, my dad was one of the people who found himself employed by the new Camry factory outside of Lexington. He had landed a management gig in the factory’s paint department. I was off at college by this point, so the closing of Bugg’s Body & Frame Shop in rural Fredonia and the relocation of the family to a more urban location wasn’t quite the upheaval it would have been during my high school years. It was an exciting, yet distant, event.

But I do clearly remember my first ride in the new family car while home for Christmas. It was a slick, black, four-door Camry sedan, with a bevy of options and a V6 engine — in my eyes, the door to a whole new automotive world.

It was the first new car that our little nuclear branch of the Fredonia Buggs had owned. Granny had bought a new Lincoln, and my uncle seemed to always have a new car, truck or motorcycle in the driveway or on the farm. But all our cars to that point had been used — and why not? Dad could fix the bodies and frames of damaged cars, and handle most of the engine work, as well. My first car, a 1976 Firebird, had been rolled down a hill before Dad bought it for $800. He fixed it up, painted it fire-engine red, and handed me the keys on the night of my junior prom.

Whatever problems I may have in the past, present or future with my dad, I’ll never forget that one nearly perfect father-son moment, probably the closest we ever came to the kind of father-son relationship he might have expected or hoped for. I may be a bookworm and I may be a fairy, but I do like me some fast cars.

Anyway, the point was my family’s new Camry. It didn’t have the detail and history of something my dad crafted with his own hands, but it smelled new. It felt special, full of promise, like things had changed. And, boy, had they. But that’s another story for another day in another forum.

So when a new Camry shows up in my driveway, I have a certain amount of baggage tagging along. If you’re not the type of person who attaches strong emotional connections to particular cars, just know that it’s kind of like those Madonna albums you couldn’t bear to part with.

While my initial Camry memories may be sweet, it doesn’t guarantee I’ll like every Camry that comes rolling down the pike. Some of the more recent versions, I have to say, have been heaping servings of bland on plain white toast.

But the latest iteration of the Camry makes some unexpectedly bold stylistic statements. I’m very taken with the new exterior — the front grille sports a more masculine look than it has in years. The smooth and snappy styling flows all the way to the crisply formed taillights. As updates go, this is a fairly successful one.

The interior, however, continues to play it safe. It’s nice and fairly comfy for a mid-$20s family sedan, but you’re not going to get any ooohs and aaaahs for it.

2007 Camry SE and Camry Hybrid
· Base MSRP (SE): $24,315 ($30,378 as tested)
· Base MSRP (Hybrid): $25,900 ($26,709 as tested)
· MPG city/highway (est.): 22/31 (SE), 40/38 (hybrid)
· Highlights: Strong new exterior styling; the hybrid is a strong alternative fuel option in the mid-size sedan class
· Lowlights: While solid all around, the Camry tends toward the bland

I spent a week in both the standard Camry SE and the Camry Hybrid. Performance in both is solid, although my driving preference leans toward the traditional gas model. My impression of the hybrid, while it was definitely an improvement in fuel efficiency over its sibling, is that the system doesn’t feel as smooth as the Ur-hybrid Prius. But for those who want their hybrids in a more traditional package, the Camry certainly fits the bill.

In the end, the Camry is truly a car for people who don’t want to think too much about their car. It’s stylish enough to look nice, but not overwrought enough to draw undesired attention. Solid, dependable, and middle-of-the-road — if that’s what you’re looking for, the Camry has boatloads of it.

Oh, and FYI, my dad left Toyota long before I got around to reviewing cars, so I’m not harboring any unfair favoritism. Except maybe for Corvettes, my dad’s favorite car. But, again, that’s a different story.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.