I have owned a lot of cars over my driving career, and some of them have been pretty interesting. Some others…not so much. This week, unfortunately, is one of the not so interesting cars. Not to say it wasn’t a good vehicle to own – it certainly met the requirements of basic transportation. Sometimes, that is all you need.
Interestingly enough, this car was leased as a replacement for the 2004 Nissan Maxima I wrote about a few weeks ago. That car was certainly exciting to drive, but (to me) left something to be desired in the quality department, particularly inside. It was also fairly costly to lease, and with the arrival of another not-so-cheap car I was looking for something familiar, relatively inexpensive, and a bit more thoroughly screwed together. Hence, back to the Toyota dealer.
By the end of the Nissan’s lease Toyota had introduced a new version of the Camry (the XV40) to replace the model that I didn’t like as a Toyota but did like as a Lexus. (I will fully admit to being quite fickle in my car tastes.) For this generation, introduced in 2007, Toyota began to move toward styling that was a bit less “generic car,” but arguments certainly could be made on both sides as to whether they succeeded. I certainly didn’t dislike it, but this Camry wasn’t a car that turns heads, I thought. But it was a safe choice and the prices were right.
This particular car represented a bit of an experiment for me. I’d usually preferred to pick a model that was in the middle of the price range for that vehicle line as those were usually the best compromise of features and price. In this case, I went for the base model in the lineup, the CE sedan. Several reasons drove this choice, including the relatively low price and reasonable list of features, but chief among them was the availability of a manual transmission. The manual was available on the SE 4-cylinder as well, but that was a bit more money than I wanted to spend. In theory the LE 4-cylinder could get the manual transmission but I never saw any cars so equipped. Even in CE trim, I had to wait for a car to be delivered from the factory as the dealer didn’t have any in stock.
The CE did come with air conditioning, CD player, power windows and locks, and ABS, but you didn’t get power seats, fancy wheels, or even keyless entry (you had to unlock the car with a key). The CE also didn’t come with any option packages so there was no opportunity to add a moonroof or uprated stereo.
The base model was a bit of an afterthought even at the time. The print brochure for the 2007 Camry was pretty extensive considering many manufacturers were already moving to online PDFs, but contained just one small picture of the CE in a corner of a larger photo and a CE in a lineup of all the available Camrys. The higher-end XLE and SE models (and the hybrid versions, new for 2007) received multiple pages with interior and exterior photos. Most footnotes about the CE talked about what wasn’t available (especially colors, as the CE was only available in bland white, silver, blue, and black).
As the photos show, I went with the total package for “car as appliance” having bought the cheapest version of what many people consider to be “generic car” and buying it in white with a gray interior. I didn’t think it looked bad, just that it wasn’t that interesting. I did make a couple of changes to the car, though, to improve things a bit. The base plastic wheel covers that came with the car were not that attractive to me, so I did some online auction shopping to buy a new set of wheel covers that were originally sold on the 2002-2006 Camry SE for those that didn’t add the optional aluminum wheels. I thought they looked better and were pretty cheap to purchase. Unlike the OEM covers, these SE covers had holes to show the lug nuts – I didn’t bother to replace the non-chromed ones as I didn’t think it mattered all that much.
I also added a side rub strip to the otherwise featureless sides, again by buying parts online and installing them myself. The side strip made me a bit more nervous, as installing new wheel covers was one thing, but getting side strips to be straight and centered was something that I’d not been that good at (I have never claimed to be a great mechanic). Luckily, the factory rub strips came with very clear instructions on how to place the strips and where to measure the reference marks, so they went on the car pretty easily. They were pretty straight, too, as the photo below shows (for photobomb fans, I am not sure where that ’69 Cutlass came from as it wasn’t typically in the neighborhood).
The car was also the first one that I’d owned whose stereo offered the ability to play MP3 files (and Windows Media Audio, or WMA, files too). Not sure if cars can do this anymore (and why would anyone need them to), but this stereo would take computer-burned CDs with MP3 files on them, and allow you to select songs from folders (assuming you’d put the files in folders) with the separate up-down switch shown in the picture. This use of MP3 files gave you song titles on the relatively small display as one advantage, but the bigger advantage was that you could fit a lot more songs on a CD than by burning a conventional music CD, which was important as the car didn’t have a CD changer. I also was able to use a console-mounted storage bin to hide an aftermarket satellite radio tuner – this was handy as the power supply and 3.5 mm AUX jack was in the same bin so I could use that to connect the tuner to the car (I didn’t have an MP3 player at the time). The bin also had an odd knockout plug in the side that allowed me to run the antenna wire out of the bin and under the carpet without exposing too much wire.
So how was the car overall, you might ask. It was inexpensive to lease, inexpensive to maintain, and inoffensive to drive. The manual transmission did make the most of the adequately powerful engine (158 hp, for those counting at home), and the shift lever (while just soft plastic) was nicely chunky and shift feel was quite good. The car was assembled very well, and the interior, while basic, was made of quality materials. The center stack (radio and HVAC components) were all backlit with a light aqua-blue color that was interesting, and the gauges were (surprisingly for an inexpensive car) the backlit type (“Optitron” in Toyota’s parlance) that were only visible when the car was on. My wife didn’t particularly like the old school key to open the doors, but that was about the extent of her objections to it. It was built well, it was quiet and rode well, and didn’t break during the three years we owned it.
The CE model Camry didn’t last very long in the lineup, as I recall. I suspect that it was just too Spartan for many buyers to pick it over the next model up (the LE), and the price difference to get a power driver’s seat and keyless entry wasn’t that much. Buyers weren’t interested in buying and Toyota didn’t seem to be interested in promoting it. As basic transportation it was great: as an exciting enthusiast’s car it was…not.
Because my wife wasn’t entirely happy with the “generic car, base model” (the Camry was chiefly hers to drive), she decided she’d pick the next one. Her choice was much more interesting, as we will discuss in a couple of weeks (hint: “zoom-zoom”).