I’m one of those
annoying people who goes to the gourmet ice cream shop and orders a
scoop of vanilla on a cake cone. Not interested in the fancy
homemade waffle cone; a sometimes-stale, low-calorie cake cone works
So I totally
understand people who avoid complicated choices.
In food. In clothes.
But what I don’t
understand even a little bit is making choices that are just plain
Like the 2018 Toyota
Camry. It just leaves me speechless, and not in a good way.
How can this be
America’s most popular car? I wanted to drive it to better
understand how one vehicle could be the top-selling midsize sedan in
the U.S. for 16 years straight.
The Toyota Camry is
the automotive equivalent of Xanax.
Get in. Drive. No
laughter. No excitement. No zip.
Yes, I realize that
Xanax is a bestselling antianxiety drug for an increasingly
depressed America, so maybe this all makes sense.
But I’ve never
thought of a vehicle having a numbing effect until now.
Seriously, I almost
fell asleep from boredom. It’s tragic.
reminded me of stories about how Michael Jackson reportedly lost
interest in food, instead choosing meal replacements. The Toyota
Camry is not a juicy steak or homemade chili or crispy fried chicken
or a fresh crunchy chopped salad or hot buttered popcorn or a sweet
sticky caramel apple.
The Toyota Camry
feels like a meal replacement protein shake. Ensure has a lot of
vitamins, but is it something you choose for every single meal for
the rest of life?
It makes me sad for
America to think this is what people drive.
Love of the road is
gone. Love of speed is gone. Love of the experience of actually
driving is gone.
When I climbed out of
the 2018 Toyota Camry XLE in a downtown Detroit parking garage on a
pretty September morning, a colleague walked past and asked, “Are
you OK?” I wondered what inspired the question.
And my colleague
responded, “You just look so sad.”
This is what the
Toyota Camry does to the human spirit.
I felt like an
out-of-shape and overworked old accountant whose rich and annoying
clients call around the clock while my home life crumbles and bills
pile up and my hair turns gray and dark circles start forming under
my eyes. And I don’t care about any of it because I’m driving a
If this is my
America, we’re in worse shape than I realized.
So I’m trying to
drill down and figure it all out.
My Lyft driver liked
his Camry. I guess that’s good. He praises the mileage and the
generic comfort for passengers he taxis around the San Francisco Bay
To me, the Toyota
Camry is about conflict avoidance. My former mother-in-law drove
one. She was a good woman who taught high school and raised three
children herself. The story goes that her husband went out for
cigarettes one day and never came back.
Her top priorities in
life seemed to be conflict avoidance and dependability.
Fact is, Toyota
crushes every consumer survey when it comes to dependability. The
reputation is stellar. And reputations last forever. Plus, Toyota
employees are nice.
I get that Toyota
Camry sells to people who want a car that starts every time and
holds value. These drivers don’t give much thought to the driving
experience. The car is fine.
Still, everybody who
wants a Camry should try something else first.
Me? I’d choose the
Chevy Malibu. Same price range.
While the Camry I
drove runs nearly $35,000, a basic version can be found for just
over $23,000. And the average transaction price on the Malibu is
$21,700. Both cars offer useful storage compartments for the driver
and passenger, along with easy mobile phone charging. Mileage is
slightly better on the Toyota.
But the Malibu has
rapid pickup and personality. Good sound system. Handles
beautifully. Sleek design.
Just like Toyota’s
reputation benefits the Camry, so, too, does the old General Motors
reputation stain the Chevy Malibu.
But a decade ago, the
Malibu won North American Car of the Year. And in 2016, it was named
It is true that a
Chevy Malibu doesn’t hold its value like a Camry. So, if that’s
a thing, I guess a Camry is a better choice. But I don’t buy
things based on the idea that I want to get rid of them.
The Malibu is such a
smooth ride that I was surprised by my speed on the expressway as
Motor City radio played “Against the Wind” by Bob Seger and the
Silver Bullet Band. Life felt good.
Sound quality and
easy use of interior technology are essential to me.
I called my colleague
Mark Phelan, a veteran car critic, and asked, “Am I the only one
who loves the Chevy Malibu?” He responds, “Nope, I do, too.”
Thing is, Camry is
the top seller in the midsize sedan segment. Malibu is No. 5.
Talk all you want
about people moving away from passenger sedans, but U.S. buyers
purchased nearly 2.5 million in 2017.
The top brands of
choice: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and
Toyota says, “The
Camry has long been criticized as a plain vanilla,
It is a plain
Friends used to joke
that they’d date a guy who took mass transit before they’d ever
consider someone in a Toyota Camry.
Now I know why.