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It has been one in all automotive historical past’s nice rivalries and, like many such contests all through historical past, it’s all the time been a bit extra one-sided than we wish to bear in mind.

In 1982, the Toyota Camry arrived on these shores to do battle towards the newly revised second-generation Honda Accord. Their rivals have come and gone, altering names and market positions, however the Camry and Accord have marched in neat lockstep by seven generations. Throughout a lot of the previous 35 mannequin years the Toyota has managed to outsell the Honda, usually by the black magic of fleet gross sales however generally simply as a result of shopper choice. But this gross sales supremacy hasn’t been matched by essential acclaim. With only one exception — the beautiful “XV10” Camry of 1992 — the autowriters, autocrossers, and auto-didact auto-enthusiasts have all the time most popular the Accord.

Did I say there was one exception? For me, there have been two. Once I rented an XV50 (2012-2017) Camry SE for the primary time, I anticipated to seek out one more ho-hum household hauler with delusions of monochrome sporting grandeur. To my immense shock and delight, I found that this mild and lithe minimalist wedge was truly completely sensible each on and off the racetrack. 2012 was the ultimate yr for the bloated and joyless eighth-gen Accord and I felt that the brand new Toyota simply surpassed it in nearly all respects. This was a short-lived victory, to say the least. The 2013 Accord won’t have fairly matched its crosstown competitors by way of chassis dynamics, nevertheless it supplied a extra boutique-feeling expertise with the additional fanatic incentive of a clutch pedal.

5 years of taking part in second fiddle later, Toyota has a brand new Camry SE as soon as extra. This automotive boasts class-leading energy, massively aggressive seems, and a worth that re-emphasizes the corporate’s want for gross sales management away from the fleets. On paper at the least, it’s a big enchancment over the previous automotive. The one downside is that Honda has a brand new Accord on the way in which. It’s the ninth spherical of this battle. Can Toyota win, both on factors or by a clear 1992-style knockout?

After 5 hundred miles with a fresh-to-the-fleet Camry SE, I’m saddened to report that issues don’t look good for the challenger from Kentucky. Removed from being a pre-emptive strike towards subsequent yr’s Accord, this new Toyota finds itself unable to even land a decisive punch on the half-decade-old Honda that’s slowly draining from showroom inventories as we communicate.

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The no-fuss, slab-sided look of the 2012 Camry underwent a big corruption within the mid-cycle refresh, presumably to organize us for this flame-surfaced, furious-faced lump of a sedan. The saggy nostril and tail are surprisingly harking back to the 2007 mannequin, which isn’t excellent news. In SE trim, the automotive pretty bristles with scattershot floor pleasure. There are spoilers and quasi-splitters and pseudo-air-extractors aplenty.

The week previous to choosing up my rental tester from the Oakland airport, I occurred to see an all-black SE in a car parking zone down the road from my home. Belief me, that’s the colour to get, principally as a result of it disguises all of the black-plastic accessorizing. As was the case with the Oakleys-and-ballcap-wearing middle-aged proprietor (whose scowl was maybe designed to distract consideration from the truth that he was simply five-foot-eight and pear-shaped as soon as he was out of the automotive), this Camry’s visible aggression writes checks that the powertrain can’t dream of cashing.

The SE’s “Dynamic Pressure” 2.5-liter inline-four places up some respectable numbers: 203 hp at 6600 rpm and 184 lb-ft at 5000 rpm. There’s a whole lot of room underneath that curve, and while you flooring the throttle within the route of freeway site visitors the eight-speed computerized snaps off brisk shifts briefly order, accompanied by a commendable lack of torque steer. It’s frankly spectacular and I’m wondering if this Camry just isn’t maybe the quickest non-turbo four-cylinder Japanese-brand household sedan of all time. Sadly, in the event you’re not urgent the pedal into the carpet the transmission’s eagerness to seize the very best doable gear robs the engine of any doable urgency. Including throttle wanting the kickdown will get you completely nothing. Partaking the kickdown leads to a cacophonous dropping of gears adopted by a thrash ahead however little precise acceleration except you might be 100 % flat on it.

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Transferring the Lexus-feeling shift lever over to “Sport” ought to repair the state of affairs, however what you get as a substitute is a frankly weird transmission program by which the motive force is anticipated to make the shifts (by way of the small wheel-mounted paddles) generally and let the automotive do it different occasions. The gear show will flat out deceive you, as is proven on this picture of the middle display that claims “S8” when the automotive is definitely in sixth. It’s by no means fully apparent when the paddles will summon a direct shift and when they are going to merely stir some kind of diffident want within the stomach of the beast.

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I didn’t have time throughout my California journey for a observe take a look at, so I needed to do the following smartest thing. Outdated Creek Street runs between the 101 and the shore close to Cayucos. It options greater than 5 miles of off-camber, sharply-angled schizophrenia that must be coated by sane motorists at a mean of about 15 to 20 miles per hour. I tripled that tempo for a trio of runs up and down the highway, retaining the transmission in Sport and issuing frequent paddle instructions simply to maintain the Camry in both second or third gear. Below these situations, the SE displayed commendable grip and ample brakes.

That’s the excellent news.

Much less good: The sense of tossable enjoyable that characterised the 2013 Camry is lengthy gone, drowned to dying by the heavy-handed software of native Lidocaine to the steering. The slightly generic-looking three-spoke wheel affords loads of resistance however none of it appears to have any relation in any respect to highway situations or accessible remaining traction. I do know that Toyota can do higher than this — the Lexus RC F burdens the motive force with simply as a lot faux-high-effort however you’ll be able to at the least really feel among the state of affairs by your fingertips. This Camry, in contrast, is totally inert. The previous automotive had half the quantity of required management effort and returned twice the enjoyable.

Driving this Camry all the time appears like work. You argue with the powertrain, you crank the steering to no avail. The radar cruise management is absurdly conservative and in precise use will trigger you to be the topic of fixed dive-bombing out of the best lane. Each time this occurs the automotive will brake exhausting to open up a “secure hole” that even within the shortest of the three accessible settings appears like half a soccer area, at which level the motive force behind you’ll swerve round on the best. The lane-keep help seems designed to create leisurely tankslappers by way of overcorrection. Flip it off or face the wrath of the native police who will little question blame E&J, slightly than electronics and jerky management, on your blatant lane-weaving.

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The “Eco” indicator within the heart stack ought to are available for specific vitriol, because it makes zero sense. I’ll simply present you just a few pictures of the display, and see in the event you can determine the way it works. If anyone will get it, I’ll reply within the feedback.

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The Camry’s lack of Android Auto or Apple Automotive Play has been mentioned just lately in these pages, nevertheless it additionally must be stated that the design of the middle stack borders on the unforgivable. Have a look to the best facet of the display. Two of the 4 large chrome buttons are for “search left” and “search proper.” And though they’re theoretically opposites, they’re each formed with a raised proper edge. What’s the purpose to spending a lot console actual property on a perform that would simply as simply be dealt with by the tuning knob on the far facet? The amount knob is hidden behind the sting of the steering wheel. At the very least Toyota bothers to incorporate a knob — current Accords didn’t have one. Then again, the backup digicam has no skill to foretell your turning — a function that was current in Accords 4 years in the past.

A lot of the inside supplies selections, in contrast, are present and aggressive. The middle stack may be department-store Pioneer to the smooth Nakamichi of the Lexus IS350, however at the least it’s constituted of sparkly plastic and trimmed on each side by a high-quality chrome-ish sprint applique. The seats are moderately comfy and appear to be they are going to put on effectively. I’m confused by the presence of a gray headliner in a black inside nevertheless it, too, seems to be a step above the previous mouse fur.

All of those criticisms must be seen in mild of the truth that this automotive, as examined, would retail for simply over $26,000 together with vacation spot. That’s a spectacular worth, notably when you think about the suite of digital gimmicks. Even with a moonroof and blind-spot monitoring this isn’t fairly a $30Ok vehicle. So it appears uncharitable to gripe an excessive amount of a couple of 200-plus-horsepower sedan that returns over 40 miles per gallon on the freeway and can probably final 200,000 miles with no hassle.

The one downside is that I appreciated the previous automotive higher. I additionally just like the 2017 Accord higher. In truth, I like my 2014 Accord higher, even as soon as I overlook in regards to the V6 and handbook transmission.

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Consumers hoping for the return of the 1992 Camry can be disenchanted. That is the return of the 2007 Camry — large, spherical, and bland. What’s going to occur when the Accord debuts with a much more trendy inside, a smooth, fastback-like physique model, and a handbook transmission to go together with an pressing turbo engine and a hundred-plus kilos in weight financial savings? At that time, Toyota can be again to courting the fleets.

Don’t get me mistaken. That is removed from the worst alternative you may make within the section. I’d say it’s a third-place automotive, behind the Accord and the Mazda6. Historically, the Camry has achieved very effectively by combining middle-of-the-road desirability with best-in-class sturdiness. That components returns right here with a vengeance. I simply want they’d achieved extra to seize the spirit of 1992. Heck, I’d have been happy with the spirit of 2012. These have been good automobiles, and made cheaper now with the arrival of a successor.

This rivalry between Camry and Accord might be two rounds and a few necessary electrification away from being over. Proper now, nevertheless, Honda seems to have a commanding lead.

[Images: © Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars]

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