Designed for a daily commute, the Camry should excel in useful cabin electronics. Toyota did not make great strides in this area, although some upcoming smartphone integration tech will improve matters substantially. The car that found its way into the CNET garage lacked the DVD-based navigation system, and therefore only offered limited voice command and Bluetooth phone systems.
Without navigation, the Camry gets a Bluetooth phone system along with a USB port for flash drives and iPod integration as part of an option package. This technology should really come standard, as it does in many less expensive cars, such as the Kia Soul.
Pairing a phone with the car requires going through a tedious process with plenty of voice prompts and confirmations. But that is just a one-time thing. Once paired, the phone worked well with the car, but this Bluetooth system lacks integration with the phone's contact list. The car has its own phonebook, but you have to manually enter contacts. And dialing by name works with the car's internal phonebook only.
During that painful pairing process, the car asks if the phone should also be allowed to stream music to the stereo. Bluetooth streaming in the Camry is about the best feature of the car's stereo system. With an iPhone, music almost immediately started streaming to the stereo, playing the most recent track. Of course, the limitations of the Bluetooth streaming audio specification mean no song information on the car's display, and the car's controls allow only for pause, play, and volume.
The USB port is a nice feature for digital music, as it works with MP3 tracks saved on a USB flash drive or via an iPod cable. But as in other Toyota and Lexus models, the iPod integration is terrible. Although Toyota did a good job of designing the interface, making it possible to browse artists, albums, and genres on the small radio display, the interface is very buggy.
When you turn the tuning knob to scroll through a list of artists, the screen takes a long time to refresh, going blank in the meantime. Waiting for the screen to refresh is a distraction from the road. When an iPod Touch was used, the system basically did not work at all. The radio display refused to show anything and eventually brought up an error message.
Another problem that also occurs in other Toyota models is that the stereo starts playing any artist or album that the selector lands on. When you're scrolling through a list of artists, browsing for a favorite, the stereo spits out a choppy stream, similar to what it sounds like when you slowly move a radio dial through the frequencies.
Playing an MP3 CD in the single-disc player, the interface is very basic, with controls for sequentially moving from folder to folder. The XM radio stations are easy to scroll through, but there is no option to jump from category to category. Presets save the day here.
The base stereo in the Camry produces surprisingly good sound from its six speakers. Detail is very strong, with highs coming through very clearly from the two large tweeters mounted in the dashboard. Bass isn't exactly thumping, but the system does a good job of enunciating the various instruments in a musical track. Toyota offers an audio upgrade, an eight-speaker JBL system, which would probably have more satisfying bass due to its subwoofer.
Getting the navigation option in the Camry will improve the features all around. For example, it would offer a large screen on which to display phonebook entries. The features for this system are similar to what we've previously seen in the Toyota Avalon.
The most exciting feature, launching later this year, is Toyota Entune. This smartphone app brings in a number of connected services, such as local search through Bing, restaurant reservations from OpenTable, and Pandora for customized Internet radio. Entune requires the navigation option.
In many ways, the 2011 Toyota Camry is an exceedingly average car. The engine hasn't changed much in five years and the soft suspension is neither particularly comfortable nor sporty. The transmission is the most up-to-date piece of drive-train tech in the car.
Cabin tech also refuses to push any boundaries; the most cutting-edge feature is Bluetooth audio streaming. That will change when Toyota releases Entune, but at present, the Camry is behind the curve. And at a price in the low 20s, the Bluetooth phone system and iPod integration should really be included.
Beyond the badge bump at the nose, the car looks generic, a trait that has some appeal for midsize sedan buyers. But the design is also practical, with good visibility and easy access front and back.
|Model||2011 Toyota Camry|
|Power train||2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/32 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||Not recorded|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Optional 8-speaker JBL audio system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera (with navigation)|
|Price as tested||$25,760|