I am provided with a constant supply of press vehicles for appraisal. All but a very few are extremely well equipped. The notion is that this allows me to sample and report on the latest in features and technology.
Obviously, the hidden agenda is to create the best impression.
Under these conditions, it is pretty easy to forget what a plain, ordinary, everyday vehicle is like. Manufacturers do not have any bog-standard, lowest trim level vehicles in their press fleets. Rental car companies do. They are meant for constant use by a wide variety of drivers who couldn’t care less about the care and maintenance of the vehicle.
On a recent vacation to visit family I spent some time online arranging a car rental. Cost was the primary consideration. I wasn’t looking for anything special, didn’t care about manufacturer, specifications or anything else.
The rental companies all provided rates within a couple of dollars of each other, so I chose a “standard” size car from a well-known company.
There was no indication of what the vehicle would be, other than that it would be a “Jetta/Corolla equivalent.”
After a couple of flights, we arrived at our destination, found the rental car counter, filled out the paperwork, given a set of keys, and directions to the appropriate parking slot.
As I approached that spot I discovered we would be driving a Toyota Camry for the week. Obviously, I had been given an upgrade, at no cost, without asking.
The first thing you do when renting a vehicle, is check it out for any signs of prior damage, even minor marks, dents or anything else. Not wanting to be charged for someone else’s carelessness, I gave the Camry a thorough going over, from bumper to bumper and road to roof.
Other than some minor damage to the underside of the front valance where it had been in contact with a curb when parking, it was good to go.
We loaded our luggage in the massive trunk, and climbed aboard. The interior was clean with little sign of wear, but this was obviously a base trim level. No keyless ignition — had to put the key in the ignition.
No automatic climate control, had to actually adjust temperature and air distribution with buttons. Nice big screen, but no navigation system.
No problem, I had brought my portable unit (my wife and maps are not compatible).
The Camry had California plates, and we were in Texas. The odometer showed 30,000 miles. Yet, it was a current model year, and only a few months old. Obviously it had not been sitting still very often.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes or miles for the realization to hit. By my very nature, I appraise vehicles.
I have done so to thousands of them for dozens of years. At $27,690, the eighth generation Toyota Camry LE screams value!
Lots of room for five, and a big trunk. On the road it is composed, nearly silent, and the ride smooth and pleasant. The miles all but disappeared as we drove to our destination.
It gave me time to think that at this price, I had everything I could possibly need; full LED headlights, air conditioning, adaptive cruise control, tilt and telescope steering wheel, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, automated emergency braking, pedestrian detection, automatic high beams and lane-keep assist.
As the week wore on, this impression was reinforced. As a bonus, the big car got excellent fuel mileage.
Admittedly, the roads were flat, but Texas has the highest speed limits in America (up to 137 km/h) so averaging 8.8 litres per 100 km was a pleasant surprise.
Cheap gas (40-50 cents/litre) was a bonus. No wonder Americans prefer big cars and trucks.
The Toyota Camry has a proven record of quality and reliability. This bare bones, no options version, provided a glance into how much car, and how many features you can get for a very reasonable price. You can get a Camry for $35,000-$40,000.
But you don’t need to.
Model: 2019 Toyota Camry LE
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, 203 horsepower, 184 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
Transmission: eight speed automatic
NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 8.4 / 6.0
Length: 4,880 mm
Width: 1,840 mm
Wheelbase: 2,825 mm
Weight: 1,495 kg
Price: $27,690 base, $27,690 as tested, plus freight
Standard equipment: lane departure alert, air conditioning, EnTune App, six-speaker audio system, satellite radio, heated front seats, power windows, remote keyless entry, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, automatic high-beams, dynamic cruise control, smart stop, LED headlights
Options on test vehicle: none