On a crisp day in November, six consumers selected for test drives spent several hours at a raceway near Los Angeles driving three sedans: the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu, the new Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. At the end of the day, no clear winner emerged in the contest arranged by auto research firm Edmunds.com. Two of the vehicles tied for first place. But there was a definite loser -- the Camry, which wasn't anyone's top choice.
"The Camry got the job done, but it was kind of boring," said Scott Barr, a high school science teacher and self-styled car enthusiast who took part in the exercise.
The Toyota Camry, now in its sixth generation, doesn't turn heads or thrill drivers with its road handling. It's no longer the undisputed leader in quality, either. Yet Toyota's rivals are struggling mightily to dislodge the perennial best-seller.
For the past six years, the Camry has been the top-selling car in America, and it retains its No. 1 ranking in the huge midsize sedan segment even though its rivals have rolled out substantially improved contenders -- not just the Malibu and Accord, but also Nissan Motor Co.'s redesigned Altima, Ford Motor Co.'s Fusion, and the current Hyundai Sonata.
These new models have drawn high praise. Last month, Consumer Reports magazine named the Altima the top-ranked midsize sedan, followed by the Accord and then the Camry. The Malibu was voted Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show last month.
But auto experts and forecasters expect the Camry to remain at the top of the class. They cite a formidable combination of advantages: the Toyota brand's strength, which has produced legions of repeat Camry buyers, the car's high resale value, and its longstanding reputation for reliability.
"When you're strong, the tendency is to stay strong because people know you're tried and true. That's absolutely the case with the Camry," said Jack Nerad, editorial director at Kelley Blue Book, which tracks used car values. Detroit News
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