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 for me.
So I totally understand people who avoid complicated choices.
In food. In clothes. In cars.
But what I don't understand even a little bit is making choices that are just plain sad.
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.
The experience 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 Toyota Camry.
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 Area.
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 a finalist.
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 Chevy Malibu.
Toyota says, "The Camry has long been criticized as a plain vanilla, grocery-getter."
It is a plain vanilla, grocery-getter.
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.
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