If you've already narrowed down your choice to these two, we suppose there's no convincing you otherwise. Please mister, would you consider a VW Golf GTI, with very nearly comparative interior room, a vastly better driving experience and something called fun thrown in for free?
Ah sorry, we forgot your idea of fun is colour coordinating your sock drawer, and we say colour even though your black and white socks aren't technically coloured.
Choosing between a Toyota Camry and a Nissan Altima is like choosing paint for your bedroom walls. "Hmm, should I go for this white, or this off white?"
Who cares? Nobody will even notice the difference. That's what we thought too, but there is actually a good case for a classic wheels argument here.
IM: I know, I know, the Camry and the Accord rule the roost in the mid-size saloon segment and with the Sonata grabbing a lot of the headlines alongside them, where does that leave my Nissan Altima? I'll tell you where; playing catch-up.
DJ: Well my Camry is the mustard.
IM: I see what you did there…
DJ: OK, I left my other condiment jokes at home. Anyway, why did you bring a 2007 Nissan Altima to a fight with a brand new 2012 Toyota Camry?
IM: Actually, the Altima was introduced in 1993, and this fourth generation model, launched in 2007 as you correctly state, is now in its slightly updated 2012 form…
DJ: I see you've got Wikipedia bookmarked.
IM: Can I finish? Please? … Is now in its slightly updated 2012 form, although it still feels a little dated when compared to the all-new Camry that you've got your hands on. The good news is a heavily redesigned Altima is due early this year. Buying the current model right now might be a mistake if a new one is just around the corner, but it'd be a mistake you could happily live with, and I'll prove why.
DJ: A little dated? How do you define little? I agree, my 2012 Camry isn't a painting itself, but the fact is neither of these two cars has been styled. They've been designed, but not styled. There is a big difference.
IM: What's the difference?
DJ: Both these cars were designed by accountants, but with our GCC-spec Camry, some stylists then had a go at making it seem sporty. Sporty is a key word with this car, because Toyota wants you to believe it's not just a taxi any more.
At least the Camry tries to dress the part with this new body kit — which you can find on three of the four available trim levels — highlighted by an angular grille pointing down towards the slatted lower intake. It vaguely resembles a Formula 1 car's front wing, nose and nose cone supports, in a misguided attempt to recall Toyota's botched Grand Prix efforts, perhaps?
IM: Even though the Altima Coupé might be the better looking body style, hand on heart, how many of those do you see on a regular basis? Exactly. It's the four-door saloon that sells the world over. Of course you're not buying these cars for sheer driving thrills but don't go thinking that it's as mobile as a tractor on ice.
The Altima scores top marks in almost all categories, although less so on looks. But if you want stress-free motoring, reliability, comfort and above all, practicality, then look no further than this.
DJ: But I did look further than that. That's why I've got the 2012 Camry.
IM: Fair enough. So we agree they both look fairly uninspiring, then?
DJ: I'm not done yet. If you would just like to move along the side and check out the new Camry's body pouting out at the door sills and along the wheel arches, visually shrouding the wheels and tyres and making them seem even more comically small. This also has an unfortunate effect on the rims themselves, giving them the worst wheel offset ever. Unless you feel absolutely positive that a tall ride height, and tiny wheels and tyres coupled to a wide-ish bodykit make a great look, try to stay away from this sporty option.
IM: That's exactly why I bought two-inch spacers for my 1991 Trans Am; it's all about stance.
DJ: Yeah, it's all about stance, especially for your Trans Am since all it ever does it stand around motionless.
IM: Says the man with half an AE86…
DJ: Cheap shot.
IM: Let's talk about the interiors.
DJ: Let's. The Camry gets a lot better inside. Toyota, smartly, hasn't tried to instil a feeling of at-one-with-the-car with ribbons of red stitching, fake aluminium floor pedals, or even a plastic Hurst-style shifter inspired by one of its NASCAR racers. No, you are definitely not one with the car, you are just in the car. But you are very, very comfortable.
IM: With the Altima you'll sleep safe in the knowledge that it can accommodate five large passengers in total comfort and has ample space in the boot, about 430 litres actually.
DJ: That's a lot of litres. I think that's actually a slightly bigger boot than in this Camry, but I can pull the rear seats down with two switches right by the boot access, whereas to drop the seats in the Altima, you have to dig deep into the boot and rummage around for two pieces of string to pull.
IM: I've never, ever had to drop the rear seats in any car.
DJ: That's because you haven't got a family, or a dog, like me.
IM: Your dog is the size of a stuffed teddy bear!
DJ: She needs her space. But she's not too keen on the Camry's high window line. However the quality plastics, stitched dash top and really flush fittings are a huge improvement over the rickety predecessor. No dog will be able to scratch this interior to bits.
The interior is also more spacious, and quieter, thanks to loads more sound deadening.
IM: The Altima's cabin is a bit plain looking, but you can spec it with all manner of goodies such as a hard-drive based sat-nav with music storage, Bluetooth streaming audio and a rearview camera. Our car lacked the sat-nav but the rear view camera was a nice touch. What wasn't so nice was the screen, just 4.3in big. Make that small.
DJ: HAHA 4.3in! That's tiny mate, can you even find it down there? Mine's 6.1in, which I hear is average, so you can't make fun of me. It's great, clear, with big touch commands, and an immediate response. The maps are nicely illustrated (yes, I even have navigation in this top-spec model), and the sound system is a lot better.
Coupled to the improved insulation — not that the engine or tyres make any noise anyway — it's a cosy place to be.
Check out that steering wheel, too. Three-spoke, thick, well placed hand indents, with all the multi-function commands I need.
IM: I do envy you right now, a little bit. I was a little surprised to find the Altima's dash and door cards to be made out of hard plastic — kind of like a throw back from 15 years ago. The Bose stereo, multi-function steering and sun roof make it a user friendly cruiser but the Altima needs an update.
How do you like these seats though?
DJ: Mine are flat and wide, without much support, but they're electrically adjusted, like yours. I was taken aback to hear the taxi drivers' opinion (we're mobbed by taxi drivers during the whole photoshoot) that the Altima's seats are much more comfortable. That makes a huge difference if you drive a lot, like these guys, up to 15 hours a day.
IM: Let's move on to the engines, because that's where I get to trounce you again. By one whole, single, horsepower. My 2.5-litre aluminium four-pot might not impress you much on paper with lowly figures such as 179bhp and 0-100kph in 8.5 seconds, but on the road it feels a little better than the numbers suggest, and of course, it's one better than the Camry's 178bhp.
DJ: Hey, you leave the Camry to me. But first, why don't you tell all the nice people out there how those horses, including the hallowed extra one, get to the ground?
IM: I was afraid you'd ask that question. The direct injection engine is mated to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission, which sends power to the front wheels. The CVT is the scourge of all drivetrains, in wheels' collective opinion. I like these transmissions about as much as I like being kicked in the face.
DJ: Is that my cue?
IM: No, put that foot down! Look, being fair, the Altima's CVT obviously doesn't waste any time hunting for ratios and it actually gives the car some punch, but the drone of the engine when you floor it is almost unbearable.
DJ: Mine has a conventional torque-converter automatic, but for the new 2012 model it's a six-speed transmission. It's great, well geared and impeccably smooth. I especially like the eco light on the dash telling me what a good boy I'm being by keeping the new 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder engine below 2,000rpm. This kind of driving returns 8.0 litres-per-100km, easy.
IM: I didn't fare that well, more like nine litres or so. But I was heavier on the loud pedal. See, the Altima has a manual mode allowing you to toggle six gears (well strictly speaking they're not gears, they're two pulleys and a steel belt), even though this acts more as a gimmick than anything else. I tried and tried to get that rev needle to budge off drone-mode, but I'm afraid it still sounds like it's stuck in first gear all the time. What's so special about your engine, then?
DJ: Its power delivery is nice and even, and it actually feels torquey enough to avoid constant kick downs when you're overtaking.
This new 2.5-litre trounces the old 2.4 by 20 horsepower. That's a whole lot. Despite that, I get better fuel economy, and because of that, the flexibility is very useful in daily driving. Toyota fitted a head with VVT-i (variable valve lift) on the intake cam for better torque, and it is better, by 12Nm taking the total to 230Nm. There's also an electric water pump, which doesn't sap power from the engine, as well as a variable-output oil pump to boost economy.
IM: But for years, Nissan buyers used to mock the Toyota brigade due to the availability of the 3.5-litre V6 Altima, and, well, they'll continue to do so.
DJ: Yes, because in the GCC, Toyota still won't offer the V6 option, but it's safe to say that when it comes to the four-pots, you lose.
IM: Apparently your new Camry's chassis is all fancy now too? In my Altima, I detected a fair old dead spot in the speed sensitive rack and pinion steering wheel. I could turn it left and right about half an inch without upsetting the chassis or producing any noticeable movement from the front end. Hardly alarming when all you'll ever do is coast along in a straight line on our roads, but still. Worryingly, when confronted with a dreaded corner, the Altima suffers quite a lot of body roll. The tyres dig in and do their best to turn in but it feels like the chassis is playing catch-up.
DJ: Mine's the mustar…
IM: Don't. Admittedly, this will only happen when you're doing 100kph around a bend. With a bit more care, respect and more importantly, judicious use of the throttle, it holds its own very well. No, the ride is not boat-like but I can confirm that the S in the 2.5 S badge at the back absolutely doesn't stand for ‘Sport.' Since you'll only ever be using this car for the school run and weekly grocery shop, you won't ever loose any sleep over that.
DJ: It's much the same story with the Camry, really. The body roll is epic, although the steering certainly isn't as bad as your Altima. In fact, it's pretty tight and controlled, which is a surprise given the new electric power steering.
The body is more rigid, according to Toyota (high tensile aluminium in bumper supports, stiffened cowl section, new front suspension geometry, new rear sub-frame) and it's straight as a die on the daily cruise.
However, if you want sporty start looking elsewhere. Of course, you don't want sporty otherwise you wouldn't have made it this far. Now, I seem to remember our taxi driver friends blasting the Camry's brakes. What's their problem? The 2012 Camry has ABS and Brake Assist. It stops dead and true, and the ABS doesn't even start to panic unnecessarily.
IM: Yes, they said the old Camry's brakes suck. They all complained about that.
DJ: Well tell them it's been fixed now, so they can stop rear-ending people.
IM: Talking of rear ending, they did also complain about the weak Camry body. The old one, of course. They all criticised it, how it just crumples on impact.
DJ: That's because it's a crumple zone. The new one has a better structure to designed absorb the crash forces, and the stronger pillars make sure the cabin stays in shape. Two airbags are assigned to save yours and your passenger's faces from looking like a disaster, and you do mercifully have some curtain airbags, but only in the SE+ model. Right, I think that's all.
IM: Just one more thing. The Altima's Dh90,250, how much is yours?
DJ: Dh101K. So, white or off white?
IM: Off white, definitely.
DJ: Which one's that again?
IM: The Camry.
DJ: Off white, definitely.
Specs & ratings
Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder
Transmission CVT, FWD
Max power 179bhp @ 5,600rpm
Max torque 244Nm @ 3,900rpm
Top speed NA
Price Dh90,250 (as tested)
Specs & ratings
Model Camry SE+
Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed auto, FWD
Max power 178bhp @ 6,000rpm
Max torque 230Nm @ 4,100rpm
Top speed 195kph