Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Toyota Camry XSE

While they may not be getting much credit for it, Toyota has been delivering on a promise to make their products more engaging of late. Sometimes they go too far, as in the overly stiff Rav4, but the latest redesigns of the Corolla and Highlander have shown the ability to walk that fine line between comfort and composure without losing sight of the practicality and efficiency expected of a Toyota.

Whereas formerly it was simply relegated to the “If you must” pile for reliable family motoring, well, now it gets an enthusiastic “Hey, you could do a lot worse!”

The Camry, while only undergoing a partial redesign and some savvy trim tweaks, seems to have captured a little more of that personality while still being, well, a Camry. Sure the grille looks positively stunned that I’m complimenting it so, but for reals, it looks good, it drives well, and it just works. Whereas formerly it was simply relegated to the “If you must” pile for reliable family motoring, well, now it gets an enthusiastic “Hey, you could do a lot worse!”

While Brendan tackled the Camry vs Accord showdown in gunfight V6 trims, I spent some time in the well-featured Camry XSE armed with a four-cylinder knife. At 178 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque from the 2.5L, the Camry four-cylinder may come across as feeble, but that’s hardly the feeling one gets from the driver’s seat. From there, it feels just fine. Unexciting, but fine.

The six-speed transmission is smooth, and though “Super ECT” seems a bit childish it did its work as expected, moving up the gears smartly, and delivering downshifts when prodded by throttle input. Don’t let the paddle shifters fool you into thinking you’ll be banging off rev-matched downshifts as you attack corners, because you’ll likely forget they’re even there – the paddles, not the corners. They do, however, work should you need to call up a gear change to labour up a steep hill or some steam for a passing maneuver. There’s also an S mode. Silly Toyota, S mode is for sports cars. Well, perhaps if you’re feeling impatient you might choose to use this mode that will hang on to revs and keep the 2.5 wailing away. The big four doesn’t sound all that pleased when pushed.

The chassis is surefooted enough, and the steering a parking-friendly weight without much feedback, but also without any excess play and a direct response from the wheels. Our tester was shod in 225/45 tires on 18-inch alloys wheels that looked a little goofy to me – like they were missing chunks of rim because of the paint pattern. Oh well, the key element was the right balance of sidewall and stiffness that offered a composed but accommodating ride. Personally, I might opt for a lesser trim with 17-inch tires and more sidewall in a Camry and give up on a bit of that composure for even better comfort and bump absorption levels. Despite a sport-tuned suspension, the prevailing dynamic is still front-wheel-drive family car, even if it is solid and reassuringly stable in the corners.

It is no surprise that the Camry does family car extraordinarily well. The 436 L of trunk space trails competitors like Accord and Passat but is still substantial, and despite a constricted pass-through, the seats fold 40/60 to allow for some passenger and long-cargo flexibility.

More on autoTRADER: Used Vehicle Reviews: 2007-2011 Toyota Camry Review

Four passengers will be pleased with the seating, from the nicely bolstered and contoured seats to the generous legroom and headroom, and will likely appreciate the Alcantara inserts that will help hold you in place. The fifth passenger will curse the raised middle position, the backrest that doubles as an armrest, the fixed headrest and the other occupants that claimed all the good seats.

The driver in particular will enjoy a supportive, comfortable and power adjustable heated seat and a well-sorted steering wheel with controls for audio, phone functions and trip computer. A stalk behind the wheel handles cruise control. The gauges are crisp, clear and simple, and easily visible at any time of day or night. Between the gauges is an information display for the trip computer and to assist with steering wheel control of navigation, audio and vehicle settings.

The main infotainment cluster expands the view of navigation, audio, vehicle settings and more via touchscreen interface. For the most part it’s easy, and despite the fairly large screen either the radio preset ‘buttons’ are too small, the precision of the screen sensors are off, or my fingers are too fat. As with most of these, we also wish response time was quicker, but we can forgive it because of its clever reconfigurable home screen, which you can arrange with different elements, though my favourite was small audio panel and four phone favourites along with a map taking up half the screen.

Most of the major functions can be accessed via voice command, though I found its ability to recognize names imperfect. As with every other voice command system. Ever.

Anyhow, with a pair of cupholders, a covered bin in front of the shifter, large console storage under a padded armrest, there is a place for your elbow and all the accouterments necessary to get you through the day or a long road trip, including climate control. The layout and design are all unassuming but nice, with actual stitching on the dash, shifter cover, seats and elsewhere, in red to give that sporty feel.

At the end of the week, the trip computer read 9.0 L/100 km, a number I consider fairly impressive for a mid-size family sedan, but the official ratings show that the Accord’s CVT and advanced engine tech are worth, rating 9.0/6.7/8.0 L/100 km for city/highway/combined with more power and torque on tap, while the Camry 9.7/6.9/8.4 L/100 km. The Mazda6 also trumps the Camry with an even better 8.8/6.1/7.6 rating, and accomplishes that with a six-speed automatic.

Still, these are minor quibbles, as any of the above offer comfortable, efficient motoring with few compromises, and a range of trims and options that cover needs from just basic A/C and power windows to leather, navigation and high tech that was pure luxury class just a couple generations ago. The Camry can bank on its reputation as the quintessential family sedan, with rock-solid perceived reliability and expected resale value that means competitors have to convince shoppers why not to get a Camry in this segment, and the Camry leaves few gaps for the competition to exploit with this latest refresh and new trim that combines sporty looks with the full range of features formerly reserved for XLE models.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km roadside assistance

Chevrolet Malibu
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord
Hyundai Sonata
Kia Optima
Nissan Altima

Model Tested 2015 Toyota Camry XSE
Base Price $27,990
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,620
Price as Tested $29,965
Optional Equipment
$255 (Ruby Flare pearl paint)