Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: 2015 Toyota Camry XSE V6

By Ben Aghajanian, UpShift Contributing Editor

For 2015, Toyota did a heavy refresh on the Camry, focusing mainly on the exterior, but also making some interior and suspension tweaks. I recently spent a week driving a 2015 Camry XSE, one of the top trims offered.

One of the first things I did was look at the Monroney (vehicle price/options sheet) provided with the vehicle. Perhaps a mistake, as I immediately had sticker shock. Our Camry's as-tested price with options was $35,768. A lot of money for a volume, mid-size sedan.

For your $35,000, Toyota thankfully delivers a lot of substance. The Camry had Toyota's venerable 3.5-liter fuel-injected V6, rated at 268hp and 248lb-ft of torque, coupled to a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. It also had several advanced safety features, including blind-spot warning, radar-assisted cruise control, a pre-collision system, and lane departure alert. The seats had suede cloth inserts covering most of the surfaces, with leather on the bolsters. Both seats were power operated and heated, with driver's lumbar adjustment. The Camry also had navigation, full Bluetooth integration, and a moonroof. One of the surprises for me was a wireless charger, located in a slightly oddly shaped storage bin under the HVAC controls, in front of the shifter. A nice touch.

Most midsize sedans do just fine with an inline 4. The 2014 Camry SE we tested awhile back was no exception. However, the new Camry XSE's 3.5 made a strong case for itself. It had more than enough power, especially in the mid-range and even more toward the top of the rev range. At the same time, it was surprisingly efficient. Although still fuel-injected, the Camry achieved over 28MPG on an afternoon drive on country roads, including over a dozen stops and rapid acceleration to 65mph or so. Rated at 31MPG highway, the Camry came reasonably close to this number in mixed driving with hard acceleration. Impressive. Over the course of the week, which included lots of city driving, the Camry was still getting around 23MPG. For a sensible family sedan, the Camry provides very solid straight-line performance.

The steering was more responsive than I expected. After test driving a Kia K900 the week before, this shouldn't have been a big surprise, but the Toyota's steering had better weighting than anticipated, and even some feedback. The wheel itself was a leather-wrapped three-spoke design, and the paddle shifters enhanced engagement during spirited driving. They worked in both Drive and Sport modes, the latter engaged by tapping the shifter to the left into a manumatic gate. In this application, Sport mode doesn't seem to change shift points or throttle response at all, it only allows control over gear selection. It defaults to D4 (4th gear), which means it will shift 1st through 4th, but not to 5th. You can then select lower gears on your own. As a downside to the controls on the wheel, there were a lot of buttons, as there are on many new cars, and they weren't particularly intuitive or labeled. Nearly all of my questions about them related to the radio and infotainment system.

Though I loved the Entune system in the 4Runner we tested last winter, it befuddled me a bit in this application. Large, readable buttons flanked the center stack, so those were good. But the radio preset controls were less clear. The only way to “seek” or browse through stations, in the traditional sense, is to use the knob on the right side of the screen. Using the steering wheel controls or the up/down seek/track buttons, I was limited to 4 or 5 stations in sequence...then it would jump back to the first station in the sequence. Fortunately, Toyota uses a touchscreen, which is easier to navigate than the “mouse” that Lexus offers. The JBL GreenEdge-branded stereo had decent sound, once I adjusted the bass, treble, and midrange, though I expected slightly better clarity and more oomph for the money. I also experienced middling Bluetooth sound quality on several occasions, but only with a connection to one particular phone, as other calls were clear.

The Camry's interior had mostly good fits with some average finishes. The center console armrest was large and padded, as were the door armrests, with the upper panels trimmed in suede with red stitching. The front half of the console had cheaper-feeling plastic around the shifter and cupholders. I remember older Camrys featuring more-premium materials. There was plenty of legroom front and rear, which isn't always the case in mid-size sedans, though the seats themselves could've used a bit more contouring and support.

The Camry's best attributes lie with the restyled exterior, especially on the XSE model. The front end is attractively sculpted with smooth, flowing lines, a blacked-out grille that appears to have some Lexus shape to it, curving DRLs on the lower fascia, and bright projector-style HIDs that provide excellent illumination. The side profile is less angular than the 2014 model, and the 18-inch black and dark chrome alloys provide more curb appeal than the segment standard. Similarly, the rear end has been smoothed out, with less angular taillights and a chrome strip between them, and dual-exhaust outlets down below at the corners. It's an attractive car.

The Camry is a good example of refining existing technology to work smoothly and remain competitive with newer, more-advanced designs—especially when it comes to the powertrain of this XSE V6 model. However at a sticker price of nearly 36K, it comes awfully close to some very good vehicles that are just a class above with regards to refinement, design, or performance, such as Hyundai's Genesis, or the Chrysler 300. For a few thousand dollars less, the Camry would be much more intriguing. It's a solid car that has outpriced its class a bit.

Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review.
Photos courtesy Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.