First impressions aren't always reliable, but the 2015 Toyota Camry immediately gave me three reasons to like it. First of all, Toyota's new front-end styling looks good, with big intake ports that lessened my embarrassment about driving what, in the past, has been a very boring car. Hooking my phone up to the stereo, the JBL GreenEdge audio system sounded very crisp, suggesting I would get quite a bit of musical enjoyment out of it. And as I maneuvered out of the parking garage, the steering wheel balance felt very refined, lending to an overall positive impression of the Camry's driving character.
Over my week with the Camry, I would find a few more things to bolster my positive impression, and maybe one or two things to detract from it. Ultimately, I would find that this is not the Camry you're looking for.
The 2015 Camry represents a fairly major update to Toyota's midsize sedan, one that frankly surprised me with its bolder styling when it was first unveiled at last year's New York auto show. Toyota fits it with new driver assistance features too, which make it more competitive in its segment, and a smarter head unit that better integrates the connected features from Entune, Toyota's app integration system. The driveline options get no major changes, however, which is disappointing as other makers push their midsize sedan efficiency higher.
The base Toyota Camry, with a four-cylinder engine, goes for $22,970 in the US. You won't find a Camry on the lot of a UK Toyota dealer, as this model isn't imported. Australia gets the Camry, but this newer generation hasn't yet made it Down Under. The pricing isn't likely to be that far off the previous generation's pricing of AU$30,490.
The example I tested cost a bit more, though, its XLE trim and V-6 engine bringing the base up to $31,370. Assorted packages, adding adaptive cruise control and navigation to the car, put the bottom line at $35,944. That's a pricey total, but this is not the Camry I would recommend.
It's an app world
The comfortably large LCD touchscreen in the center dash lacked a navigation button on its bezel, even though this Camry's sticker listed $850 for "Entune Premium JBL Audio with Navigation App Suite" among the options. Instead, the bezel held a big button labeled "Apps," Toyota's new term for all the various cabin tech features. That button brought up three pages of icons, when I had Entune connected to the car through my phone, with navigation prominent among them.
With this paradigm, Toyota can offer the touchscreen in all Camrys, and add options through software, without having to change button hardware.
The navigation system looks improved from the previous Camry generation, offering perspective view maps for one. The system gave me traffic alerts and asked if I wanted to change the programmed route when it found particularly bad traffic. For route guidance, it showed good graphics to describe maneuvers at freeway junctions and off-ramps, but did not show lane guidance for surface streets.
Much to Toyota's credit, all the cabin tech features in the Camry came up quickly in response to my touchscreen inputs. I found the organization of the main icons convenient, although the graphics were a bit dull. This head unit also gave me the option of reorganizing icons on subsequent pages so, for example, I could move Yelp up to a more prominent position, as I tend to rely on it to find restaurants.
Firing up voice command, I noticed that Toyota attempts to give it a natural language feel that is not entirely successful. The suggestion screen that pops up shows natural phrasing, but I still had to be specific in the words I used when entering an address. Beyond the native voice system in the car, Toyota also enables its Entune apps with voice command, although this slightly different system is cloud-based. Fortunately, the main voice command button on the steering wheel works for both systems, and Toyota makes the voice prompts sound close enough that you may not realize you've gone to an offboard system.
Toyota's Entune app integration is one of the more successful means of giving people a connected car that I've seen. To use it, I had to install the Entune app, available for Android and iPhone, on my phone, then pair that phone to the car via Bluetooth. That process enables apps such as Bing search, OpenTable, Yelp and iHeartRadio on the Camry's touchscreen. The previous generation Camry offered Entune, but buried the apps under a couple of menus. This new version puts them all upfront in the interface.
Better yet, the apps are tied to the navigation system. For example, I could search on a term with Bing, then choose a business from the list of results and set it as my destination. That sharing works for all the location-based apps Toyota includes with Entune.
iHeartRadio let me search from a worldwide list of Internet-based radio stations, but Pandora required the Pandora app to also be running on my phone. Beyond these apps, the Camry included typical audio sources, such as Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, a USB port for drives and HD radio. Although I could use a full music library interface to choose music from devices plugged into the USB port, Bluetooth streaming only offered pause and skip controls on the Camry's touchscreen.
JBL's GreenEdge brand, the premium audio upgrade for the Camry, promises to double the energy efficiency compared to standard amplifiers, yet maintain audio quality. In the Camry, that means 10 speakers delivering impressively crisp, clean sound. I found the bass lacked impact, and never reached bone-shaking levels even with the equalizer turned up.
This Toyota Camry was also the first production car I have seen with a Qi wireless charging pad built in, although CNET editor Antuan Goodwin saw an implementation earlier in the . That pad lets you drop any compatible phone onto its surface in the Camry's console compartment and have it charged wirelessly. Being an iPhone user, the Qi pad didn't do me any good, although Qi-compatible cases for the iPhone are available.
There isn't much new under the hood of the 2015 Camry. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, carries over from the previous generation. That driveline brings in fuel economy of 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, a very slight improvement from the previous generation. In my time with the car, I averaged 22.1 mpg.
With an output of 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, this engine is far from the most potent V-6 available, but it offers enough oomph to get the Camry out of its own way. As an amusing diversion, I floored it from a stop a couple of times on one of San Francisco's steep hills, just to watch the traction control light flare up on the dashboard and feel the car try to get itself under control as the front wheels slipped. Under more typical maneuvers, such as a freeway merge, the V-6 creates more than enough acceleration.
And as with the previous Camry generation, this engine feels a little bit Stone Age, especially considering the fuel economy. Toyota offers the Camry with a 2.5-liter four cylinder, making 178 horsepower and rating 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, a healthy fuel economy increase. But that's not the version you should opt for.
The sweet spot comes with the Camry Hybrid, using Toyota's proven gasoline-electric hybrid system to produce 200 horsepower and achieve fuel economy averaging 40 mpg. The Camry Hybrid presents a big win in fuel economy and has enough power for a mid-size sedan.
In the Camry I tested, the soft suspension created a very comfortable ride, the dampers absorbing rough patches in the roads nicely. The ride quality verged on floaty, but the car never felt out of control. Running it along a twisty road, the car was prone to understeer, but the Camry is no sports car and felt tuned similar to other cars of its ilk. And really, it kept itself very composed even when I got the tires squealing in a turn, reminding me that car suspensions in general have gotten very sophisticated, able to handle a much wider range of driving situations than cars of old.
With the Camry, Toyota bolsters the front MacPherson struts and rear dual-link suspension components with stabilizer bars, as standard. In past decades, that would be a performance add-on for many cars.
The six-speed automatic includes a Sport setting and manual shift mode. The latter might come in handy for long hill descents, but the Sport program didn't accomplish much, and I doubt most Camry owners will make use of it.
As with most cars these days, the Camry's power steering assist comes from an electric motor. Where Toyota's older generation electric power-steering systems made a kind of whirring sound and felt like a rheostat, this Camry's steering offered a good weight and no odd motor sounds. On the road it was direct but comfortable enough for long trips, minimizing fatigue.
This Camry gave me a taste of Toyota's driver assistance technology, a set of features the company had been slow to adopt. Adaptive cruise control, using a forward radar, let me set my speed and following distance. When I overtook slower traffic, the system matched the speed of the cars ahead. I used this system on the freeways around the San Francisco Bay Area in moderate traffic, and found it worked well enough for long stretches on the road, but I wouldn't trust it in stop-and-go traffic.
A blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning and a back-up camera rounded out the driver assistance features. All worked well in helping me negotiate traffic, and none were intrusive. The back-up camera's main limitation was that it only showed distance lines, but not trajectory, the path of the car depending on steering angle.
The Technology package, which includes all these features, only costs $750, a pretty good deal compared with other automakers. Move up to the XSE trim, and Toyota includes LED headlights. Automated parallel parking would be a useful addition, but Toyota doesn't offer that feature on the Camry.
The Camry you want
The 2015 Toyota Camry is a big win for its styling, connected cabin electronics and to a lesser extent its driver assistance features. Entune apps integrated with the dashboard head unit make it easy to find destinations and restaurants when you're on the go, without having to handle your phone. The fidelity of the JBL GreenEdge audio was a very pleasant surprise, as mid-size sedans don't usually come with particularly good audio.
The inclusion of a good driver assistance suite keeps the Camry up with the, and ahead of most other players in this segment. The price of Toyota's Technology package definitely helps make these features accessible to more buyers.
And though I liked the driving character of the Camry, Toyota remains conservative with its drivetrains. No direct injection to improve efficiency or exploration of smaller displacement engines increase fuel economy in this new generation of Camry. Even the transmissions only have six gears for the V-6 and four-cylinder engines. But maybe Toyota doesn't feel it needs to improve its pure gasoline Camrys much, as the Camry Hybrid offers so much efficiency.
The Camry Hybrid XLE is only about $1,000 more than the XLE V-6, yet it almost doubles the fuel economy. The cheapest Camry Hybrid, the LE, goes for $28,230, significantly more than the base four-cylinder, but the increased fuel economy still makes a compelling case for the the hybrid.
|Model||2015 Toyota Camry|
|Powertrain||3.5-liter V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||21 mpg city/31 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||22.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based radio, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||JBL GreenEdge 10-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, rear-view camera|
|Price as tested||$35,944|