The Toyota Camry has seen its fair share of derision by car enthusiasts over the years. The common complaint seems to be that it's too milquetoast for our more refined palettes. But the truth is, much as we think everyone should just drive a Miata or a diesel Land Rover Defender, most folks just need to get from point A to point B with as little fuss as possible. Their car needs to be comfortable, quiet, nicely appointed, affordable and economical. And to those points, the Toyota Camry is great.
Previous Camry generations looked a bit stodgy, but this latest version makes a bold statement. A creased hood leads down to a grille that extends the entire width of the fascia. The whole car is lower and wider than its predecessors, with wheel sizes ranging from 16 inches on base models to 19 on the most loaded versions.
I like the sportier look of this top-level XSE V6 test car, with its quad exhaust tips, tiny rear spoiler and angular grille up front. My only real gripe about the Camry's design is around back -- those fake vents that droop off the corners of the taillights are dumb. They aren't functional and just look like its mascara is running.
The base Camry comes with a 203-horsepower, 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated I4 engine, and a hybrid powertrain is also available. This tester, however, has the larger, 3.5-liter V6, producing a healthy 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque.
Power goes to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, which seems simple enough, but there's a weird quirk. Put the shifter into its Sport setting and the shift indicator will read "4." This doesn't mean you're in fourth gear -- this is what Toyota calls a "range hold." In other words, the transmission will shift itself through the first four gears, and then you're supposedly on your own. But when I push the car in fourth gear, the car upshifts anyway. The XSE has shift paddles that let you override this weird Sport setting, but they aren't very enjoyable. Just leave the car in Drive. Trust me.
In daily commuting, the Camry is smooth and easy to drive. It's pretty quick both off the line and under midrange acceleration, and on more engaging back roads, the steering is responsive. This car won't out-handle a Mazda6, but the stereotype of the Camry being a dud to drive is outdated and wrong.
The XSE V6 is EPA-estimated to achieve 26 miles per gallon combined -- a class-competitive figure that matches the Honda Accord with its 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine. If you're looking for better fuel economy, however, stick with the four-cylinder Camry, which can net you 34 mpg combined. The Camry Hybrid, meanwhile, is estimated to return a seriously impressive 52 mpg.
There's plenty driver assistance tech onboard, and the Camry comes standard with a lot of features that cost extra on competing sedans. Adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and braking, and lane-departure mitigation are all standard.
Adaptive cruise control works in stop-and-go traffic, thank goodness. But even at the closest gap setting, there's a ton of space between you and a lead car, which led to several other drivers cutting me off. The ACC system also cut out completely as I approached a toll booth at the San Francisco Bay Bridge, which is odd.
The lane-departure warning and forward collision warning systems are super sensitive. The former is quick to try and guide me back toward the center of a lane, even when I haven't veered off, and the latter yells at me as I approach a stopped car even though my foot is already on the brake pedal. Give me a little more credit in my driving abilities, Camry.
The Camry XLE and XSE V6 comes with Toyota's Entune infotainment system, housed on an 8-inch touchscreen. (Lower trim levels get a 7-inch screen.) Base Camry models come with one USB port and a 12-volt outlet, but XLE and XSE trims add two more USB outlets in the center console. A 10-inch head-up display is optional and has customizable settings for navigation, speed, phone and audio data. Wireless smartphone charging is also available.
Toyota finally adds Apple CarPlay compatibility for its Entune system, and since the Camry's built-in navigation isn't anything to write home about, you'll want to use it. Using voice control, the Toyota's system couldn't recognize any of my attempts to find a local gym -- "find a gym nearby," "find a fitness center" and "find a 24 Hour Fitness" all resulted in nothing, several times.
And no, Entune still does not support Android Auto.
Tech aside, the Camry's interior is extremely spacious and comfortable, though there's more wind and tire noise inside than I'd like. The eight-way power front seats are as comfortable as they are supportive, but the heaters within could stand to be stronger.
The Camry offers 15 cubic feet of cargo space in its trunk, which is on the smaller side of the segment. The Mazda6 falls short, with 14.7 cubic feet, but the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima all boast bigger boots.
Much as I like the power of the V6, I'd just as happily own a Camry XSE with the 2.5-liter engine. You still get the same appearance goodies, as well as all the driver's aids. Without any options, a nicely equipped Camry XSE 2.5 comes in under $30,000. This fully loaded XSE V6, meanwhile, costs $37,190 plus $930 for destination.
Crossovers and SUVs are dominating the marketplace today, but there are still plenty of folks who want a midsize sedan. The Camry offers a great overall package, though it's not as nice to drive as a Honda Accord or Mazda6. The Nissan Altima and Subaru Legacy also offer all-wheel drive.
Still, with the Camry's impressive suite of standard safety tech, comfortable interior and competent driving dynamics, it's far from being a stale entry in this segment. The Camry has long dominated the family sedan space, and even against stiffer competition than ever, Toyota's entry can definitely hold its own.