THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: For a V6 – and even without that qualifier – it boasts respectable fuel economy.
- What’s Bad: Its handling doesn’t quite keep up with its sporty looks.
No one’s buying sedans anymore. So goes the repetitive refrain – lament, even – from devotees of lower-slung vehicles who are watching with horror as options slip away from the market.
There’s hope, though: sedans may be down, but sales of the Camry are trending upward, if only slightly. More than 11,000 of them have sold in Canada through three quarters in 2019. That’s several thousand more than its closest competitor, the Honda Accord, and more than a very long list of similarly sized SUVs.
What’s behind that? Part of it could be Toyota scooping up the buyers left behind by Ford and General Motors as they work on discontinuing most of their cars. But a conquest can’t be successful unless it wins those people over once their behinds are planted into seats for test drives, and that’s where the Camry gets its chance to shine. There’s a line-up of models and powertrains that’s extensive yet simple to sort through – including a hybrid, which most likely contributed to Toyota breaking its annual hybrid sales record with three months still to go in 2019 – and its steady, reliable manners, handsome looks, and excellent safety credentials make it a prudent choice.
Loads of Available Power
The test unit evaluated here is a Camry XSE V6. That S stands for sport, and while most of the sportiness here is visual, opting for the V6 engine makes for a more convincing argument. This same engine is fitted in plenty of Toyota vehicles, including the Tacoma, Sienna, and Lexus RX, among others. Here, it’s tuned to produce 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, creating a smoothly executed balance of power that one would think is better-suited to its higher-than-average 3,571 lb. (1,620 kg.) curb weight than the smaller four-cylinder offering.
Drive mode selections for normal, eco, and sport are included with the XLE and XSE Camry. Sport mode definitely ups the ante by altering the throttle mapping and the shift patterns for the eight-speed automatic transmission, which on this XSE model can be controlled via paddle shifters. The catch is that, although this model has its own sport-tuned suspension, the Camry’s otherwise-smooth handling doesn’t quite keep pace once the wick is turned up. However, the Camry TRD is due any time now with chassis upgrades and a custom aero kit, and it should be a better fit for people who are finicky about such things.
For the rest of us, the unspoken benefit of sticking with a front-wheel-drive sedan instead of an SUV is that there’s less weight to drag around, which translates to better fuel economy. Even in this V6 version, which is the highest of the Camry models at a Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption rating of 9.2 L/100 km combined, I finished up a week of testing at 8.5 L/100 km without doing a whole lot in the way of highway cruising. I pretty much never come in that much lower than the NRCan average – truthfully, it’s because I don’t try very hard – so this one’s efficiency caught me by surprise. There aren’t a lot of mainstream mid-size sedans out there with six-cylinder options anymore, and from the ones that are left, this is definitely one of the most economical at the pumps.
An Inside Look
Truth be told, the Camry’s current styling doesn’t speak to me. I find the front end to be very busy, and there are a lot of lines and a few fake vents going on with this XSE version. I can take it or leave it.
The interior, though, is a different story. This is an attractive, driver-focused layout with layers of leather, piano black, and aluminum finishes that feel more premium than the price tag suggests. It’s quiet in operation and surprisingly bright despite the extensive use of black, thanks to a large panoramic sunroof. The one thing I would change is the seats, which I can’t quite find a way to make comfortable. The forward lean in the headrests pushes me into a slouch no matter what I do.
And then there’s the matter of the trunk: its 427-litre capacity is on the smaller side to begin with, but the opening to the cabin with the rear seats dropped is oddly small. If you need to move a lot of hockey bags or other long, flat things, it’s worth having a closer look to see if this will work for you.
Stout in Safety
People who are shopping for family sedans are looking for reassurances of safety, and the Camry has a lot of talking points here. As with much of the Toyota line-up, the Toyota Safety Sense P suite of safety features is standard equipment, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, active cruise control, and automatic high beams. The XSE model also comes with blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and braking, and above-view cameras. Automatic collision notification is also part of the Entune 3.0 system and operates when a phone is connected.
There’s one Camry model that qualifies for the Top Safety Pick+ designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but this isn’t it. The only thing it’s missing, though, is the adaptive headlamps available on one model in the U.S. In crashworthiness, it gets top marks all around.
Toyota’s been subject to a lot of critique over its infotainment systems in recent years, but the version in the Camry is getting there. There’s a simple touchscreen with a simple button and dial layout surrounding it, and the functionality is not bad. Apple CarPlay is already standard, but Android Auto isn’t yet – Toyota has finally capitulated and is integrating it slowly across the line-up, and it will be included on the Camry in 2020. For some people, this might be worth waiting for.
In terms of features, the aforementioned panoramic sunroof is a nice addition on the premium models, as are heated front seats and exterior mirrors and a wireless phone charging pad. What’s not available: ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, or a heated steering wheel.
Talking about a well-performing and fuel-efficient mid-size sedan these days feels a little bit like shouting to the rafters. But if you know a sedan is what you want, you’ve got the budget to edge toward premium, you’re not very feature or technology focused, and you don’t mind giving up all-wheel drive, then this Camry’s balance of looks, power, and fuel efficiency could make it a solid choice.