How do you update one of America's favorite, and best-selling cars? Very carefully. That approach explains the cautious redesign of the 2015 Toyota Camry, which receives enhancements but not a full rethought mid-way through its seventh generation.
Here are our impressions after a week putting the '15 Camry through the wringer of our daily tasks in New York City.
What is it?
This is a significantly refreshed version of the seventh-generation Camry sedan that went on sale in late 2011. Unlike some refreshes that are merely cosmetic makeovers, this one is just short of being a new model. A stronger-looking front end with an in-your-face grille replaces the previously staid fascia, and the beefed-up look continues around the sides and into the back end. While we didn't fall head over heels for the styling, it's a refined upgrade, erring on the side of bland. The model pictured is the our test car XSE, the sportiest of the Camrys.
How does it drive?
With finesse. The Camry is designed for relaxed exhiliration when you need it most, but it can also hustle if necessary. Our XSE came loaded with an optional 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine—unchanged in the redesign—that is tuned to be luxuriously quiet at idle and to behave without roughness at speed. Each Camry trim level comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 178 horsepower, which is more than enough, but we were happy to have the extra power under the hood. Unlike Hyundai and Mazda, which all but eliminated six-cylinder engines from their midsize lineup, Toyota joins Honda in continuing to offer an option. A 6-speed automatic transmission is now the gearbox of record for the Camry, except on Hybrid models, which receive a continuously variable automatic transmission.
On Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, where we spent most of our time during an unseasonable cold winter week, the Camry performed exactly as we expected it to. Its movements tend to lack the firmness of the Honda Accord's, particularly in the feel of its accelerator and brake pedals, but everything about driving the Camry feels smooth. Steering has adequate weight but less than sporty direct-to-the-wheels feel, and if you seek true thunder in the daily commute, look elsewhere. We're excited to try out the Camry Hybrid to see if excitement exists in being green.
What's it like inside?
Upgraded. Experiencing the tactile refinement performed on the Camry's interior is the best way to understand where development dollars were spent. In our XSE tester, nearly every surface was covered with a pseudo-suede or leather material with exposed stitching, except for the imposing center control stack. Most controls and switches are large enough to see from the rear seat, making it easier in theory for the driver to know what's where; in practice, however, the ergonomics of duplicate switches and functions buried deep within Entune—the Camry's infotainment system interface—make them difficult to operate. We don't love the user experience of Toyota's navigation system, which is sometimes slow to react and hard to understand, but its breadth of functionality is impressive.
Bonus points go to the Camry's interior for passenger space. Over the week of driving, we often transported the Camry fully loaded without any complaints about comfort.
What's its specialty?
Making the everyday slough much, much more livable, and smoothing over the rough points along the road.
How's the competition?
Ever present. The Honda Accord sits squarely in the path of the Camry, as it has for decades, but there are new challenges from all segments of the market. Hyundai just revised its Sonata. Nissan is planning a big update soon for its Altima. And for a left-field alternative, a base Mercedes-Benz CLA250 costs just as much as a fully loaded Camry.
The Camry sits among them as a solid choice for a customer who likes extra interior space, and feeling cosseted inside without being thrown around on the road.
Its most innovative feature?
If you have a compatible phone, you'll find the Qi wireless charging system fascinating. The system allows users of some smartphones—iOS users need an adapter—to recharge their phones by simply placing them on a cabin-mounted mat.
Is this what growing up feels like?
Smooth engine note, torquey engine, responsive steering, plush interior treatment, lots of room in the backseat and trunk.
Milquetoast styling, dated interior ergonomics, midpack fuel economy, no longer offered with a manual transmission.
The ideal setup:
Our experience with the top-tier XSE, which is as well-appointed as some luxury cars are, leads us to believe that there is good value in lower-rung Camrys, too. If you like the sportier side of the XSE, check out the SE and Hybrid SE.
By the numbers: 2015 Toyota Camry / XSE, as tested
MSRP: $23,795 (includes $825 destination charge) / $32,195 (includes $825 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 2.5-liter, 178-hp four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive / 3.5-liter, 268-hp V-6 engine, front-wheel drive
Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy: 25/35 city/highway / 21/31 city/highway
In showrooms: Now