The perennial best-selling sedan that gets almost everything right

The Toyota Camry has established itself as a stalwart pillar of the brand’s quiet, conservative image. It sells. A lot. And it’s generally very reliable, well thought-out and does most things quite well. It’s not a car that will awaken your senses in any way, but it never set out to do that. Toyota has recently added the XSE trim. I always thought SE stood for Special Edition – until Toyota launched the SE Special Edition last year. I can only surmise that the XSE is an Xtra Special/Sport Edition. Anyway, it sits atop the Camry heap.

It’s not a car that will awaken your senses in any way, but it never set out to do that.

The current Camry is the best-looking one yet, in my opinion. But Toyota pours it on a bit thick when it describes the Camry with statements like “bold style”, “athletic stance” and “striking presence”. I mean sure, my Ruby Flare Pearl review vehicle was nice to look at. And yes, the “sport style grille” which is certainly more aggressive than ever before, does catch your eye. The LED headlights and LED daytime running light signature are interesting, and they even added an (X)SE-specific rear spoiler and nice 18-inch rims wrapped in 225/45-sized boots.

But at the end of the day, there’s nothing edgy about the design. This isn’t a slam on the Camry – it all works well and there’s nothing at all offensive about it. But a “striking presence” it is not. And frankly, I think they just went too far with this – a direct quote from Toyota Canada’s website: “Don’t be surprised if your Camry SE or XSE is often mistaken for a sports car.” Haha! Come on!

The Camry’s interior materials are pretty nice – it’s a mostly pleasant mix of hard plastics, softer plastics that feel a bit cheap, stitched leather-like material on the dash and some sweet suede door panels. It’s pretty black in there, and the little swatches of metallicized plastic do little to relieve that. The fit and finish seem excellent, and the XSE gets handsome contrasting red stitching on the seats and suede door panels as well as the dash.

I found the steering wheel to be outstanding in terms of feel and grippiness, and the wheel-mounted controls are well done. Behind it is a clear and intuitive driver information screen between the two main gauges. The XSE’s comfortable leather-trimmed sport seats (with ultrasuede inserts) are heated and power-adjustable – and come with some serious kidney bolsters. I was impressed by these, as another vehicle I recently reviewed didn’t come with very supportive seats yet is sold as an “all-out sport sedan”. Sorry to call you out, Ford Fusion Sport.

The dash houses Toyota’s 7-inch touchscreen which handles your navigation, a fantastic ten-speaker JBL sound system, phone functions and vehicles settings. The big buttons and knobs on the centre stack make it quick and easy to access main functions and make changes on the screen or with the dual-zone automatic climate control. Look up and you’ll find a standard-sized moonroof and a universal garage door opener.

My loaded up XSE came with plenty of driver assistance technology – blind-spot monitoring, back-up camera, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure alert, pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beams. Typical for Toyota, it all works very well and is unobtrusive.

Below the touchscreen, you’ll find a large storage space with a lid that pivots up and out of the way – this is also where you’ll find the USB and auxiliary plugs as well as a 12 V power port. Otherwise, there’s a spacious carpeted bin under the sliding armrest lid, along with a further 12 V plug, and Toyota’s familiar change bin on the underside of the dash.

You’ll find three seats in the back, each with a seatbelt and a headrest. It’s spacious back there, with plenty of head room and oodles of leg and knee room.

A small hump in the floor, as well as a slightly raised and narrower seat make for a middle seating position that isn’t ideal, but it will work for an adult passenger if need be. Our three kids were more than happy with the room back there, and if you’re moving little ones, there are two sets of LATCH anchors. Sadly, that’s about it. Other than adjustable air vents and a middle seatback that folds down to become an armrest with cupholders, there’s nothing else going on in the back. No charging plugs of any kind, and that’s a big omission in my books.

You can pop the trunk lid from the driver’s seat, the key fob or with a button on the lid itself, revealing a reasonably sized 436 L trunk. If that’s not enough, the rear seats fold down (in a 60/40 split) – you can achieve this with seat release handles in the trunk.

There is nothing new under the hood. The front-wheel drive sedan continues to be motivated by Toyota’s excellent 3.5L V6. It still puts out 268 hp at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm, and it’s still mated to a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy has never been the V6 Camry’s forte – it’s rated at 11.0 L/100 km in the city and 7.8 L/100 km on the highway. We averaged 11.7 L/100 km over the course of a week, where we spent most of our time commuting in the city, with two quick highway runs and a few jaunts down the freeway. There are four-cylinder and hybrid Camrys to choose from if that number doesn’t sit well with you.

If you’ve experienced this powertrain before, you’ll be looking for the surprising spring in the 1,560 kg (3,480 lb) sedan’s step, particularly off the line. If you haven’t experienced it before, you might be taken aback at how responsive the V6 can be. Around town, it’s easy to squawk the tires if you don’t take it easy, and once you’re on the move, there’s still plenty of jam. You’ll have no qualms about pulling into fast-moving traffic or passing on the highway. And it’s all done with smooth precision. The transmission’s shifts are seamless, even in Sport mode. If you’re into that, gears can be shifted manually with the gear selector’s sequential shift mode, and there are also paddle shifters which are specific to the special edition Camrys. Of course, the shifts aren’t particularly quick and therefore the experience really isn’t that sporty.

The (X)SE models come with a sport-tuned suspension which apparently gives you “a sporty and exhilarating ride”. Who are these marketing wizards? Back in the real world though, the XSE’s ride is firmer than a standard Camry’s, but it’s still very comfortable. The payoff is that this sedan actually handles quite well. The numb steering doesn’t do much to inspire fun or spirited driving, but the car definitely holds its own. The Camry XSE is capable and competent. And it is quiet in all driving conditions, even at highway speeds with winter tires mounted. Which means that, for many people, it is a good fit and ticks off all the boxes on their wants list.

The Camry is an understated but sophisticated sedan with a comfortable and spacious interior and a smooth, powerful drivetrain. It is almost guaranteed to be reliable and resale value will remain high. 

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was pretty high. She said it drives nicely, feels like it is well-made and there is nothing missing. To quote her: “Everything just works.” She wasn’t a fan of the colour, saying it looked a bit like an old man’s car because of it. 

Isn’t that where the Camry’s success comes from? Everything just works. And in the case of the 2017 XSE V6, it works quite well. It’s the most expensive Camry, but you get a lot of car for your money.

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.5L   Model Tested 2017 Toyota Camry XSE V6
Engine Cylinders V6   Base Price $35,495
Peak Horsepower 268 hp @ 6,200 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm   Destination Fee $1,690
Fuel Economy 11.0/7.8/9.6 (L/100 km, cty/hwy/cmb)   Price as Tested $37,540
Cargo Space 436 L  
Optional Equipment
$255 – Premium paint colour $255