Reliable attention-seeker
THE GOOD
  • Fantastic interior design
  • Smooth ride
  • Good cabin space
THE BAD
  • Not as sporty as it looks
  • No V6/AWD option
  • Not great value for an AWD family car
2020 Toyota Camry AWD Review

The Toyota Camry is one of the auto industry’s best-known vehicles, with a reputation for reliability and practical design. However, neither of those characteristics is particularly sexy, an important consideration at a time when family sedans like the Camry are losing market share to crossovers and SUVs.

In order to keep attracting the attention of new vehicle buyers, Toyota has taken a crack at cranking up the Camry’s sex appeal with the car’s eighth generation, which debuted in 2018. Those efforts included more attention-grabbing styling and interior treatments and, for the 2020 model year, an optional all-wheel drive system.

Styling: 7/10

The eighth-generation Camry is more aggressive-looking than any before it, but the SE and XSE trims – the latter of which I tested – get even more extroverted styling to make the car look wider and lower to the ground. I think the front looks over-styled, but the rear is more cohesive, with its integrated diffuser and quad exhaust tips.

My test car’s black roof treatment looks good matched up with black-painted 19-inch wheels, front bumper insert, and rear lip spoiler.

Choosing the black roof opens up the option of a red leather interior, which Toyota has executed beautifully. It extends to the dash, door panels, and centre console cover; and makes the Camry’s interior look like it belongs in a more expensive car.

Safety: 8/10

The Camry’s XSE trim is the entry point for the most comprehensive version of Toyota’s suite of driver assists. The XSE gets a blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring system that’s optional in the lesser SE trim, along with an upgraded adaptive cruise control system that works in stop-and-go traffic, while the lesser system only functions above 40 km/h.

Like all Camry trims, the XSE comes with forward collision and pedestrian detection with automatic braking and lane-departure alert with steering assist.

You can’t get Toyota’s 360-degree exterior camera system or rear cross-traffic braking features in the XSE AWD; for those items, you have to move up to the front-drive XSE V6.

User Friendliness: 8/10

The Camry’s centre stack is designed around an eight-inch touch-sensitive display with sharp graphics. There are hard buttons to access the system’s menus and audio and navigation controls. All climate functions are handled by straightforward buttons and knobs, but I like to control temperature, vent, and fan settings manually and found the fan speed and air distribution buttons small.

Features: 7/10

Notable Camry XSE features include a power-adjustable front passenger seat, leather upholstery, passive keyless entry, wireless smartphone charging, satellite radio, the eight-inch touchscreen, a 4.2-inch driver info display, auto-dimming rearview mirror, a CD player, and dual-zone climate control. The XSE AWD is also the least-expensive Camry to come with a heated steering wheel.

Those items come along with features included in lesser trims, like heated front seats, a power driver’s seat with lumbar, automatic climate control, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. All Camry models also come with LED head- and taillights, which on the XSE trim and higher have a different, “premium” design.

Power: 6.5/10

All four-cylinder Camry models use a 2.5L engine that boasts a nominal power boost in XSE trim. Still, performance is nothing to get excited about, with 206 hp to haul around a big sedan. Acceleration is tame in the car’s eco and normal drive modes, but sport mode wakes up the machinery a bit by keeping the eight-speed transmission out of its top gear ratios and letting the engine rev higher. The engine will pull enthusiastically when you ask it to, but even in XSE guise, the Camry still feels more at home tooling along at a relatively sedate pace.

Comfort: 9/10

Unlike some sport-oriented trim levels of otherwise everyday cars, the Camry XSE doesn’t add heavily bolstered front seats. Instead, you get the same comfortable and supportive chairs that come in every version of this car. Long-haul comfort is great, and the shape of the cushion and backrest accommodate drivers and passengers of a variety of shapes and sizes. (Interestingly, Toyota’s website shows the lower-priced SE four-cylinder trim having sport seats that are offered in neither the XSE nor the V6 versions of the SE and XSE.)

There’s good space for everyone, too, though I had the same complaint I level against almost all Toyota sedans and hatchbacks: front-seat headroom is not as generous as it should be in a car of this size. However, rear-seat passengers will find good headroom, even if they’re over six feet tall.

Practicality: 8/10

Toyota goes after practicality the old-fashioned way in the Camry by building in generous cargo space to go with the roomy cabin. The four adults mentioned above could easily pack luggage for a weekend in the Camry’s trunk. The back seat folds in the expected 60/40 split for when you need to carry longer items, but the opening between the passenger and cargo areas isn’t particularly wide.

Driving feel: 6/10

The Camry XSE (and the lower-priced SE) uses a sport-tuned suspension that presumably dials in a firmer ride than LE and XLE models. “Sporty” is a relative term when applied to the Camry; even with the tighter suspension, the XSE delivers a comfortable, compliant ride that doesn’t encourage enthusiastic cornering.

When I tried accelerating through a long, sweeping curve, I could feel the all-wheel drive generating a very small amount of oversteer to improve the car’s cornering balance. There’s no torque vectoring at work here, however, so this AWD system is aimed purely at improving straight-line traction, not handling prowess.

If you want a Camry that promises some real surprises, choose the XSE’s optional TRD package. It firms up the ride further and lowers the ride height; adds stiffer sway bars for flatter cornering, bigger brakes for better stopping, and summer tires for more grip; and bolts on a noisier exhaust and a more aggressive-looking body kit. However, it’s only offered in the more powerful XSE V6 model, which is not sold with my tester’s AWD system.

Fuel economy: 7/10

My test car’s average fuel consumption was 10.2 L/100 km after a week of city driving, while Toyota’s estimates are 9.5 L/100 km in the city and 7.0 in highway driving.

Value: 6/10

All-wheel drive adds $1,660 to the Camry XSE’s price, but that bump includes a handful of other items, including the heated steering wheel mentioned above, which is not offered in front-drive Camry trims.

At $36,650, the Camry XSE AWD loses the value-for-money competition to the all-wheel drive-only Nissan Altima, whose less-expensive Platinum trim includes a surround-view camera system that, to me, was conspicuous by its absence in my Camry tester.

Also worth considering is that the Altima comes standard with AWD from its $28,100 starting point, and the $31,600 SV model gets a heated wheel, while the least-expensive Camry with that item is $33,750. [The Subaru Legacy and its standard all-wheel drive starts at $26,395, while one with a heated steering wheel comes in at $34,295 before tax and fees. –Ed.]

The Verdict

The 2020 Toyota Camry XSE will certainly attract more attention from more people than past generations have managed. But the XSE doesn’t do enough to hold the attention of drivers seeking a truly engaging feel behind the wheel.

Reliable attention-seeker 8/5/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.5L   Model Tested 2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $36,650
Peak Horsepower 206 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 186 lb-ft   Destination Fee $1,770
Fuel Economy 9.5 / 7.0 / 8.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $39,060
Cargo Space 428 L  
Optional Equipment
$540 – Celestial Silver Metallic Paint with Black Roof, $540