2015 Toyota Camry XSE

2015 Toyota Camry XSE

A bland dish receives some much needed spice.

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Toyota is the world’s largest automaker (they’ve closed the book on another year of over 10 million units sold globally) so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they are amongst the world’s biggest spenders on Research and Development. On a per-hour basis, these folks are shelling out a staggering 1.1 million dollars. With that kind of scratch to throw around, you’re able to do things that would otherwise financially paralyze competitors, like significantly refresh the bestselling model in your portfolio three years ahead of schedule.

Except Toyota insists this isn’t a mere refresh but rather a holistic re-imagining of North America’s most popular car. Line up a 2014 model beside our tester and you’d be had pressed not to agree. The styling is all new, so’s the interior and you can now have access to models you didn’t before (Hybrid SE, anyone?)

PROS: A genuine improvement over the last generation in every way, feels more expensive than before but isn’t, starting to show signs of life in the driving dynamics department.

CONS: Still has difficulty raising pulses beyond their resting rates, zero steering feel, Anime catfish front end looks.

THE VERDICT: The Camry will undoubtedly help Toyota hold onto its dominance in the industry- making it a little more enjoyable to drive doesn’t hurt, either.

The biggest complaint you could lavish on the Camry would be that it lacks any personality, that it embodies every single automotive generalization of “bland”. With many thousands of Camry’s flying off dealer lots at any given time of the year, Toyota could be forgiven if they’ve embraced that trait as something not to be messed with. Word from Toyota HQ in Japan is that all cars in the company’s lineup are subject to a new directive, one that states that even Camry drivers deserve more decisive driving dynamics. After spending time in the 2015 vintage, we’re convinced of two things- you’ll still never reach for the keys for an afternoon of canyon carving, but there are concerted efforts at play to distance itself from its vanilla roots.

Handling, a term Camry ilk haven’t been previously familiar with, is now (somewhat) part of the deal. Our XSE tester was shod on striking 18” rolling stock and despite being installed on snow tires that didn’t do handling any favors it exhibited an eagerness to change direction not previously seen in Camry’s of yore. Show it a whiff of cornering and the degrees of lock you dial up through the steering actually reflect the arc the car is tracing through a corner. Disappointingly, Toyota has somehow managed the remarkable feat of stepping in the right direction for path accuracy while simultaneously exorcising any feel, but we suspect core customers won’t care too much. This is a definitive step in the right direction, folks. The ride hasn’t suffered as a result of the more aggressive wheel and tire package- it’s a more polished, albeit still very relaxed calibration that favors day-to-day comfort and quietness over anything else. At last, we can look forward to a future where the Camry model line will cater to those who prefer slight stimulation behind the wheel and not just an appliance to get from Point A to Point B.

The interior has been nipped and tucked in accordance with the rest of the car, and if you’ve spent time in previous Camry’s you’ll notice that it is a much nicer place to be. XSE trim levels get contrasting French stitching throughout the cockpit, and it honestly wouldn’t look out of place in a luxury car. Everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be and works with the same predictability. The biggest point of conflict would have to be the seats- they are finished with a pseudo-Alcantara insert on the seating surfaces which hold you securely in place, but they just aren’t that comfortable. It made us wonder about the comfort (or lack thereof) you’d experience on a long trip. You won’t wonder if the Camry will fit all your gear, however- the generous dimensions inside as well as a cavernous trunk mean you don’t have to leave anything behind.

In the amount of time it takes you to read this sentence, Toyota will have spent roughly $1,500 of its R&D budget in the name of making their cars more emotional and engaging to drive. Seeing the progress they’ve achieved with the latest Camry, we think that’s money well spent. Hopefully the torrent of cash will yield a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) version- stay tuned.

2015 Toyota Camry XSE — Specifications

Price as tested: $29,997

Body Type: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan

Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive

Engine:  2.5-litre inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves

Horsepower: 178 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft): 170 @ 4,100 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Curb weight: 1,493 kg (3,380 lbs.)

Observed Fuel Economy: 11.3L/100km (21 mpg)

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