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2015 Car Review | Toyota Camry XSE V6 By Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Toyota Camry XSE V6


DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2015 Toyota Camry XSE V6 Review

I'm driving on one of my favorite backroads, and thoroughly enjoying the experience. The car feels connected to the road, with proper feedback about the road surface and tires through the steering column and a crisp but compliant suspension tuning that is ideal for a sporty car meant for real American roads, with their defects and deferred maintenance. The engine is torquey enough that I have no reason not to leave the automatic transmission in D, even though I much prefer a manual. There would be nothing remarkable about any of this if I was in a German sports-luxury sedan, but I'm not in one of those.

I'm driving a 2015 Toyota Camry XSE V6.

Sporty Camry? Isn't that an oxymoron of the first order? Not now, not in the case of the highly-revised 2015 Camry. What began with the introduction of the seventh generation three years ago has been further developed this year. The usual expectation after several years is that a car gets a "mid-product cycle freshening", meaning minor exterior and interior styling revisions, new combinations of standard and optional equipment, and, in these times of quickly-changing consumer electronics technology, new information and entertainment systems. If the 2015 Camry is not completely new, there are over 1900 change points, and 2000 new parts. Outside, only the roof remains the same. The underlying unibody structure has been reinforced, and the fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension retuned to take advantage of that. Nearly all interior panels are new. There are no changes under the hood, with a 2.5-liter, 178-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V6 still driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

All trim levels ("grades" in Toyota parlance) -- LE, SE, XSE, and XLE -- may be specified with the four, with the V6 optional in the top three. The XSE is new, sharing the sport suspension tuning with the SE and adding upgraded tires and wheels -- 225/45R18 vs 215/55R17 -- for slightly better turn-in and looks. The XSE also gets more soundproofing and, with the V6, LED headlights and running lights, a moonroof, and various interior upgrades. I've just finished a week with a well-equipped XSE V6 and am most impressed. It's an improvement in driving experience from the 2012-2014 car, and that was a significant step forward for Toyota. Add further suspension work, interior refinement, new exterior styling, and, optionally, the latest safety systems like blind-spot monitoring, radar cruise control, the Pre-Collision System, and Lane-Departure Warning, and the result is a solid family sedan that will put a smile on your face when the road gets interesting. Boring has been banished.

APPEARANCE: The overall shape is familiar, and recognizable, but all of the details save for the roof line are different. Unsurprisingly it looks like the larger, older sibling of the latest Corolla, with leaner, more mature proportions. The sportier SE and XSE get a black mesh main grille for a sportier look than the chrome bars used on other models. Foglamps are in faux brake ducts to the side of the grille, and prominent lower fascia corner and side extensions add a performance look without unduly low clearance.

COMFORT: Toyota axed cheap-looking hard plastics inside the Camry in 2012, and has further improved the interior this year. In the XSE, seating is leather with ultrasuede centers, with French stitching in body color thread. That stitching is also found on the leather steering wheel rim and in the soft-touch materials on the instrument panel. Front seat cushions are heated, and both front seats are power-adjustable. Comfort is good. Design and materials also improve soundproofing, for a quiet interior. "Optitron" electroluminescent gauges are easily seen in all lighting. Useful information is displayed between the tach and speedometer, controlled by switches on the steering wheel arms. Satin chrome trim adds an upscale touch, as does the remote release for the locking glove box. Interior design is conservative and pleasantly functional. Control of he Entune infotainment system is by a simple hard button and touchscreen interface, and volume and tuning are by simple knobs. Auxiliary controls are on the steering wheel. The premium JBL audio system has all current audio modes plus navigation, traffic, and weather. The main difference between this and a more expensive European luxury car? The Toyota is simpler and easier to use.

The rear contoured bench is wide enough for three people, at least for a while. A flat floor and good legroom are commendable, as are HVAC ducts at the rear of the front console and heat ducts under the front seats. There is door and seatback storage and a useful center armrest. 60/40 seatback folding improves cargo abilities should the trunk not be enough. There is a space-saver tire under the trunk floor.

SAFETY: Passive safety is addressed by a unibody structure that protects passengers and seat frames that help absorb side-impact loads. All models have ten standard airbags, with rear-seat side and front passenger knee bags new. As in all 2014 Toyotas, the Star Safety Systemâ„¢, comprised of Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), traction control (TRAC), antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and brake assist (BA) is standard. An electronic tire-pressure monitoring system and engine immobilizer are also standard in all models. Interior lights are deactivated after 20 minutes to lessen the chances of a dead battery. Good brakes and responsive handling improve active safety.

RIDE AND HANDLING: As improved as the 2012 Camry was over its predecessors, there was still room for further development. While the differences in ride and handling aren't quite as noticeable, they are there. Thank further improvements in unibody rigidity and development and fine-tuning of the MacPherson strut / dual-link suspension for that. Yes, the steering is electrically-assisted (EPS). Not, it's not video-game numb -- it doesn't have to be if it's done correctly. This is the company that brought you the Scion FR-S, proof positive that EPS is perfectly fine for a sports car. As there, good road information is fed through the steering column, although as a front-wheel drive family sedan, the Camry's suspension and steering bushings are softer than those in a rear-wheel drive sports car. On smooth pavement, the XSE seemed a bit soft -- but when the surface deteriorated, comfort didn't. Hey, as good as it feels, and reacts, it's not really a sports sedan, so nothing wrong with the way it's set up. And its quick, secure maneuverability is as much a safety factor as fun factor, as the accident you can avoid is one you don't have.

PERFORMANCE: With weight just over 3450 pounds and 268 horsepower (at 6200 rpm), there's 13 pounds of Camry V6 for each metaphorical horse to move at full throttle. So, when desired and under wide-open throttle, the Camry V6 is remarkably quick. 0-60? Six seconds or so, so no worries on a short on-ramp to fast traffic. Yes, it's front-wheel drive and hard throttle like that will make the front light and send plenty of torque reaction back through the steering wheel, but such is front-wheel drive. Other than that, behavior is exemplary as heavy throttle is rarely needed. The 3.5-liter engine is a typical Toyota powerplant -- aluminum alloy construction, dual overhead cams with VVT-i variable phasing on all, and plenty of low-end torque even though the torque peak (248 lb-ft) is at 4700 rpm. Mostly, think of torque and horsepower maxima as what the audiophiles call "overhead" -- rarely used reserve for those times when really and truly needed. Most of the time the engine is practically loafing. The six-speed automatic and a longer final drive ratio mean that in D at highway speeds the engine is well under 2000 rpm, and at a similar spot in lower gears at lower speeds. Which means not much thirst -- the EPA estimated of 21mpg city and 30 highway seemed correct, with 24 overall for a week as little highway driving as possible. The SE and XSE get steering-wheel shift paddles for quick manual shifting -- which I found entertaining on the backroads but never really necessary. Torque is your friend, and Toyota knows torque.

CONCLUSIONS: Important detail improvements kept the 2014 Toyota Camry at the head of the midsize sedan class, and the new 2015 XSE model adds sport and luxury.

SPECIFICATIONS
2015 Toyota Camry XSE V6

Base Price                      $ 31,370
Price As Tested                 $ 35,169
Engine Type                     DOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with
                                 VVT-i variable cam phasing and lift
                                 control
Engine Size                     3.5 liters / 211 cu. in.
Horsepower                      268 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)                  248 @ 4700 rpm
Transmission                    6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length              109.3 in. / 190.9 in.
Curb Weight                     3480 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower           13.0
Fuel Capacity                   17 gal.
Fuel Requirement                87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires                           P225/45R18 91V Michelin Primacy mxm4 m+s
Brakes, front/rear              vented disc / solid disc,
                                 ABS, EBD, BA, VSC standard
Suspension, front/rear          independent MacPherson strut /
                                  independent dual-link
Drivetrain                      transverse front engine,
                                 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed           21 / 31 / 24
0 to 60 mph                             est 6  sec


OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Blind Spot Monitor with rear Cross-Traffic Alert        $ 500
Entune Premium JBL Audio with Navigation and
  App Suite -- includes:
  Entune Multimedia Bundle (touch-screen display, 
  AM/FM/CD(MP3/WMA playback), 10 JBL
  GreenEdge speakers in 8 locations including
  subwoofer, auxiliary audio jack and USB 2.0 port
  with iPod connectivity and control, advanced voice
  recognition, hands-free phone capability, phone
  book access, and music streaming via Bluetooth),
  Entune App Suite, HD Radio, HD predictive traffic
  and doppler radar overlay, AM/FM cache radio,
  Sirius/XM radio with 3-month complimentary
  subscription                                          $ 805
Technology Package -- includes:
  Pre-Collision System, Lane-Departure Alert,
  Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, automatic
  high beam                                             $ 750
Special Color (Ruby Flare Pearl)                        $ 395
Illuminated Door Sill Enhancements                      $ 299
Carpet and Trunk Mat Set                                $ 225
Destination Charge                                      $ 825