Drivers will be able to surprise many people with the way that the Camry XSE can handle.
Since the early 1980s, the Toyota Camry has earned itself a reputation for being one of the most indestructible cars in North America. Often, the default answer is Camry when looking for a reasonably priced midsize sedan, with contenders such as the Honda Accord (reviewed here) and Nissan Altima also entering into the conversation. Unfortunately, the Camry also came to be known as one of the more vanilla options on the road today – the beige appliance for people who don’t care about driving.
As an attempt to thwart that image, Toyota has made available an XSE sport trim level that certainly looks the part, but is the bark worse than the bite? Thanks to Toyota Canada, we recently got a chance to take a 2017 Toyota Camry XSE V6 out for a spin for a week. Was it enough to dethrone the midsize handling champs, the Mazda6 and Honda Accord? The short answer is no, but the Camry XSE is still decently fun.
Finished in a bright Blue Streak Metallic, the Camry XSE V6 gets a few sportier touches that differentiates itself from a regular run-of-the-mill Camry. A set of 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels is the first thing you’ll notice, and on the road, a set of LED headlights give the XSE a little extra presence. Inside, there’s a leather-wrapped three spoke steering wheel complete with paddle shifters for manual control. To put its money where its mouth is, the Camry actually comes with a dedicated sport tuned suspension. Specifically, the coil springs, shock absorbers, and stabilizer bars are unique to the XSE. The as-tested price for these goodies came out to $35,495, which places the Camry right in the thick of its competitors, such as the Honda Accord and Mazda6 GT (reviewed here).
With the extra suspension bits, the Camry XSE V6 does surprisingly well when it comes to roadholding. When taking corners at speed, grip and stability levels are considerably higher than expected, even with the standard P225/45R18 Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires, which have absolutely no sporting contention whatsoever. The end result was a car that could take corners well, with tires that gave up the ghost before the chassis and suspension could really do their work. While the XSE does perform to a higher level, steering and brake feel are still not quite up to par, and the Mazda6 is still the class leader in this regard. A good set of more communicative dedicated summer tires will likely alleviate this issue. Ride quality is firm – possibly too firm for some people – but the body control is well-damped and many drivers will appreciate extra connection to the road that this brings.
Packing the punch under the hood is Toyota’s workhorse 2GR-FE V6. With 3.5 litres of displacement, peak horsepower output is 268 hp at 6,200 rpm, and peak torque is 248 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm. There’s no fancy direct injection, and it’s pretty much the same mill that’s been used in the Camry since 2006. While that may not sound like a modern engine, the 2GR remains one of the smoothest V6 powerplants in its class, with excellent power delivery, a fantastic midrange punch, and a soundtrack that one might associate for a much higher performance car. In a straight line, the Toyota V6 encourages the inner hoon to come out to play, and many drivers will find themselves exercising the delicious middle to upper end of the rev range. The advent of 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinders as V6 replacements in today’s midsize sedans only serves to remind us of how much better the 2GR is when it comes to refinement and response.
Between the engine and the wheels, like the 2GR-FE V6, there are no surprises here. A six-speed automatic transmission routes power to the front wheels that would give owners little to no reason to gripe. Upshifts are quick, imperceptible, and confidence inspiring, although hard-throttle kickdowns do require a bit of a time delay before engaging. As with many Toyota products over the years, the manual override mode does not actually lock the transmission in the selected gear, but merely limits the highest gear in which the transmission will shift to. For example, setting the transmission in fourth gear in manual mode will make the Camry shift normally between first, second, third, and fourth gear, while locking out fifth and sixth. It’s a bit of an odd quirk when driving spiritedly, but a quick pull (or pulls) of the downshift paddle still provides the downshift drivers will need in order to slingshot out of corners, or during passing.
Even with the relatively old-school powertrain configuration, fuel economy remained very respectable. Toyota rates the city fuel consumption at 11.0 L/100km, and nominal highway economy is 7.8 L/100km. Over a week on test, the Camry returned a 10.0 L/100km in mixed driving. While the nominal fuel economy ratings may be better in theory with the newer turbo fours, in practice, the V6 should be able to return similar numbers, especially if drivers aren’t able to keep the turbocharger out of boost. The Camry happily accepts regular 87 octane fuel, and the tank will hold just over 64 litres of gasoline.
In the cockpit of the Camry XSE V6, it’s more business than beauty. Fit and finish, as is always the case with Toyota, is class leading, but the design and material selection are eclipsed somewhat by the likes of Honda Accord, Mazda6, and Ford Fusion (reviewed here). While the Camry’s interior can likely be counted upon to age fairly well and is ergonomically good, the large buttons do tend to look a bit comical. Front seat comfort is adequate, although the bottom cushion is a bit short, which negatively affects thigh support. Rounding out the interior is a premium JBL audio system, and Toyota’s multimedia system is above average. Controls are intuitive, and the seven-inch touch screen is responsive.
When it comes to safety features, the Camry boasts ten airbags and Toyota’s STAR system, which is the usual suite of stability and brake force distribution technology. The XSE adds a lane departure alert, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, as well as automatic high beams. Adaptive cruise control is also added to the mix, which automatically matches the vehicle speed to the one in front. More and more often, these features are becoming cheaper, and in some case, are standard equipment on mainstream vehicles. While the alert systems and adaptive cruise control are available only on V6-powered Camrys, expect Toyota to revise this to include lower trim levels and four-cylinder engines in the years to come.
When it comes to the 2017 Toyota Camry XSE V6 competing against the sporty heavyweights in its class, Toyota can pat themselves on the back for a commendable effort. While overall performance and driving dynamics can’t quite hold a candle to the Accord and (four-cylinder only) Mazda6, the XSE does perform as well, if not better than the likes of the softer Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and Subaru Legacy. Drivers will be able to surprise many people with the way that the Camry XSE can handle off-ramps and twisty roads, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a high performance corner carving machine. Simply put, it’s a solid, dependable choice with an excellent powertrain and reasonable price, and won’t exactly be the equivalent of novocaine on wheels.