As a self-proclaimed automotive enthusiast, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time online researching cars both on information portals and on forums. There is definitely a huge stigma around certain cars where enthusiasts won’t go near them with a ten-foot pole. This, in turn, is why it’s ironic that these very cars are such huge sellers. In fact, cars like the Toyota Camry and Corolla are some of the biggest sellers in North America, so it seriously escapes me why car guys consider them the bane of their existence. I decided to drive a 2013 Toyota Camry XLE for a week and find out if it’s worth the price of admission into the “exclusive” club of mainstreamers.
Statistics show that the vast majority of buyers (including fleet purchases and leases) opt for the 4-cylinder model of the Camry. I decided to follow the norm and test what most people buy. My tester was powered by the 2.5L 4-cylinder. Putting out 178-horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, it didn’t feel underpowered in the slightest. In fact, I was surprised at how much pep it had for a 4-pot. Commuting in traffic on a daily basis proves effortless with a car like this. It’s actually surprising how comfortable the Camry is – I had to sit in traffic on an extended basis without moving and found myself much less agitated than I would have expected.
Where the Camry XLE’s steering wheel doesn’t provide the feedback of its “cousin”, the Scion FR-S, or the road feel, it’s one of the smoothest cars on the road. Its wheel is light and effortless, the throttle is responsive, and the ride is amazingly soft and serene. It lacks the sporty feel of its competitors (or even its own sibling, the sport-oriented Camry SE), but it’s not meant for that. The ride is great, and the suspension swallow the bumps as if they are non-existent. This car is great for effortless drives. I know auto enthusiasts like every car to have solid road feel, rear-wheel-drive, a manual, and gobs of torque, but that’s not what the industry wants.
It’s become evident on Toronto’s roads that a huge percentage of the population does not enjoy driving. These buyers are not car guys/girls – they just want to get to where they need to go in comfort. Feedback, wheel/tire size, and the availability of a stick are all factors that do not matter to them in the slightest, and that’s where Toyota has found their sweet spot. They have done a great job of targeting the mainstream consumer, and clearly their sales numbers reflect that. Efficiency is also key with fuel prices where they are. Consuming regular-grade gas, the Camry averaged 8.0L/100km in combined driving. This number may not seem as amazing as it could, but it’s including some seriously heavy city traffic.
Where a couple of competitors, namely the Mazda6 and the Honda Accord, offer a 6-speed manual option, I felt entirely comfortable with the Camry’s 6-speed automatic. It does have a redundant and not-very-responsive manual function, but for the first time ever, I opted not to shift my own gears. When allowed to do its own thing, the automatic works great. It shifts so seamlessly you always know what it’s doing, but it doesn’t feel nearly as vague as the CVTs I so despise. It’s important to note that Toyota does offer a CVT on the Camry, albeit you need to opt for the Hybrid model in order to have it.
Toyota provided me with a pretty well-loaded XLE model, and I came to the conclusion that it really is the perfect car for either empty-nester parents, or young families who could use a little bit of luxury. My car came with leather seats, a sunroof, and a few other neat toys. The faux-wood trim that accents the interior is actually decent looking for a mainstream vehicle, and definitely gives the XLE the premium feel that Toyota is going for. Personally I thought that the seats lack a bit of support when cornering, but for long drives, they are actually very nice. This trim level also gives you a Blind Spot Monitor that works surprisingly well, 17” alloy wheels, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. The value is key in this car, as my 4-cylinder Camry XLE came in at an as-tested price of just over $30,000.
My Camry also came equipped with Toyota’s 6.1” touchscreen with the navigation system, USB connectivity, Bluetooth, and satellite radio. The system works surprisingly well, although the screen looks a tad small and disproportionate to the rest of the dashboard. The stereo sounds pretty decent even though it isn’t the JBL Synthesis I have previously experienced in other Toyota models. Bluetooth connectivity worked seamlessly, and best of all, there were no surprises.
This very lack of surprises in the Camry leads me to my conclusion. Do I like the car? As a real car guy, I’ll shamelessly admit that I really do. It’s not a corner-carver, and it’s not immensely fun to drive. I do believe that the Toyota Camry has been wrongfully accused of being a terrible car, and the stigmas around owning one are uncalled for. It’s an incredibly comfortable, effortless, and well-equipped car. It’s very competent in the segment. I personally have a soft spot for the Honda Accord – I like the 4-cylinder Sport with the 6-speed manual. When it comes to the luxury-oriented, automatic transmission models of cars in this segment, I really like the Camry. Toyota has a winner, and their sales numbers only back up this statement.
2013 Toyota Camry XLE Gallery