Capsule Review: 2015 Toyota Camry

capsule review 2015 toyota camry

In 1992, the Toyota Camry was perhaps the most respected sedan in the midsize segment. Not all consumers could afford one, but most would have preferred one. The 1997 model represented Toyota’s changed focus. Rather than adding features and content, they started adding profitability “affordability”. Steve Lang and Ed Niedermeyer discussed this in detail, but here’s the short version: With every successive redesign, Toyota promised that its cost-controls would be transparent to consumers. With every successive redesign, consumers noticed a few more cut corners but kept buying. Sales first grew organically but then became increasingly dependent on incentives.

This takes us to 2015. The Camry is America’s best-selling passenger car 12 years running and sold 408,000 units in 2013. The lead is tenuous though as competitors are gaining marketshare through fashionable sheetmetal, tech-laden interiors and superior dynamics.

Sounds like it’s time for a midcycle refresh then.

Notice that I said “refresh”, not “clean-sheet redesign”. All powertrain options are carryover from the previous year, but Toyota’s updates were still substantial enough to generate 2,000 new parts. Torsional rigidity is up via 22 additional spot welds, enabling a suspension retune. Every exterior surface aside from the roof is new, and the interior is significantly revised.

The Camry is considerably improved by this refresh, yet pricing for the volume trims (LE and SE) is roughly flat with 2014. Yesteryear’s L trim was dropped, but the LE ($22,970 before destination) features keyless entry, an 8-way power driver seat, backup camera and all the power options buyers now expect as standard. Steel wheels might be the only reason for pause among consumers. Those looking for more will consider the XLE ($26,150) and its standard heated leather seating, 4-way power passenger seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, stitched dash and other niceties.

Drivers interested in a feistier dynamic proposition will recall the SE trim ($23,840) that Jack loves so dearly. TTAC’s resident lovable rogue wasn’t alone in his preference for this configuration either – SE sales represent about 40% of Camry volume. The formula remains similar in 2015 with a sharper suspension, weightier steering and several interior improvements. It’s all easily identified via a unique grill and 17-inch alloys. The performance ladder goes one rung higher this year however thanks to the new XSE trim ($26,150). In addition to similar luxury trappings as the XLE, XSE springs receive another round of stiffening over the SE units, wheels are upsized to 18 inches, steering receives a unique tune and the conventional shocks and struts are swapped for digressive units that feature internal rebound springs.

Entune, Toyota’s infotainment system, is standard on all trims and continues to improve. Those who approach technology with – ahem – suspicion may now find it more intuitive than MyFord Touch. The base and optional JBL stereos are unchanged, but both sound clearer thanks to 30% more sound insulation than before. XLE and XSE buyers can also opt for tech offerings you formerly needed to purchase a Lexus to get – LED high and low headlights, a wireless charging tray for Qi-equipped cell phones, adaptive cruise control and a crash-prevention suite including an automatic braking feature. The crash-prevention suite enables an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ score.

As already mentioned, engines and transmissions are unchanged. Toyota’s ubiquitous 2.5 liter inline four (178 hp, 170 lb-ft) is available with all trims, while the 3.5 liter V6 (268 hp, 248 lb-ft) is available on the XLE and XSE. A 6-speed automatic pairs with either engine. Meanwhile, the 2.5 liter Atkinson-cycle hybrid is offered on the LE, XLE and now SE trims. Toyota reported that 10% of buyers chose the hybrid last year and 6% elected for the big bore V6.

Fuel efficiency improves versus 2014 but is just average in the segment. Direct injection fueling and a few other tricks commonly used by competitors are conspicuously absent in the conventional engines. A coefficient of drag of just 0.28 and slight curb weights ranging from 3,240 lbs (4-cylinder LE) to 3,480 lbs (V6 XSE) certainly help though. The EPA is calling for 25/35/28 city/highway/combined MPG for the 2.5, 21/31/25 for the V6 and 43/39/41 for the hybrid. My test loops were generally short, but the numbers seem realistic.

Toyota is quick to call this the boldest Camry ever. The looks are certainly more pronounced than before, but don’t expect anything as controversial as Lexus’ spindle grill. I’ll make my comments brief as Sajeev has already ground this grain – he’s right to criticize the DLO-woe Toyota has unleashed, but I also think Toyota deserves some credit for making mirrors, lower trim, door guards, etc. body color on all trim levels. It’s a good move for a brand increasingly accused of pinching the wrong pennies.

The interior upgrades are less divisive. Material selection and textures are generally improved, and more surfaces are soft-touch than before. The faux stitching of 2014 is largely removed, and actual stitching is available (dashboard, gearshift, steering wheel, and door inserts) depending on trim. The upper buttons on the center stack are still remind me of a large-print keyboard, but the 2015 design is much more modern. With one obvious exception, panel gaps are improved too… once I saw the maw around the glovebox lock, I couldn’t unsee it:

On the road, all trim levels represent a dynamic improvement over their predecessors. Body roll is particularly reduced in the LE and XLE. They still aren’t sporting propositions though – steering effort is lighter than average and tire grip is modest. In previous years, there was a large gap in dynamic traits between the LE and SE. I still prefer the SE tune overall, but the difference isn’t as pronounced anymore. (That’s a reflection of greater improvement in the LE, not a regression of the SE).

New two-stage brake boosters are offered on all trims and improve feel considerably. Pedal modulation is more precise than before but also generally softer than most competing midsizers. Brakes aside, the SE alleviates the above complaints about LE’s steering weight and body roll without inducing harshness. The suspension loads up nicely when pushed, and you can easily develop enough rapport with the car to independently feel what the front and rear tires are doing without resorting to extralegal speeds.

Mild driving won’t indicate much of a difference between the SE and XSE, but pressing the car hard reveals a genuinely greater performance envelope. Transition behavior is much crisper, and the steering stays truer when applying throttle to exit a corner. Toyota staffers indicated that CEO Akio himself had a say in the suspension tune. If you enjoy the SE, you’ll likely prefer the XSE.

No version of the Camry is dangerously slow (the hybrid is actually a bit quicker to 60 than the inline four), but the gas-only powertrain options, particularly the 2.5, are starting to show their age. Low-end performance of the 2.5 is softer than several competitors’ entry-level engines but is still less thrashy than the 2.5 Ford offers. Subjectively, I found the V6 much more competitive versus other upper-shelf segment offerings and continue to prefer it to most competing 2.0 turbos.

When considered as a whole, the 2015 Camry does not dominate in objective and subjective measures the way its 1992 forebear did. There is no “1992 Camry” in the marketplace today though – no competitor represents that kind of runaway engineering effort. In a segment noted for parity, the 2015 Toyota Camry represents an improved, still-safe choice that doesn’t quite reach for greatness.

Toyota provided airfare, accommodations and the tested vehicles for this review.

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  • Zach Zach on Nov 11, 2014

    If the 1997 was cheapened, than they did a good job hiding it, my 2001 is quiet, comfortable, and extremely reliable after 180,000 miles, bought it used with 20,000 miles in 2003, and can count the repairs because there was only one, the motor mount about 4 year's ago.

  • Akear Akear on Nov 13, 2014

    People are now buying this car out of habit. It the same reason people bought Citations in the early 80s.

  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.