Vellum Venom: 2017 Toyota Camry XLE

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
The common road-going distraction of DLO FAIL sometimes forces a discussion with my best friend from the car design world. While the raison d’etre for the series sadly left us over a decade ago, some cars take me back to our time together, as if his spirit never left. If you’ve experienced a similar loss, just know your lingering sorrows are not a burden you must bear alone. Put your brand of Venom on your personal Vellum — there’s plenty of room on the Internet for you.
The current Camry XLE isn’t poorly designed, it’s merely a shameful, cost-engineered remake of the XV-50 body‘s well-sorted wedges. The pedestrian-safe front clip lost the outgoing model’s clean wedge for a curvy, Smoke Gray lower grille offset by an amorphic chrome bar. It’s either a clever downmarket riff of the Lexus “spindle” grille theme, or the automotive equivalent of Homer Simpson’s five o’clock shadow.
The integral fog/signal light extend the lower grille’s form to the edge of the bumper, and its recess gives necessary depth to an otherwise tall and flat form. Considering the value of that Lexus grille branding tie-in, this isn’t a terrible execution. Give the chrome bar a smoother transition to the painted sections, perhaps tighter bends for a more discernible shape (i.e. less influenced by light and shadow), paint the five o’clock shadow body-color and it’d be appealing enough.
The amorphic chrome bar needs some amount of body color paint (with a chrome insert) for integration purposes. Right now it makes zero sense from any angle.
The fog/signal light’s form also complements the squinty high-beam headlights and keeps the low-beam projector assembly from visually hanging too far outward, as if disconnected from its eyeball socket. This actually looks like a wide and — dare I say — menacing front clip from this angle.
Just below the amber turn signal bulb (with corresponding textured blocks for light dispersion) is a jolting plastic wedge. I reckon it’s another aero enhancement, cleaning airflow to the end of the bumper.
It’s no Ferrari Testarossa, but the grille’s cleanly-chiseled strakes make natural light dance to a tune most pleasant to the eyeballs.
The same cannot be said for the dimpled background of the Toyota emblem. It looks… cheap.
Ditto this block off plate. Skip the multiple fake grille textures, or perhaps eliminate it and use a solid background. Designing a bumper that has no fake holes, only the right amount of negative area for airflow to those radiators? Fantastic idea!
Speaking of unnecessary, again, the chrome bar for no reason adds more visual confusion from this angle.
Computer-aided design likely made implementing a front license place on this grille a cakewalk. Good integration.
Pedestrian safety means the hood sports a rather tall forehead. A sign of the times!
The headlight doesn’t naturally transition from bumper to hood, adding a flatter plane likely for (yet again) better air flow over this big face.
A pretty yet aggressive fascia is only a normal grille away, as all the lines look muscular and assertive from this angle.
The small central power dome is more of a “power mohawk.” It adds excitement to an otherwise flat panel and makes a natural transition from the center emblem to the cowl.
But that big forehead? It transitions to that tall midsection, that blocky cowl, in a manner less elegant than other family sedans at this price.
The cowl may be tall, but the top is modest in its minimal amount of plastic trimming.
These sleek wiper blades are ridiculously well integrated with the wiper arm. If only we could buy these aftermarket for a couple bucks more than the usual aero-affairs.
The hood’s tall forehead transitions to a funny series of fender bends and body cut lines. This transition wouldn’t be necessary if the Camry’s cowl was 2-ish inches shorter.
The body side’s subtle contour makes for a counterintuitive ripple in the door cutline. Cutlines shouldn’t distract, it makes the body move “slower”.
Safe to assume this speedy appendage’s random-looking placement reduces wind noise around the A-pillar.
The B-pillar’s clean lines are slightly marred by the wavy, indecisive door cutline. Which stems from a wavy body cross-section. Then again, is there another choice with a body this tall?
Clean. And the aforementioned wavy transition at the top of the door panel adds necessary tension to an otherwise flabby side profile.
When bean counting goes wrong: this design clearly needed a glass panel, but black plastic ruled the roost. It’s a C-pillar DLO FAIL so laden with design studio disappointment even pre-bankruptcy General Motors be like, “Slow your roll, Son!”
Put another way, the XV-50’s C-pillar and fixed window transitioned poorly to this Camry. The fixed vent window’s static shape makes absolutely no sense against that organic piece of black/chrome fake window. But redesigning sheetmetal here would have cost some major cheddar: Pontiac Aztek levels of minivan-tweaking money, honey.
Quasi sporty, flat-faced spoked wheels are present and accounted for. The execution is neither offensive nor crude.
While surface tension around the door handles and the door’s strong character line near the rocker panels are appealing, you can’t hide the half-assed redesign. Toyota had corners to cut, and cut they did at the C-pillar.
That hard-edged C-pillar belongs in 2012, but at least the body contours give the appearance of flared fenders from this angle. Too bad the roof couldn’t get an organic curve like a 2016 Nissan Altima for integration purposes.
There’s a natural transition from side curves to the long and fluid form of the taillight. Note the hard transition below the taillight, dipping deep into the bumper.
This shape is emulated within the aerodynamic contouring of the taillights’ plastic lens. Nice touch!
This flat plane is a natural transition to the flatter decklid, and perhaps it works. But, like the hood’s tall forehead, the integration is not without a clumsy transition.
The Smoke Gray lower valence works well, with none of the controversy of the front bumper’s five o’clock shadow.
The integration of bumper, (gray) valence, taillights and the obligatory chrome mustache over the license plate is pleasant enough. But it’s milquetoast compared to the XV50’s angular aggression.
The chrome mustache phenomenon must end. Aping Jaguar, Rolls Royce, etc., is a step in the wrong direction for the family sedan’s future.
Thank goodness Toyota left breathing room around this decklid-mounted emblem. The XV40‘s emblem perch was precarious because of the trunk’s Chris Bangle homage.
Emblems shouldn’t live on pimples, either. (Nor should they throw their weight around a spoiler.) Push the Marketing Department’s request aside, design emblems around the confines of a body and not the other way around.
I appreciated the dealer-installed window tint, making the defroster grid’s 8-bit catacomb design more visible. Truly an Adventure for folks of a certain age!
The invisible window seal never fails to impress. If only every car design element was so infinitely integrated.
This could have been just a boring sedan, had Toyota spent the cash to redesign the C-pillar and the fixed vent window. Large chunks of the world got a redesigned Camry with the XV50’s spirit intact, without this cynical re-think.At least we have memories of the XV-50, especially that assertive SE. Thank you for reading, I hope you have a wonderful week!
[Images: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars, Toyota]
Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Mchan1 Mchan1 on Jul 20, 2017

    Toyota needs to fire its current designers. Also, it should reduce its vehicles designs from wind tunnel testing. The more fluidly crafted design makes the vehicles more aerodynamic and helps with fuel efficiency but it's Not pretty, for some/many!

  • Akear Akear on Jul 21, 2017

    Unlike GM and FCA, people actually want to buy Toyota cars. As Toyota and Lexus continue to innovate GM will continue to cut back on carlines and leave markets around the globe. Toyota can always say to themselves at least we are not GM. GM - what a disgrace!!!

  • Theflyersfan Given so many standard nav systems aren't the best and updating could mean a dealer trip, and I stream all music, Android Auto is an absolute must. Wireless isn't necessary and some wireless chargers overheat the phone. And there are some hacks that let YouTube stream on the screen - excellent for listening to concerts.
  • Jeff I going to guess by the condition of the body and interior that there is little to no rust on the frame. Appears to be a very well maintained car.
  • MaintenanceCosts Would not buy a new daily car without it.
  • Namesakeone I hate the thought, and I hope I'm wrong. Mazda. They're a small fish in a really big pond, and they made their reputation on sports cars--a market segment that nobody seems to want to buy new anymore.
  • Cprescott One of the last Mercedes worth buying.
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