American’s clearly have a love affair with pickup trucks and SUVs these days, which is sort of unfortunate. Redesigned for the 2018 model year, the eight-generation Toyota Camry is the best one yet and handedly one of the best midsize sedans on the market, or at least what is left of the midsize sedan market.
Recent generations of the Camry have arguably over-indexed on functionality when it comes to the spectrum between form and function. Each Camry iteration did a great job at checking all the boxes required for a logical mode of transportation, but virtually never got one’s blood pressure up, for better of worse. Toyota aimed to change that with the 2018 redesign and our 2019 XSE tester validates the effort.
“That’s a Camry?”
Perhaps the best validation of the 2019 Camry’s appeal comes from a complete bystander. While taking our white Camry XSE with black roof through a local Starbucks drive-thru, the barista in the window examines the car and says, “That’s a Camry? Wow.”
The 20-something female was obviously intrigued by the Camry’s design, further enamored by the fire engine red leather interior. We’re equally impressed with the car’s aggressive exterior appearance, particularly the blacked-out roof and pillars, which is credited to a vinyl decal that may look questionable after 10 years of soaking up the sun. Toyota finishes off the XSE model with a mild body kit and additional black accents that really set off the pearl white paint of our tester.
New, Bigger Bones
Based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, this Camry is actually the largest ever, making its aggressive exterior design even more eyebrow-raising. The larger canvas generally makes it more difficult to wow with design when it comes to front-wheel-drive architectures, but Toyota has clearly made the most of this one.
The larger stature is felt inside the Camry, which has ample room for five passengers. In fact, passengers cresting six-foot should have no problem getting comfortable in the front or rear of the Camry, but headroom can get tight in the rear due to the aggressive slope on the Camry’s greenhouse.
In terms of comfort, we noted the Camry’s seat design is one that seems to fit nearly anyone, which is a plus. The larger footprint has also yielded a cabin that feels more like a full-size sedan versus other midsizers, particularly in the rear and overall width of the entire interior. The front footwells are also quite large; a trait we’ve noticed in most of the TNGA products.
The spacious canvas that is the Camry interior looks attractive enough. Like the exterior, Toyota designers took some risks when it comes to overall shaping. The center stack is a very unique shape that has a touch of visual drama; highlighted further by our tester’s bright red leather.
In typical Toyota fashion, the functionality of the Camry interior is spot-on. The controls are clear to understand and they’ve kept button sets to a minimum. Our only real complaint with the instrument panel is the capacitive touch buttons Toyota has put around the edge of its infotainment touchscreen. While they serve their purpose, you have to look at them to know you’re selecting the right button. Merge the touch controls with an infotainment display that is arguably too low and it is not an ideal scenario.
The screen and its surrounding black trim brings up another questionable trait with the Camry interior. While it is visually appealing and functional enough, it isn’t winning any awards when it comes to material quality. Our tester’s interior was, quite literally, a sea of plastic. To be clear, all of the dash panel materials are comprised of a material quality on-part with the car’s price point, but the decor pieces are all just hard plastics.
While the materials may be suitable for base model Camry’s, one would assume our near $40,000 example would have at least marginally better materials.
As the price tag foreshadows, the Camry XSE is loaded up with features. Every Camry comes with Toyota Safety Sense, which includes active safety features such as pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and automatic high-beams. Toyota deserves some props for putting this suite of features standard on every model.
The XSE model adds some more frivolous features, such as a color heads-up display, surround view camera system and panoramic sunroof. Our tester’s black roof and red interior also add to the overall sticker price, though XSE V-6 buyers have fairly easy choices as Toyota has only one optional package to add to the car.
The power of six
One such decision buyers will have to make is whether or not to opt for the optional V-6 engine. Our tester was equipped with the V-6, which almost feels nostalgic in an era in which hardly any midsize sedans offer six-cylinders. The V-6 is Toyota’s well-known 3.5-liter with 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, enough to allow the Camry to match its sporty exterior with actual sport.
When the Camry was redesigned in 2018 Toyota added direct fuel injection onto the V-6’s previous port injection, this upped the power game to the point this Camry can sprint from zero to 60 mph in about 5.8 seconds. And the entire time this mill is spinning, it lets out a surprisingly good exhaust note that–again–matches that aggressive exterior design.
The V-6’s power is sent through an eight-speed automatic that is well-behaved under normal driving conditions. Where this transmission falls short is under spirited driving, which brings out the rather slow response times this automatic exhibits. That said, most buyers are unlikely to be bothered by this engine and transmission combination.
So, does the handling match the power?
Short answer, yes. The Camry XSE proves to be as dynamic as it is powerful. Despite having a traditional suspension setup, the XSE strikes a great balance between athleticism and comfort without fancy adaptive dampers. At no point does the car exhibit excessive body roll; shocking given its large footprint. It also avoids feeling excessively front-heavy, which can be a problem with front-wheel-drive midsizers.
We tested the Mazda6 directly after the Camry and found the two were remarkably similar in terms of handling, a badge of honor for the Camry. The primary difference between the two sedans is that the Mazda feels a little lighter-footed than the Camry, but even that is highly subjective.
Marrying form and function
Ultimately the Camry is best cross-shopped against the Mazda6 and Honda Accord. All three sedans are excellent choices, with the Mazda having an edge in terms of uniqueness and the Honda having a slight edge in handling and powertrain components (its 10-speed automatic is fantastic).
The biggest challenge for this Camry is convincing folks that this one is the first one to actually master a balance between form and function. It’s attractive enough to command attention from the right-brain, but still has the safety features and gadgets to remain a logical, left-brain purchase.
Those wanting a great midsize sedan that still offers a V-6 option, the Camry XSE is one of the few (and best) choices left.