Design, interior and infotainment
American car buyers love the Toyota Camry – enough to buy 429,355 vehicles in 2015 alone. It’s been the number one selling car in the US for the last 12 years, practically selling itself despite market preferences leaning toward sport utility and crossover utility vehicles.
The Camry is a vastly important vehicle for Toyota, but the competition is better than ever, which forced the company to fast track updates and upgrades to stay competitive. Toyota sent techradar a 2016 Camry XSE with its convenience package, navigation and JBL premium audio, its advanced technology package, a moonroof and integrated Qi wireless charging to test. All of that brought the MSRP to $31,560 (not available in the UK, AU$41,402 for the Altara SL trim with 18″ wheels and sport suspension option).
Toyota’s current-generation Camry initially launched as a 2012 model year (MY) vehicle, but it received an aggressive exterior makeover during its mid-cycle refresh for MY2015 to make the car more visually exciting. I personally don’t mind the styling too much. The Camry has an aggressive stance, especially in SE or XSE trims, which are the sportier-looking models, but Toyota left the green house (or the window layout of the car) alone.
If you park the current generation and the last two generations of Camry’s next to one another, the green house looks virtually the same. It may be nitpicking, but the aggressive styling from below the beltline (or below the side windows) doesn’t match with everything above, and that’s irksome. I prefer the subtle designs of the Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat over the Toyota Camry.
Reach for the door handle, and a sensor placed on the back of it unlocks the car. A press of the capacitive touch button locks the car. The unlock sensor and lock button are only available on the front doors, which is understandable for this segment. I’ve only seen rear door handles with locking and unlocking features in luxury cars, such as the Mercedes E-class.
Step inside, and you’re treated to an all-black interior with red stitching. The interior materials are mostly high-quality and come in a soft-touch finish. The hard plastic parts have a smooth matte coating that looks sharp, but doesn’t feel slippery or attract oily fingerprints.
I find the partial leather and ultrasuede seats provide plenty of side bolster and back support for my 5-foot-7-inch and 195-pound frame. The seat heaters get toasty quickly, too.
Look forward, and the Camry has standard analog gauges with an LCD sandwiched in between. The engine coolant temp gauge is a nice addition, so you can quickly tell if the engine is at operational temperature, which is a feature more new cars are removing. The LCD display provides a visual representation of the driver assists, music information, turn-by-turn directions and trip meter.
I don’t have any qualms with the Camry’s interior layout. Toyota has done a great job of keeping traditional buttons and knobs – just how I like an interior.
While I am nitpicking, I don’t like the giant font used on all the lettering. The font is easy to see and read, which is beneficial to your typical Camry driver, but I feel like a grandpa when driving it.
Driving infotainment in the Camry is a 7-inch Toyota Entune system with HD Radio, SiriusXM, USB and Bluetooth connectivity. Toyota claims the 7-inch touch screen display is high-resolution, which translates to 800 x 480. Despite the (in my opinion) low resolution, the display looks sharp and vibrant from the driver’s seat, most likely because the screen is driven by a digital interface instead of analog.
The home screen is quite bare but displays commonly accessible information, including music information, weather and a mini map. It’s customizable, too, but I left it in the default configuration.
Listening to SiriusXM and HD Radio is straightforward without any surprises. You can mix SiriusXM and HD Radio stations in a shared list of presets. Playing files from a flash drive is a terrible experience.
Toyota excluded a simple feature – browse your music by folder. I’m not sure how this slipped by, but you can’t navigate a USB drive by your own folder and file structure, which is ridiculous. It makes sense to search your music by track info from an iPhone, but I prefer to organize my flash drives the way I want it, with mix folders, not playlists.
Navigation functions are just like every other car in the mid-size segment. Heck, the mapping software and maps look very similar to the Kia Optima. There are no surprises here; the maps are flat but it works. The typical lock outs when the car is moving are in place, so you can’t enter a new destination when the car is moving. Voice commands are available, but they’re frustratingly terrible as they are in every other infotainment system.
Phone connectivity via Bluetooth works with my Motorola Nexus 6 and iPhone 6s. Text messaging is supported, but you’re limited to basic replies. You’re better off using Google Now or Siri anyways. Speaking of Siri, Eyes-free is supported with iPhones by holding down the voice recognition button.
There’s app support for iHeart Radio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora and Facebook Places. Toyota requires a dedicated Entune application installed on your phone with a login. Your Entune login lets you connect Entune to the supported applications.
It’s a mild annoyance, but with the Entune app, the car uses your phone as an internet connection instead of the app’s API, which would stream audio via Bluetooth with some quality loss. It provides Toyota with greater flexibility, but I’m not sold on the necessity.
Aside from Pandora and iHeartRadio, why would you bother with any of the other apps? The interface is slower and clunkier than using your phone.
Facebook Places support puzzles me the most. Why would I put the car in park, check in via the car and then shut the car off when I can shut the car off, get out, take a picture and then check in via Facebook on my phone.
Frankly, this shows how Toyota is disconnected from reality when it comes to infotainment system technologies. There is absolutely no reason to access these apps from the car, but Toyota refuses to support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay and wants to do its own thing, unfortunately.
Rounding out the infotainment system is the integrated Qi wireless charger, installed in the cubby below the climate controls. A button with status light turns the charger on or off. Unfortunately, my Motorola Nexus 6 was too big for the charger, so I was unable to test it out. However, it’s a Qi charger, so if your phone fits, it should charge.
JBL GreenEdge sound and driver assists
Toyota taps JBL for the branded premium audio system in the Camry. The JBL GreenEdge sound system consists of eight channels powering 10 speakers – kind of. The claim of 10 speakers includes a pair of 3.25-inch coaxial speakers in the dash with an integrated 0.75-inch tweeter, 6 x 9-inch woofers in the front doors, 3.25-inch mid-range speakers in the rear deck and a 6 x 9-inch subwoofer, also in the rear deck.
In reality, it’s eight total speakers with 10 drivers. An external amplifier sends up to 576 watts of power to the entire system. The JBL GreenEdge system focuses on delivering an improved audio experience with less weight and power consumption.
As much as I enjoy listening to most Harman audio systems, I did not enjoy the JBL GreenEdge at all. The sound signature resembles that of Bose systems, which is a muddy mess with no depth or warmth when it comes to the low bass notes. The mids and highs are unremarkable, too.
The Camry I spent time with features the advanced technology package, which includes automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning (LDW) and adaptive cruise control (ACC), in addition to the separate blind spot monitor (BSM) option. Toyota names its AEB technology the Pre-Collision System, which uses the radar from the ACC to detect the distance of the car ahead. If the car senses a collision is imminent, it can apply the brakes to prevent an accident.
AEB isn’t a feature I can safely test on the road, but I assume it works as advertised. Toyota does let you adjust the sensitivity of AEB through a simple button – there’s no need to navigate submenus in the gauge cluster LCD or infotainment system.
Toyota’s LDW is a passive system that sounds off audible and visual alerts if you drift out of the lane. There’s no setting to adjust the sensitivity of the LDW, unfortunately. One welcome feature within the Camry’s LDW is that it displays a message on the gauge cluster LCD that tells you it only works at speeds above 32 miles per hour (mph), in case you forget.
ACC in the Camry is disappointing. It only functions at speeds above 25 mph, like the Volkswagen Passat. That’s great for cruising along the highway, but doesn’t help if you’re stuck in stop and go traffic.
Toyota doesn’t include the blind-spot monitor with cross path detection in the advanced technology package, but offers it separately. The Camry’s blind-spot detection features an indicator integrated into the side mirrors that flashes, in addition to a warning sound to alert of a car in your blind spot. It works well enough, and you can easily turn it off with a button if you don’t want to use it.
Performance and living with it
Toyota offers the Camry with an optional 3.5-liter V6 with 268 horsepower (hp) and 248 pound-feet (lb-ft) of torque. The car techradar received to test was equipped with the base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 178 hp and 170 lb-ft, unfortunately. Both engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the base four cylinder. It delivers plenty of low-end torque, so the car doesn’t feel dreadfully slow. There’s adequate power for passing others on the freeway. While the more powerful V6 would have been more fun, the 2.5-liter has plenty of power for your average commuter while returning 25 and 35 miles per gallon in the city and highway.
The 6-speed automatic transmission Toyota uses was extremely smooth in normal drive and sport modes. I can’t tell when the transmission is shifting during my regular driving, unless I am focused on it. Paddle shifters are available if you want to shift yourself, but I left the car in sport mode through most of my driving.
Smooth powertrain aside, the Camry XSE features a sport-tuned suspension for better handling, theoretically. I find the suspension too stiff, which resulted in some body aches and pains.
The car still provides excellent road feel with precise steering, but there’s quite a bit of understeer (not turning enough) when pushing it on freeway on ramps. The Kia Optima drives better, with a much more comfortable ride.
Living with the car
I typically work with Diono for test-fitting child car seats in cars. However, the week I tested the Camry for review was during the holidays, so Diono wasn’t available. Nevertheless, I have two younger kids and a Diono Radian RXT that I installed myself in the Camry.
My experience was not good, unfortunately. The Camry has lower LATCH anchors on the two outboard seats and top anchors for all three spots. I installed my car seat via the lower LATCH anchors easily, however, there’s typically a 65-pound weight limit for these installations. When your child is older, the car seat needs to be belted in using the car seatbelt.
Due to the placement of the Camry’s belt buckle, I was unable to install the Radian RXT securely. The belt buckle sits higher than the belt loop of the car seat, and held up with a steel plate. There was no way to twist the buckle to lower it, which Diono suggested during other car seat fittings.
Ultimately, with the belt buckle placement, I don’t believe that the Camry can fit three car seats. You may have better luck with other car seats, but the Diono Radian RXT will not install with the vehicle seat belt.
A former Toyota representative once told me, “the Camry is a safe purchase. No one will ever say you made a bad decision, but no one will ever commend you for it either.”
This statement holds true after my week with the Toyota Camry. It’s not a bad car, but it’s not exciting either. The technology that Toyota employs, both for infotainment and driver assists, while still new-ish for the midsize sedan segment, already feels outdated compared to its hungrier competitors.
I really liked the seats in the Camry XSE. They provide support in the right places for me, and the adjustable lumbar helps reduce lower back pains. The seats have excellent side bolster support for aggressive driving. The ultrasuede inserts don’t get as cold or hot as pure leather seats do either, which my bum appreciates during the winter.
Toyota’s blind spot monitor is simple and effective. It helps a lot when driving at night in the pouring rain, because you never know when someone forgot to put on their headlights and is in your blind spot.
After driving the latest Camry, I can see the appeal of it. The powertrain is sleep-inducingly smooth. The 6-speed automatic is one of the smoothest shifting transmissions I’ve ever driven. Toyota’s 2.5-liter, four-cylinder motor never feels underpowered either.
Adaptive cruise control in the Camry was disappointing. While Hyundai, Kia, Mazda and even Nissan offer full-speed-range adaptive cruise control that can stop the car in its mid-size vehicles, Toyota gives the Camry a system that turns off at speeds below 25 mph. This makes it worthless for frustrating stop-and-go traffic commutes.
The infotainment system was designed to check off as many boxes as possible regarding features, without any usability studies. I’m not sure how Toyota managed to leave out something so simple as being able to browse a flash drive by folder. There’s also a ton of phone-connected apps, but most of them are worthless, unless you want to use software that’s clunkier and slower than your phone.
My last disappointment is the suspension. While I like how the SE and XSE visual treatments look compared to the other models, the sport suspension that comes with it is too stiff. I never thought I’d complain about a Toyota being uncomfortable, but there’s a first time for everything. I wouldn’t be too opposed to a stiffer suspension if it made the car handle incredibly, but it doesn’t, so the Camry SE and XSE just makes you suffer with minimal gains.
As a car enthusiast, the Camry is everything that’s wrong with the car buying public, but not everyone is an enthusiast. It’s a boring car that does nothing to bring excitement or advancement to the mid-size sedan segment, despite how bold Toyota wants you to think the car is with its advertising campaigns.
However, the Camry is a car for those that want a reliable means of transportation with some amenities, without being cutting edge. The best metaphor I can make for the Camry is that it’s like when I buy new shoes. I’ve purchased the same pair of DC Court Graffik shoes multiple times since 2005, occasionally going with a different color combination or shoelace color.
That’s how I imagine the Camry demographic is. It’s the same reliable car your grandparents and parents bought, and passed down to you, but when it was getting long in the tooth, you traded up to a newer one that’s familiar, but slightly different. While it’s not how I choose to buy cars, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being that type of buyer.
Infotainment and driver assist technologies aside, the Camry is a fine car. It’s not necessarily the sexiest or most dynamic, but you can’t really go wrong with it, if you want the generic definition of a car. If you’re willing to give other brands a try, there are better-driving cars out there, like the Mazda 6, and more technologically-advanced cars, like the Kia Optima and Honda Accord.
If you must stick with the Toyota Camry, I suggest forgoing the better looks of the SE or XSE trim levels for the comfort of the XLE.