Kona, Hawaii—Something different and a little bit wonderful has happened with the 2015 Toyota Camry. Rather than the usual cautious and predictable revisions in the middle of its product cycle, nearly one-third of the parts are new. Toyota has received a directive from its leader Akio Toyoda to make better cars, and when we look at the freshly tailored bodywork and re-costumed interior of the 2015 Toyota Camry, we take his acolytes’ statements to that effect at face value. Leading the midsize segment in sales for 12 years evidently isn’t enough. Competition on all sides, including from above as German brands probe the $35,000 price point, has Toyota on the move.
As we found when testing several 2015 Toyota Camry models on the northern part of Hawaii, the myriad changes result in an experience that’s as refined and pleasing as a front-wheel-drive car can hope to be. In cruising through lava fields and across volcanic slopes on the 50th State’s largest island, the Camry represented a 50-state consensus as to what an American sedan should be. Floridians, Vermonters, and Montanans will find it just as pleasing as will the paniolo—those cow-punchers of the island’s grazing lands 2500 feet above sea level.
“With Camry, what we do, is offer different flavors,” said the enthusiastic chief engineer Monte Kaehr. And because Kaehr and his team at Toyota Technical Center and Calty Design Research have done such a thorough job of differentiation, none of the flavors—not even vanilla—is boring.
What’s new for 2015
Except for the roof, all of the Camry’s sheet metal is new for 2015. (This fact alone makes the mid-cycle refresh more like an all-new model.) The impressive hood is self-importantly creased, and lines extend dramatically from its edges to the A-pillars. Another articulation gives the flanks a heretofore unknown tautness and allows light to play over the surfaces. The LE and XLE models wear a simple, appealing horizontal bar with the trapezoidal grille, which the Avalon and Corolla have made familiar. Meantime, the faces of the SE and new XSE receive a filling of honeycomb mesh. Headlamps are simple yet bold, and tail lamps slash across the rear corners. The use of chrome is restrained.
A close walkaround reveals all this, but we finally put it together when we came upon a Camry by surprise—another preproduction prototype on the test loop, which caused us to think, “Wow, that’s a Camry?” We are unused to any middleweight musculature from Toyota; yet, the new car seems right at home on this coast that hosts the Ironman World Championship triathlon.
What isn’t visible are the additional spot welds in the 2015 Toyota Camry’s cowl area, performance-enhancing touches by a loving electrode to make the structure more rigid. As the result, spring and shock rates could be revised, with unique tuning for each model. In the LE and LSE, the responses are relaxed without being flaccid. The SE and XSE are alert without being hyper, firm without jostling. Steering responses also correspond.
Another aspect that’s easy to overlook is the low coefficient of drag: 0.28 for gas-engine models and 0.27 for hybrids. The side mirrors are moved out five millimeters to clean up some vortices, and the tail, with its discreet spoiler, is likewise aerodynamically cleaner. These factors, along with 30 percent more insulating material, give driver and passengers a quiet, distraction-free cabin, one just begging to be overwhelmed by the firm bass and clear midrange of the available 10-speaker premium audio system.
Nothing changes dimensionally, yet everything we touched inside was new and different. (Only the upper dash covering and the package shelf carry over.) Comfortably established in the eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, we grasped the steering wheel that has touchplate controls on each horizontal spoke.
In models above the LE, a 4.2-inch multi-informational screen is now located between the handsome tachometer and speedometer. A 6.1-inch center-console screen (7.0-inch with V-6 models) presents navigational, climate, and audio displays as well as applications for Pandora radio, Yelp guides, and, soon, Slacker radio, among others. Wireless phone charging in the bottom of the center stack is available. Even in the LE, the dashboard covering is attractively stitched, which establishes a premium feeling.
Across all trim levels, the finishes are generally attractive, although we would prefer fewer satin-chrome pieces. The XSE’s microsuede seat and door inserts are right on the money.
The mix still includes hybrids
All gas-only 2015 Toyota Camry models come with a standard 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine that generates 178 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. A 3.5-liter V-6 producing 268 hp and 248 lb-ft is available with the XLE and XSE. All variants have a six-speed automatic. Hybrid models, which account for about eight percent of sales, have the four-cylinder, which in this application makes 156 hp and 156 lb-ft.
• LE/LE Hybrid ($23,795/$27,615) have 16-inch steel wheels, fabric-trimmed seats, and the subscription-free Entune audio system with a 2500-contact phone book. Analog instrumentation in the gas-only LE is upgraded to Optitron (LED-backlit) gauges in the Hybrid.
• SE/SE Hybrid ($24,665/$28,820) have 17-inch alloy wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, Optitron gauges, and Entune.
• XLE/XLE Hybrid ($26,975/$30,805) include daytime running lights, optional automatic high-beam control, 17-inch chrome alloy wheels, leather-trimmed interior, and Entune Audio Plus. The V-6 ($31,370 plus $825 S&H) gets LED headlamps and Entune Premium Audio.
• XSE ($26,975) picks up 18-inch black-and-silver alloy wheels, dual exhaust outlets, and leather-and-microsuede interior trim. In keeping with the idea of Big Kahuna-ism, the V-6 ($32,195) also has the LED headlamps and Entune Premium Audio.
It should be noted that despite all the XLE’s merits, its undeniably rich upholstery was outclassed by the leather we found when visiting a paniolo saddle shop in Waimea.
What’s the story with old powertrains?
A few omissions are hard to explain. Why does the trunk lid lack an integrated inner grab handle for closing? Are ventilated front seats being held back until the eighth-generation?
Additionally, for all the refinements, the 2015 Toyota Camry offers nothing new under the hood. We mentioned this to Monte Kaehr, who responded in a way he was never taught at Purdue’s engineering school. His eyes lit up, and he pulled out a tattered copy of Consumer Reports, flipping it open to a page showing the Camry besting all comers—turbocharged, direct-injected, or not—in fuel economy.
“We’re actually really proud of the current set of powertrains,” Kaehr said. “We looked at that. We have some options within the Toyota lineup that we could have used. But for this size car, with the customer’s expectations—the acceleration, the drivability, the smoothness—we feel that what we have is still the best set for the segment today. A lot of people have gone with two-liter turbos as a way of replacing V-6s. If you look at the numbers, there’s not a great reason to do that. Our V-6 beats them in all categories.”
Something of a sleeper
Indeed, the XSE V-6, the model we would want, is consistently pleasurable and rewarding. It brings to mind the 1989 Ford Taurus SHO. Something of a sleeper, it promises excellent commuting along with a sportive yield for the weekend. Even while loafing through Hawaii’s cow (and feral goat) country, it demonstrated a level of excellence to defy most anyone’s Camry bias.
By re-blending familiar ingredients and creating the Camry XSE, Toyota has produced the triple dip of pineapple, coconut, and macadamia nut that practical people have been quietly calling for.