For 2015, Toyota decided to take the Camry up a notch and what it has created with its XSE V6 trim is pretty much unrivaled in the segment. For about three decades, Toyota’s Camry has been the top-ranked sedan by most measures. Sure, Toyota sells more Camrys than any other car maker sells similar vehicles, but there is more to it than that. Camry is frequently chosen as a “Best Buy” or “Best Value” and it wins its share of comparisons. Toyota, the brand, ranks at the top of practically every quality survey, and these two factors, the car’s excellence and the company’s reputation, are what made the Camry so special in the past. With this new XSE V6, there is a lot more to the Camry than ever before.
2015 Camry XSE – A New Trim Level
In the past, Camry shoppers chose either a base model, a hybrid, a luxury Camry or a sporty looking Camry. Separating out the base and hybrid for economic reasons always made sense, but why not meld the luxury and sporty aspects together? Perhaps the reason was that was that was the job Lexus was created to do. The debate is now moot because the new XSE trim, particularly with the optional 268 horsepower V6, now brings all the luxury and all the sporty bits into one package. And it is fantastic.
The Camry XSE V6 is fun to drive aggressively, pampers the owner when what he or she wants is just to relax, and also brings a new level of looks, poise and content to the mid-size front-drive family sedan market. The Camry XSE V6 is not inexpensive. The MSRP of our tester was $35,768. However, the Camry XSE is a very high-value vehicle as we will explain.
Camry XSE V6 – The Drive
Let’s just get one thing out of the way. If you read a review of a Camry that uses the term “boring” you are either reading a review by a writer that didn’t do their job, or the Camry you are reading about is the base economy model. This Camry flies. Driving a car that can spin both tires when floored at 40 mph, as this Camry can do, is not a boring experience. From a stand-still, the Camry can leap off the line with the same urgency that an Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, or any other mid-size premium model can. The Camry’s V6 is perhaps the best V6 on the market right now in any family sedan. The throttle tip-in is perfect. When you want to just start off normally, it is sedate and smooth. If you want to step out rapidly, but smoothly, say to turn ahead of oncoming traffic, the throttle is easy to modulate, and you can move quickly with no drama. If you want to embarrass a BMW 320 in a stoplight race, the Camry can be a very fast car.
The 3.5 liter V6 in the Camry XSE is so smooth it is barely audible in normal driving. It is vibration free, and it revs willingly. It feels alive when given some throttle, and if you floor it, it growls like a gruffalo and makes you want to do that again. The 6-speed automatic is an ideal match. Shifts are smooth and not noticeable in normal day to day driving. You never feel like you are caught in the wrong gear like you often do in almost every family car with a 4-cylinder engine. From a stop, the engine provides very linear power – and a lot of it. It is the exact opposite of a BMW 2.0-liter turbo or Audi 2.0-liter turbo. There is no lag and power comes linearly.
The Camry XSE can be shifted manually. There are two basic ways to do this and anyone with a Lexus IS 350, or RC 350 will find the description familiar. The first way is simply to use the paddle shifters behind the wheel. Pull the left paddle and the car downshifts. However, unlike most cars, the Camry will hold that gear a long time. Until the driving speed drops so low that it no longer makes sense. Most cars in this class and many supposed sports sedans, instead only obey the driver’s command for a moment and then revert to “drive.” If you are cruising along at say 40 mph and pull the paddle a couple of times quickly, the Camry rev-matches the two downshifts you called for. It is inviting, and it puts the engine in the power band so you can make the most of this car.
The second way to shift manually is used if you might be doing some sporty driving. Tap the gear shift lever to the left and the Camry locks-out gears 5 and 6. Toyota started this on its Lexus vehicles, and it is simple and smart. Starting at “4” just makes sense. The driver then uses the paddles to shift up and down. Or one can use the gear shift lever. The Camry is ready to play if you are.
Camry XSE – Road Feel, Handling, Braking
In the context of a front-drive road car, as opposed to say a track-ready rear-drive car, it is hard not to call the Camry XSE V6 perfect. The steering is communicative, and it has no odd feelings like most electronic steering systems on family cars do. It is perfectly weighted too. Not over-boosted as on most family sedans, and not sluggish and under-boosted like on some V6 Accords I have driven (and owned). The 19”, low-profile tires are a match for the car’s personality. You feel the road nicely, but bumps and imperfections are not a problem. This is very unusual for Toyota, which even in some Lexus models, spoils a good ride with harshness on top trim levels. Turn into a corner sharply, and the car inspires confidence. Over very rough patches, the car swallows up the holes, and there are no harsh impacts and no drama. In normal driving, the ride is smooth and quiet.
The brake pedal on this Camry is the best I have felt in any Toyota. Most Toyotas (including those I have owned) have a brake pedal that is just too squishy. This one is firm, and the modulation (stopping power per strength of your foot press) is very linear and just right. Again, Toyota nails it.
Camry XSE – Interior and Exterior Details to Note
I’m not a writer that wastes a lot of words telling you what you should see when you look at a car. However, I will say this; I drive a lot of cars, and I have tested the Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata, Chrysler 200S and Ford Fusion in the past couple of months. This Camry is not significantly better looking, nor plainer than any of those. It is a decent looking car. My eye likes the Mazda6 best in this group, but Mazda does not make a family sedan with anywhere near this amount of power.
Inside, the XSE is different in some ways from other Camrys. It has the simple to use and close to plain looking dash and infotainment that all Camrys can have, but the seats and door panels are trimmed in Ultrasuede. Ultrasuede is also marketed as Alcantara in premium cars. If you have not felt this material, you are going to be thrilled when you do. It is soft like cloth, rich like suede and it breaths. In combination with the super-powered seat heaters, it makes the car feel snug and cozy. When you play with the Camry and toss it into corners or brake hard, the Ultrasuede is grippy and holds you in place. No other car in its segment has this. In fact, no other mainstream car offers Ultrasuede or Alcantara. To get this, you need to look to supercars like the Acura NSX or special versions of cars like the Viper.
Camry XSE V6 Value, Fuel Economy, Cost
Like all Toyotas, the 2015 Camry XSE comes with 2-years of free maintenance. Fuel economy is rated at 21 mpg city/ 31 highway/ 25 combined, and the V6 takes regular unleaded. In my mixed suburban and winter highway driving, I saw 28 mpg. This is much better than sports sedans, but not as good as a 4-cylinder family car, of course. Notably, it is almost exactly the same as the 2.0-liter turbocharged Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0 T. That car has a 1 mpg advantage according to the EPA, but if you actually push it around in the way I do with cars with great engines, it returns less. I got 26 mpg in similar driving in my recent test. I do think the Sonata has the best 2.0-liter turbo engine in the market right now (yes, the whole entire market), but a modern V6 matches a smaller turbo for real-life fuel economy, and is more powerful and responsive. Why settle?
Factoring in Toyota’s unrivaled reputation for durability, quality, and reliability and what else is there to say about this fun-to-drive family car? Safety! The 2015 Toyota Camry is an IIHS Top Safety Pick plus when outfitted with its optional forward collision preventions system, which my tester had. There is no higher safety rating, and Accord and Fusion can’t match it.
$36K may sound like a lot for a Camry, but this Camry compares to an Audi A4 or Acura TLX very nicely. Within its normal peer group (Accord, Mazda6, Fusion, Altima, Sonata, Chrysler 200), there is not much that can match it.
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