The seventh-generation Toyota Camry seeks to build on the virtues that have made it the best-selling midsize sedan in America for 14 of the past 15 years. Increased space and fuel efficiency (especially in the Camry Hybrid model) along with new safety and technology features make the Camry a sensible albeit sedate choice in a crowded and competitive segment, while a sporty SE model caters to performance-conscious drivers with a stiffer suspension setup.
After launching as a new model in 2012, the Camry gained several equipment tweaks and interior refinements for the latest model year.
Inside, soft-touch door panels replace the hard plastic units found on the outgoing model. The change applies to all trim levels except the entry-level Camry L. The L and the LE trims do gain Toyota's Display Audio system (detailed below) as standard equipment, however.
Finally, Toyota is adding a rear cross traffic alert to 2013 Camry models equipped with the automaker's Blind Spot Monitor system.
Toyota decided not to mess with success in terms of the foundations of the Camry and has kept its basic platform intact. The latest model stretches 189.2 inches from heel to toe and rides on a 109.3 inch wheelbase. A few changes to the interior give it marginally more passenger space and careful repositioning of the headliner and B-pillar trim covers help give an increased sense of space.
The latest Camry's exterior styling is edgier than that of models in past years, though it's still unlikely to elicit strong opinions. The interior features higher-quality materials, a stitched dashboard panel on all models as well as a center stack designed to resemble high-end electronics.
Four or Six Cylinders, Your Choice
Unlike many rivals, Toyota continues to offer both four and six-cylinder power for the current model year. The volume engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that puts out 178 horsepower (173 horsepower in PZEV models offered in some markets) and 170 lb-ft. of torque (165 lb-ft. for the PZEV). The motor sips fuel at the rate of 25 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.
SE and XLE models are available with a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft. of torque. Running on regular unleaded, this engine returns EPA figures of 21/30 mpg while powering the Camry to an impressive zero-to-60 mph time of less than six seconds.
Both engines are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions exclusively. A formerly standard manual gearbox is no longer available.
The Tech Edge
In the increasingly competitive realm of in-car connectivity, Toyota thinks it has the hand with its application-based Entune system. Two flavors are available: A simpler "display audio" system found in L, LE, SE and XLE models and a more advanced "premium" system reserved only for XLEs.
The "display audio" system features a 6.1-inch touchscreen display. The "premium" system includes a larger, higher-resolution 7-inch touchscreen and its own menuing system. Navigation functionality is offered on all but the base L Camry.
Entune offers apps like Bing search services, iheartradio.com and Pandora music and concierge services like OpenTable and movietickets.com.
Model Breakdown: The Nitty-Grity
The Camry is available in four different trim levels: L, LE, SE, and XLE.
The L trim, despite being the bargain basement model in terms of price, still offers power windows, A/C, a six-speaker sound system with a USB port that supports iPod connectivity, power mirrors, the aforementioned 6.1-inch "display audio" system and 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.
Stepping up to the LE adds keyless entry, phone pairing via Bluetooth and a backup camera.
The sportiest of Camrys, the SE brings 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-trimmed sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, color-keyed front and rear underbody spoilers, sport side rocker panels, a color-keyed rear spoiler, chrome-tipped exhaust and a sport-tuned suspension.
The top-level XLE includes integrated fog lamps, color-keyed power heated outside mirrors, a power moonroof, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, dual zone front automatic climate control, a larger screen for the backup camera, leather-trimmed tilt/telescopic four-spoke steering wheel with a Multi-Information Display and voice-command controls.
Optional features are plentiful and can be bundled together in myriad combinations. Buyers can choose from heated, power-adjustable leather seats, a smart key system with push-button start, an auto-dimming rear view mirror with a compass and an alarm system, a navigation system and a JBL premium audio system with 10 speakers.
Let's Talk Safety
Regardless of trim level, the Camry offers ten airbags: dual front, side, knee, seat-cushion and rear-side airbags, to be exact. ABS, traction and stability control systems are standard, as is a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist and seats designed to lessen the likelihood of whiplash round out the Camry's safety features.
Optional safety features include a blind-spot warning system and rear cross traffic alert, which warns the driver of objects in the Camry's path during backup maneuvers.
Before pulling the trigger on a Camry, those looking for a mid-size sedan should also consider the revamped Volkswagen Passat, which boasts a spacious interior and an optional diesel motor that returns over 40 mpg. The aging but athletic Nissan Altima is also worth a look, as is the sleek and value-laden Kia Optima.