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First drive: 2015 Toyota Camry [Review]

by Mark Elias

Toyota is looking to keep its Camry at the head of the mid-size class with a host of updates for 2015.

Toyota has discovered that sporty looks and sex appeal sell. Getting behind the wheel of the 2015 Toyota Camry SE has shown us that the brand has turned to acknowledge that fact. With around 45-percent of buyers opting for the sportier SE-trim, and those buyers checking in nearly 12-years younger than a typical Camry buyer, the brand from Toyota City might really be on to something. With the competition turning sexier and swoopier, it was time for a change.

But that does not relieve them of the reality that they still need a "halo" car to help bring customers into dealer showrooms. But we digress.

Can 10.2-million buyers be wrong?

With 10.2-million units sold and a claimed 6.6-million still on the road, the Camry has been a success any way you look at it. Still, Toyota executives have heeded consumers' wishes for a newer design with more appeal and decided just three years in to the current car's life-cycle that it was time for some major changes. According to Toyota, this new eighth-generation Camry includes more than 2,000 new parts. Built in Georgetown, Kentucky, USA, it features 75-percent North American content and an exterior that is completely new except for its carryover roof.

In addition to the new design, there is a new trim level called the XSE. Riding alongside the high-tone XLE model, both are available with a base 178 horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 170 lb-ft of torque. The EPA rates the 2.5L at 25mpg in the city and 35mpg on the highway. While it will be the flavor of choice for most Camry buyers (nearly 90-percent), power users can specify a 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 248 lb-ft of torque and gets mileage of 21 city/31 highway. Both engines are mounted in a front-wheel-drive (FWD) configuration and are mated to a six-speed ECT-i automatic transmission.

Finally for those with tree-hugger credentials, there is a Camry Hybrid. All the various models will be available in base LE trim, followed by the SE sport trim, the upper deck XSE model and the XLE premium model. The Hybrid will only be available in LE, SE and XLE variants.

Premium Athletic

Although the appearance of the new 2015 Camry features an aggressive new Premium Athletic look that does its part to convey a sense of fun, over what has previously been described as a sense of appliance. We see a "Honey, I enlarged the Corolla!" moment in there, too. Key to the new design is a newer, more aggressive grille area that shows off a wider stance, and in the case of the SE and XSE grade, a mesh-style air intake below the bumper, while the LE and XLE have a more refined five-bar opening that looks more the upscale part that their buyers would likely appreciate.

While the XLE and XSE models use LED headlamps with auto-leveling, other models feature tried and true halogens. The Camry's flanks are now defined by bold character lines, which work to impart a more contemporary appearance than seen on the outgoing model. So much attention has been paid to this new Camry that even the taillight lenses have vortex generators on them to help stabilize the aerodynamics off the rear of the car.

Sleeker, longer, firmer.

In addition to the 2015 Camry's new, sleeker look, it has grown slightly longer to the tune of 1.8- inches, and has received additional spot welds for an increase in torsional rigidity. With the increased firmness, Toyota retuned the suspension throughout all trim levels, for improved handling and bump suppression. It was just the thing for the less-than-ideal road surfaces found on the big island of Hawaii, where we tested the car. With roads that ran the gamut from choppy to pristine, we found a car that managed to keep occupants and their insides relatively intact.

Chassis engineers had their way with the new unibody and managed to improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels for added quiet inside the cabin. Using an acoustic windshield, foam inserts, and cast foam in the floor carpeting has helped to reduce in-cabin noise and vibration by 29-percent.

Continued widespread use of a McPherson strut system in front with a multilink independent rear suspension helped to keep things simple on this new Camry. As with the previous model year, the tiller is controlled by an electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion setup.

Interior Re-Do

Though it maintains most of the seventh-generation interior dimensions throughout, the Camry's insides have undergone a re-do that includes more refined fabric seating surfaces, a well-sorted dashboard, better audio and higher quality switch gear. The steering wheel starts as a soft-touch model in the base LE and graduates to a French-stitch leather-wrapped affair with higher quality redundant buttons to operate navigation, audio and Bluetooth connectivity. Along the way, Toyota added a new JBL Audio System with a 7-inch display screen. Various models are also equipped with one of the first applications of a wireless charging station.

Soft touch materials are located throughout, and some even show up in two-toned style, according to the particular trim level. Slightly bolstered front seats provide adequate lateral support, while the rear seat offers copious amounts of legroom for extended lengths of cross-country cruising. Opt for the sportier SE model to get better seating and materials inside. Attention to detail also extends to the 15.4-cubic foot trunk, which now features hinge covers and trim to clean up the overall appearance.

On the road

The 2.5-liter four-cylinder will be fine for many buyers and, as a result, will account for the bulk of the sales. We found, for the most part, smooth operations and a relatively quiet performer but the engine did cause us to question its abilities in some of the Big Island's passing zones. Sure, the six-speed automatic transmission stepped down a couple of gears flawlessly, but we still felt the output of the base engine hit a plateau mid-range in the powerband, where we would expect it to be getting a second wind. Back on level ground, it offered great cruising though valleys of lava formations dating back hundreds of years.

On the other hand, the 3.5-liter V6 displayed impressive power that answered everything we asked of it. Impressively quiet, with good juice when you step on the gas, it was performing in a competent manner through a variety of terrain types. Steering in both situations was well modulated, although we were surprised at some of the choppiness that creeps into it on some of the rougher road surfaces. Wallowing in both cars was kept to a minimum, and the Camry seemed well planted despite the occasional crosswinds.

Leftlane's bottom line

Facing tough competition, Toyota takes its best selling Camry and does a re-do halfway through its typical model lifecycle. With almost a completely new body, and further refinements, inside and out, it will continue to show up at the top of the sales heap in the mid-sized segment.

2015 Toyota Camry

LE base price: $22,970

SE base price: $23,840

XLE base price: $26,150

XSE base price: $26,150

XLE V6 base: $31,370

XSE V6 base: $31,370

Hybrid LE base: $26,790

Hybrid SE: $27,995

Hybrid XLE: $29,980

Destination fee: $ 825

Photos by Mark Elias.