2016 Toyota Camry Review: Curbed with Craig Cole

In 2015, nearly 430,000 people drove home in a shiny new Toyota Camry, enough to make it America’s favorite car for the 14th year. But why is this middle-of-the-road sedan so popular?

Pundits are keen to call it a snooze, equating this family hauler to little more than a washing machine or microwave oven on wheels. According to them, it’s too sedate and totally unappealing to anyone with a pulse, and yet it still wallops all other midsize four-door cars in sales year after year. Clearly, the Camry has advantages that attract vast swaths of buyers and upsides that aren’t immediately obvious to armchair quarterbacks.

Tested: The 2016 Camry XSE

Up for evaluation here is an XSE model, supposedly the sportiest trim in the car’s range. Accordingly, it comes with 18-inch machined-face alloy wheels, unique suspension tuning and specially programmed power steering, enhancements that should give it a road-holding advantages over lesser Camrys.

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Further visual enhancements include a gussied-up font fascia with mesh inserts along with piano-black and dark-chrome accents. Inside, you get leather and suede-trimmed sport seats, dual-zone climate control and wireless charging for supported electronic devices. Red contrast stitching adds some pizzazz.

Our test Camry also featured blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert plus Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with navigation and a premium JBL sound system. This definitely wasn’t a stripped-down rental car.

You also get 10 standard airbags and a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, handy if you ever mistake a crowded farmer’s market for a highway onramp.

Monetary Monkeyshines

Our test Camry was equipped with a metric ton of equipment, but against the odds, it didn’t break the bank — it wasn’t even close. As tested, it cost less than $32,000, which makes it a terrific value, especially true for such a well-respected, blue-chip nameplate.

Options that inflated this XSE’s base price included the $750 Advanced Technology Package, which gets you lane departure warning, automatic high beams and more; $915 for a power sunroof; $1,330 for the Entune infotainment bundle; and $845 for the convenience package, which is good for a smart key, push-button start and a handful of other items.

2016-Toyota-Camry-XSE-Front

If you’re looking for an even better value, an entry-level Camry LE can be yours for as little as 24 grand. But no matter which flavor you choose, you’re getting a lot of car.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Honda Accord Review

The Camry’s interior is stretch-out spacious with a commodious back seat that’s ample enough for members of the six-foot-plus club. Even its trunk is huge, with more than 15 cubic feet of volume. Making this space easy to access is a massive opening and low lift-over height, but it’s a shame the folding backrests don’t go anywhere near flat and the pass-through opening is small, but you can’t win ‘em all.

Department of the Interior

Despite its space surplus, this car’s interior does suffer from a few notable weaknesses. The materials it’s constructed of are, in some instances, pretty uninspiring. There are swaths of shiny, discount-grade plastic on the dashboard and rear doors plus the headliner feels like it’s made of recycled cardboard.

2016-Toyota-Camry-XSE-Interior

Fortunately, the Camry makes up for lost ground with intuitive switchgear. Its radio has big, fat knobs for volume and tuning, the climate system’s buttons are chunky and easy to decipher, plus this car’s steering wheel-mounted switches are a snap to figure out. For the most part, all of the controls are large and simple to figure out. It doesn’t get easier than this.

ENGINEering

Appealing to a broader swath of customers, two powerplants are offered in this car. There’s a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an up-level V6 that puts out a robust 268 ponies.

But our test model was equipped with the entry-level unit and it proved to be totally adequate for family car duty thanks to its 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of peak torque. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story because this engine is impressively smooth for a big four-banger. It runs to redline almost without vibration and is even hushed when working hard.

2016-Toyota-Camry-XSE-Engine

In typical Toyota fashion, this 2.5-liter unit is also economical, stretching a gallon of gasoline 25 miles in city driving and 35 on interstate drives. All told, it should average 28 mpg combined, which can be compared to compact-car efficiency from just a few years ago. Thanks to its abundant performance, refinement and efficiency, it’s easy to see why nearly 90 percent of Camry buyers go with this engine.

Helping deliver those admirable figures is a perceptive six-speed automatic transmission. This is the only gearbox offered in non-hybrid Camrys; electrified versions feature a CVT.

With essentially no choice, this transmission better be good, but isn’t … because it’s great! Smooth, responsive and basically unflappable, it deserves an A+ grade and honor roll status.

The Drive

As you’d expect, this Camry’s acceleration won’t knock the wind out of you, but it’s perfectly fine for everyday driving – you’re not craving more power, at least on flat Midwestern roads. Also, the car’s electrically boosted steering is unexpectedly hefty, providing a planted feel.

It’s a similar story with the brakes and chassis. The former have a firm, confidence-inspiring feel while the latter keeps the body even with the horizon. This resistance to roll is impressive for any family sedan, let alone a Toyota.

2016-Toyota-Camry-XSE-Main-Art

Favorable outward visibility is another unexpected benefit of Camry ownership. You can actually see out of the windows with minimal blind spots leading to maximum safety.

It’s a shame the XSE trim still feels like a veneer, a thin layer of “sport” spread atop the same old Camry. The red stitching, faux suede and retuned chassis are nice, but they don’t really transform this car into something exciting. Perhaps the company should have gone further.

The Verdict: 2016 Toyota Camry Review

The 2016 Toyota Camry may not appeal to automotive enthusiasts but it’s still a winner in many ways. To answer the initial question at the top of this review, it attracts droves of drivers with its spacious interior, refined drivetrain and friendly sightlines, not skid-pad numbers, zero-to-60 performance or flashy style.

2016-Toyota-Camry-XSE-Rear

Other plusses include fuel economy, value for the money and of course legendary quality. Unfortunately, a lackluster cabin and uninspired overall demeanor hold this car back compared to more sporting rivals like the Mazda6 or Ford Fusion.

Discuss this story on our Toyota Forum

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  • Mike Stoddart

    So. Ugly.