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The Daily Drivers: 2015 Toyota Camry XSE

2015 Toyota Camry XSE
2015 Toyota Camry XSE
Published Dec. 18, 2014

It's not every day the term "mac daddy" is used to describe the Toyota Camry, which despite being the bestselling car in America, has always been more bland that hip. But when Peter pulled the redesigned-for-2015 Camry into a Publix parking space, the car was greeted by an admiring onlooker calling it the "mac daddy" of Camrys. That's true — our tester was the top-level XSE, a new package — but in any trim, this is not your daddy's Camry.

Appearance: The Camry gets a long-overdue injection of attitude with its refresh, much like the Corolla and Avalon. Now there are family features pulled from upscale sibling Lexus, especially up front. The XSE, in particular, mimics the Lexus F Sport line with its dominant black mesh grille and hint of Lexus hourglass styling. The XSE trim adds a black bezel around the upswept LED headlights, giving it a menacing look. The Camry gets slight character lines on the hood and the body — nothing too dramatic. Our tester also came with an integrated spoiler and dual chrome-tipped exhaust. This XSE also had 18-inch machine-faced alloy wheels with black painted accents, which are very sharp against our tester's Ruby Flare Pearl paint.

Performance: Our tester came with the optional 3.5-liter V-6, which puts out a stout 268 horsepower. We've long been a fan of this V-6, and its performance in the Camry doesn't disappoint. Even the estimated mpg is a decent 21 city and 31 highway. (The Camry's standard 2.5-liter 4 cylinder gets 25/35.) Our only performance complaint was with the car's 6-speed automatic, which includes paddle shifters. Lyra called the transmission "persnickety," and that's a good description, as it sometimes seemed indecisive in its gear selection. Toyota tweaked the Camry's suspension for 2015, and the XSE's has been sport-tuned for better handling. We found the ride comfortable over all but the worst bumps, and the Camry now seems better suited to take on curves.

Interior: It's spacious and comfortable, with quality materials, soft-touch surfaces and easy-to-use controls. Peter especially liked the cabin headroom, which should suit taller drivers. Even the rear-seat passengers have plenty of head- and legroom. Our XSE featured leather-trimmed sport seats with red accent stitching and comfortable faux-suede inserts. One Avalon tech feature that has trickled down: optional Qi wireless charging pad in a cubby at the bottom of the center stack, which also has power, auxiliary and USB outlets. The charging pad is a great idea, but the slot isn't big enough for large phones. All Camrys now have the user-friendly Etune touchscreen, which includes a standard backup camera as well as iHeartradio, Pandora, movietickets.com and Open Table. Of course, those apps use your cellphone's data. Lyra found the navigation with traffic updates came in handy during her rush-hour commutes, but it directed her to a land mass off Tierra Verde as the location of the Times office in St. Petersburg.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Grille: Bigger and bolder. In the XSE, it even recalls Lexus.

Wheels: The XSE's 18-inch alloys have a high-end aftermarket look.

Vibe: Toyota now wants to sell a lot of stylish Camrys.

Lyra Solochek

XSE trim: Sporty yet comfortable. Perfect combination.

MID: Color Multi Information Display between gauges is vibrant.

Uncluttered: The center stack design is simple and intuitive with large, clearly marked buttons.

The bottom line: This top-line XSE Camry is the best of both worlds: a sporty and luxurious family sedan that no longer looks dowdy in the competitive midsize sedan class.