2015 Toyota Camry XSE: Looks Wild, Still Mild

Strong points
  • Aggressive looking exterior
  • Nicely appointed cabin
  • Good interior room
  • Comfortable ride
  • Decent power from four-cylinder engine
Weak points
  • Talks the talk, but doesn't walk the walk performance-wise
  • Would be nice to have similar features without the stiffened suspension at a more affordable price
  • Active safety gear only available via options sheet
  • Steering is numb
Full report

No one chooses to buy a Toyota Camry because they’re looking for a sporty ride. The mid-size family sedan, which has been completely redesigned for the 2015 model year, has for decades lured legions of customers with its promise of a roomy interior, top-shelf reliability, and decent fuel mileage. It's a winning formula, but not a very sexy one, which is perhaps why when Toyota's stylists put pen to paper for the new edition of the sedan they elected to stray outside their comfort zone and create something with a little more visual zest than in years past.

Enter the 2015 Toyota Camry XSE, a model that takes the sharper angles of the new-look sedan to their most extroverted expression. Intended to shake off any comparisons to the larger Avalon, the Camry XSE steps away from the pleasing, but staid design of 2014 without compromising what has made the car such a popular choice for so many years.

It's Not A Performance Sedan

Even with the letters XSE appended to the trunk it's important to understand that the 2015 Toyota Camry is far from a sport sedan. What you're buying is a mid-trim edition of the Camry that comes with fun-to-have features like a push-button start, LED daytime running lights, thickly bolstered front seats wrapped in imitation suede (which is also found on the door panels), a black mesh grille, and snazzy 18-inch rims. You also benefit from a suspension that's been stiffened compared to the similarly-equipped, but more comfort-oriented XLE model, as well as more direct tuning for the electric power steering system.

In the depths of winter, however, it was hard to feel a substantial difference between the Camry XSE's supposedly more robust driving experience and that of the 2014 model. There's little feedback from the steering, and while the car might offer more aggressive shocks and springs compared to the LE or XLE model, it's the equivalent of moving from mild to medium in the salsa aisle of your local supermarket.

None Of That Matters

I would argue that the presence of the Camry XSE in the 2015 Toyota line-up is more of an aberration than anything else, as 90 percent of mid-size sedan shoppers aren't looking for thrills but rather features at a prudent price wrapped in a practical package. Toyota attempted something similar with the Sienna SE minivan, a vehicle that tried too hard to be fun and forgot that it was more important to be useful.

In that respect, I think it would have been advisable for Toyota to keep the XSE's unique looks and shelve the tighter chassis, because everything else about the car delivers. There's a hefty amount of passenger room inside the Camry front and rear, and even with the mildly harsher suspension tuning the sedan was comfortable to drive in all conditions. The Display Audio system on offer with the Camry wasn't bad either, and as I have said in past Toyota reviews it offers a more logical, and less frustrating infotainment interface compared to the brand's upscale Lexus systems. Heated seats up front took some of the edge off of the cold weather, although the dual automatic climate control offered by the car was unable to keep the windshield from fogging up if more than one person was riding along, forcing me to switch to manual control over the blower.

Four-Cylinder Power

Another aspect of the 2015 Toyota Camry XSE's performance that was affected by the chilly temperatures was fuel mileage, as the 12 l/100 km I observed during our week together was well above the 8.4 l/100 km combined advertised by the automaker. That being said, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder's 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, were as welcome on both highway and city jaunts as it was the year before when I sampled an identical motor in the 2014 edition of the car (both Camry drivetrains, including the 268 horsepower V6, carry-over for 2015). My impression of the Camry's four-cylinder prowess is unchanged: there's no need to spring for the V6 that is optional with the XSE trim from a power perspective.

You Have To Like The Look

The 2015 Toyota Camry XSE does attract more attention than the base LE model of the car, especially on the inside where its red-stitched almost-suede adds an upscale touch to the car's cabin. If it were my money, however, I would want to maximize either comfort (XLE) or value (LE) with my Camry purchase, as the phantom performance promised by the XSE model failed to materialize during my stint behind the wheel. Unless you are completely smitten by the Camry XSE's looks the XLE is a better overall package for a well-featured four-door, and one that preserves the sedan's smooth driving personality without agitating for you to push the car harder than it's really comfortable with.

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