2015 Toyota Camry I-4 First Drive
Toyota's marketing plan for the refreshed 2015 Camry uses the word "bold" a lot, and while the new car is certainly bolder in design, being bold isn't really what a Camry's ever been about. It's always been about comfort, reliability, and efficiency. You know, exactly what Camry customers want. Point of fact, while it's a much-improved car, there's little particularly bold about this new Camry, and that's perfect.
As noted above, the boldest thing about the 2015 Camry is the look. It's a much more modern and mature design than the car it replaces (which was only three years old, no matter how poorly the look aged), with the sportier SE and XSE leading the way with their more aggressive lower fascias. It's less conservative and less anonymous than the old car and all the better for it. Toyota isn't Hyundai; it doesn't need wild designs to attract people to Camrys. Instead, the designers have walked a fine line between punching up the Camry's look and turning people off, and they've done a good job.
The improved aesthetic continues inside, where the previous model was also showing its age. A new dashboard and door panels make the Camry look far more modern and the materials are improved throughout. There are a few bits of cheap-looking plastic here and there, but there mostly in out-of-the-way places where they won't bother you. Get into the higher trims including XSE and XLE and you'll find even better materials and more stylish contrast stitching. All the optional trim levels also pick up a new instrument cluster featuring a full-color information display between the modern-look gauges. The standard Entune audio, information, and (optional) navigation system is also a big step forward. The touchscreen reacts immediately to your inputs with none of the lag so common to these car-based systems. The user interface is simple and intuitive, the voice recognition works very well, and pairing your phone via Bluetooth is a snap. If I'd complain, it would be about the enormous buttons flanking the touchscreen, which appear to have been stolen from your great-grandfather's telephone. All in all, the new dash is still a rather conservative design, but it's functional and it looks much better than the old car. On top of that, it's also quieter than before thanks to extra sound insulation that quiets road noise and new door mirrors that reduce wind noise.
Unfortunately, it's not all sunshine and rainbows across the board. The base LE trim is fairly disappointing compared to the rest. It retains the old, outdated instrument cluster from the last car and trades the nice metallic-look dash trim for fake wood trim that would make Subaru blush. The soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels are downgraded as well and look it, and the cloth seats are less attractive than the other models. Throw in a limited color palette of gray on gray on gray, and it's just a letdown. I'd advise anyone asking which Camry to buy to start at the SE trim level. It's worth the upcharge.
The good news is the LE's down-market interior is the only real drawback on the car. While Toyota didn't touch the drivetrain, a lot of work was done to make the car drive better and it's paid off handsomely. The chassis feels more solid thanks to additional welds and the retuned suspension improves body control without sacrificing ride quality. The Camry rides as smoothly as ever, but now feels more buttoned down and confident over bumps and in curves. No more wallowing and undulating body motions in curves or over rough pavement. For my money, the "sportier" suspension on the SE and XSE is the way to go, as the LE and XLE are a little more floaty and allow a bit more body motion over the bumps.
The improved suspension pays off in turns as well. Body roll in corners is significantly reduced, which makes the car feel much more confident. The electric power steering has been retuned as well and responds quickly and linearly as you turn off-center with weight building progressively and predictably the more you turn. Toyota says it's also been tuned for more feel, but to that I'd ask: How much? While the steering is a bit heavier than I'd expected, I didn't get much of anything in the way of feel.
Also on the list of improvements are the brakes. Toyota's replaced the brake booster and retuned them for better pedal feel. Though there's no additional stopping power, the pedal response does feel much more linear and responsive than before.
That's kind of the story of the 2015 Camry. It all feels more responsive than the old one, which makes it more interesting to drive. It's still no sport sedan, though, and an emotional connection was not among the updates. While the Camry feels capable and confident in the corners, it also feels very dispassionate and businesslike. Once the task of turning is complete, it simply asks for another task. Eminently competent, but not enthusiastic.
In fact, that describes the drivetrain, one of the few things unchanged in this update, pretty well, too. The Camry carries on with the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The engine makes 178 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque delivered on a shallow but linear curve that continues to pull all the way to redline. The latter shifts so smoothly you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for a CVT at times. The transmission isn't afraid to kick down a few gears when power is needed and, overall, the engine feels adequate. It isn't fast, but it'll get the job done in most driving situations a Camry is likely to face.
As the powertrain carries over and Toyota says the curb weight is about the same, it's a safe bet that the new four-cylinder Camry will perform like the old car when we get it on our test track. The best straight-line performance we saw from the old four-cylinder Camry came from a 2012 LE, which weighed 3165 pounds and hit 60 mph from a stop in 7.8 seconds. It needed 15.9 seconds to finish the quarter mile at a speed of 89.3 mph. Stopping from 60 mph, meanwhile, took 120 feet. The best cornering performance we got from an old four-cylinder Camry came from a 2013 SE, which recorded 0.81 g average on the skidpad and completed our figure-eight test in 27.6 seconds at 0.61 g average. Carryover powertrain also means carryover fuel economy estimates, which remain at 25 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 28 mpg combined.
A few minor blemishes aside, the 2015 Toyota Camry is an impressively thorough and complete refresh. The new car is without a doubt better than the one it replaces in every way and, more important, is far more competitive than the old car against the fresh, new competition from Honda, Hyundai, Chrysler, and more. Boldly competent may not be exciting, but in this class, it's a recipe for continued success.