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2019 Toyota Camry Test Drive Review
Daring styling and impressive athleticism make the 2019 Toyota Camry an alluring option, even if comfort and practicality have slipped.
Blame the Toyota Avalon for the Toyota Camry’s flaws. In order to put daylight between itself and Toyota’s larger full-size sedan, the midsize Camry is now smaller than some of its competitors, while simultaneously offering fewer of the increasingly expected features in the segment. Still, there are several good reasons to consider a 2019 Camry, from its outstanding safety ratings to its free scheduled maintenance plan. It’s also one of a handful of family sedans that still offers a 6-cylinder engine.
Look and Feel
When buying a 2019 Toyota Camry, you need to choose between standard and sporty styling, and then you must decide between a 4-cylinder, a V6, and a hybrid powertrain. Trim levels, depending on the engine selection, include L, LE, XLE, SE, and XSE.
This review covers the Camry XSE equipped with a V6 engine. The test car included Toyota's Driver Assist package, carpeted floor mats, and two-tone Blue Streak paint with a Midnight Black roof. The sticker price read $39,669 including the $955 destination charge.
While the Camry XSE V6 is quick and entertaining to drive (for a Camry), this isn’t the CarGurus recommended trim. For the best bang for your buck, stick with the standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and choose LE trim at a minimum. Of the three, my favorite is the upscale XLE.
I’d recommend the Hybrid, which gets excellent gas mileage, but it starts at $28,400 for an LE trim—$3,800 more than a comparable non-hybrid LE. And even though the Camry Hybrid adds up to 20 miles per gallon to the car's fuel economy, it will take nearly a decade to realize any savings at the pump, assuming you drive 12,000 miles a year with an average fuel price $2.75 per gallon.
No matter which version of the Camry you buy, the styling looks unresolved. No doubt, especially in XSE trim, this is a daring look for a Camry. It's a big pendulum swing from the past, perhaps in response to criticism over previously bland designs. Unfortunately, the result is not cohesive, and the forms look oversized on the car’s proportions.
Toyota employs similar design themes with greater success on the longer and larger Toyota Avalon, while the less expensive and less expressive 2020 Toyota Corolla looks especially good in SE or XSE trim. Slotted between those models, the latest Camry has never appealed to my eyes.
Inside, the Camry XSE looks and feels of high quality thanks to plenty of soft-touch surfaces and upgraded upholstery. However, with a price tag nearing $40,000, the windshield pillars deserve a classier fabric wrap. Also, some of the Camry's switchgear looks out of place, like it came from the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck parts bin.
While washing the Camry in my driveway, I noticed that the front fascia and side mirrors creaked while I dried them. Applying even the slightest pressure made this happen. Combine that with the tinny noise the front doors can make when they're closed, and this lack of attention to detail dents perceived quality.
Most people will find the Camry’s standard, 203-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine suitable for daily driving. But there’s no denying that the available 301-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine, which makes a whopping 83 more pound-feet of torque, offers the closest thing to a thrill that you can get in a Camry.
You can feel the extra weight of the V6 over the car’s front end, but it doesn't limit handling. This car can really fly. The 8-speed automatic transmission never gets a gear wrong, and the paddle shifters produce quick, satisfying shifts when the gear selector is in Sport mode.
Equipped with a sport-tuned suspension and exclusive 19-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 235/40 tires, the Camry XSE supplies responsive handling without traditional sport-sedan stiffness. For that reason, a Camry XSE is a comfortable daily driver in addition to a relatively competent canyon carver.
Steering-effort levels are firm when the car is in its normal driving mode and downright heavy in Sport mode. Either way—and to the car’s benefit—it feels natural rather than artificial.
Testing on a hot and muggy summer day, the XSE’s brakes stood up to repeated abuse. However, the pedal exhibits a dissatisfying “thunk” when you release it quickly, putting another dent in your perceptions of the car’s refinement.
Perhaps due to the roasting weather and the need to continually run the Camry’s ice-cold air conditioning, I got just 21.9 mpg on my testing loop. That’s well short of the EPA’s 26-mpg rating in combined driving.
Or maybe it’s because I thoroughly enjoyed exercising one of the last V6 engines available in a midsize car.
Form and Function
Toyota has carved a bunch of storage into the Camry’s cabin, including a large center console bin and a hidden compartment underneath the available wireless charging pad. The glove box is on the small side, though, and requires quite a stretch for the driver to reach. The door-panel storage pockets are narrow, too.
For a car frequently bought for use in taxi fleets and as a ride-share vehicle, the Camry’s trunk is unexpectedly small compared to other midsize cars. It measures just 15.1 cubic feet. That’s 1.6 cubic feet less than the Honda Accord. The trunk’s floor is short, too. With a full-size suitcase laying flat within it, a stroller can barely fit. And Toyota doesn’t supply a grab handle to swing the lid shut.
Both of the test car’s front seats provided 8-way power adjustment, making it easy to find a comfortable position. They were heated, too, but if you want ventilated front seats, you’ll need to shop elsewhere. That feature is unavailable on any Camry. Aside from this omission, Toyota makes sure Camry XSE drivers have little to complain about. The densely padded center armrest, padded door panels, good driving position, and thick-rimmed steering wheel see to that.
Rear-seat passengers won’t be as happy. The Camry is snug for a midsize sedan, and narrow rear-door openings combined with a low seating position make it hard to enter and exit the car with grace. The test car included rear air-conditioning vents, but Toyota frustratingly restricts these to upper trim levels.
Speaking of air conditioning, know that during a 100-degree heatwave, the Camry’s climate control system blasted a strong, ice-cold breeze throughout the car within minutes. I still wanted a ventilated seat option, though.
Dramatic in appearance, the dashboard layout is smart. You’ll have no trouble finding and using the controls unless you’ve never had a car with a touchscreen infotainment system. Even in that case, the Camry's new Entune 3.0 infotainment system feels fairly intuitive, with stylish buttons for accessing main screen menus and wisely stacked large volume and small tuning knobs.
With this Entune 3.0 upgrade, Toyota finally offers Apple CarPlay in its vehicles. Additionally, the system provides a comparatively generous 6-month/2GB subscription to WiFi Connect service by Verizon. The 2019 Camry is still lacking Android Auto, though. Since other Toyota models are getting Android compatibility for the 2020 model year, I have no doubt that it will be coming soon to the Camry.
The test car had a Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging pad located forward of the transmission selector. It authoritatively gripped my phone and, in spite of some enthusiastic cornering, my iPhone Xs never slid off and into the driver’s footwell.
The navigation system worked well, but on one occasion when I needed current traffic data in order to pick the best Los Angeles freeway route home, it took a frustratingly long time to load and display on the map. By then, I’d chosen poorly. Should’ve used Apple CarPlay and Google Maps, instead.
I’m no audiophile, and I typically like Harman-owned audio brands, but the Camry’s 9-speaker JBL premium sound system isn’t one of my favorites. It’s capable of significant volume, but in spite of its Clari-Fi digital music-restoration technology, it lacks the sonic clarity of Harman’s other audio system families. It produced a muddy, bass-heavy listening experience.
A 10-inch head-up display (HUD) made it easier to reference important data during the drive, and it remains visible if you’re wearing polarized sunglasses. Why other car companies can’t achieve this same apparent feat is inexplicable.
If safety is at the top of your priority list and you want to buy a Toyota for its free scheduled maintenance plan and reputation for reliability, well, the Camry is your car. It’s a crash-test rock star.
In testing performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Camry earns 5-star ratings in every single assessment, including the rollover resistance test. Furthermore, the Camry gets a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), receiving the highest possible scores in every test except headlight performance, where the standard lamps in lower trim levels are rated Acceptable instead of Good.
Is there room for improvement on the safety front? Yes. The Camry is equipped with a standard Toyota Safety Sense suite of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), but it’s not the latest “2.0” version, which includes several appealing enhancements.
Nevertheless, every 2019 Camry has adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and automatic high-beam headlights. These features work in a refined and accurate manner, though the beeping from the lane-departure warning system quickly becomes an irritant, prompting a driver to shut off the system.
Additionally, Toyota includes a standard subscription to its Safety Connect service for the first three years of ownership. This equips the car with automatic collision notification, SOS emergency calling, quick access to roadside assistance, and more.
Obviously, safety is a really good reason to buy a Toyota Camry.
Another good reason to buy a Camry is its cost effectiveness over time. From the free maintenance plan that lasts for two years or 25,000 miles to its long-standing reputation for delivering a trouble-free ownership experience, the Camry is a safe choice for value seekers. The Camry is also attractive to used-vehicle buyers, helping to preserve its value for when the time comes to sell it.
However, the Camry competes in a segment where most of the choices are appealing and worthy of consideration. Indeed, from a product-excellence perspective, there has never been a better time to buy a family sedan. And the Camry, in several ways, is not sitting at the top of the class.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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