In most forms, the Toyota Camry is a quiet, smooth-riding sedan with few thrills or complaints, but the 2013 SE trim with an uplevel V-6 showed only the Camry’s flaws.
The Camry was completely redesigned for the 2012 model year and remains relatively unchanged for 2013. You can read a review of the 2012 four-cylinder and other trim levels here.
At the heart of the non-hybrid, sport-tuned SE is a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that delivers power exceptionally smoothly and relatively quietly through a six-speed automatic transmission. Charging up highway on-ramps and passing at high speeds are non-events with this much power on tap. However, in a fashion similar to what we experienced in the 178-hp four-cylinder, the front tires can break loose under hard acceleration in turning maneuvers.
The two biggest differences between the Camry four-cylinders we’ve tested in the past and this SE are the obvious mileage penalty and the surprising sacrifice in ride quality.
The four-cylinder Camry is rated 25/35/28 mpg city/highway/combined. That’s behind the redesigned 2013 Honda Accord’s 27/36/30 mpg, while both lag behind the also recently redesigned 2013 Nissan Altima’s 27/38/31 mpg.
Moving up to the V-6 option in any of these three impacts mileage significantly, with the Camry dropping to 21/31/25 mpg. The V-6 Accord is rated 21/34/25, and the Altima is 22/31/25 mpg.
Subjectively, our editors have always found the Camry to offer a quiet and comfortable ride that should appeal to commuters and road-trippers alike. In our $26,000 Midsize Sedan Challenge, judges scored the car well for its ride across the board, while other contenders had inconsistent results.
The Toyota Camry SE model tries to deliver a sporty driving experience that is certainly not present in other Camry models we’ve tested. The handling and steering are slightly sharper here, but there was still that tire-slip issue. Also, a lot of ride comfort is sacrificed in the name of sportiness — a sacrifice I don’t think Toyota Camry shoppers will want to make.
Over highway expansion joints, the SE’s suspension delivered pronounced jolts that became an extreme annoyance on my commute. The 18-inch alloy wheels didn’t help matters. They’re standard on the SE V-6, while 17s are standard on both the four-cylinder SE and the XLE trim V-6.
As the competition heats up, Toyota finds itself facing not just Honda and Nissan, but also significant entries from similar body-types like Hyundai, Kia, Ford and Mazda. All produce impressive midsize sedans, especially in terms of their interiors.
Some, like the Altima and Hyundai Sonata, offer a similar level of comfort as the Toyota Camry, while the new Accord, Ford Fusion and Mazda6 deliver upscale interiors that the Camry cannot compete with.
The previous-generation Toyota Camry’s interior held up over time as one of the classiest in the segment, but the redesigned model seemed cheap to many of us at the outset. That’s not a good sign in an atmosphere where Honda had to overhaul its last Civic a year after a complete redesign thanks to similar sentiment.
The problem doesn’t stem from the controls or layout, but mainly the use of varied textures along the dash, doors, armrests and other areas that are frequently touched by owners and gazed upon by all.
They feel somewhat spongy to the touch and look too much like vinyl to the eye. Even some stitching techniques that attempt to be upscale fail here. My wife, upon entering our $32,090 Toyota Camry test car (with options and destination), asked if she was in the Corolla, the Toyota compact sedan that starts at half that price.
The Camry still offers a spacious cabin that is comfortable for the driver and passengers. Both passenger and trunk volume — 102.7 cubic feet and 15.4 cubic feet, respectively — are in line with the rest of the class.
The Camry is equipped with a standard suite of airbags and is a crash test Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It also earned a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It includes standard safety features such as anti-lock brakes and emergency brake assist.
In a recent Car Seat Check by Cars.com’s certified installers, the Toyota Camry scored well for fitting all types of child-safety seats in various positions, as well as for ease of installation. You can find all the safety-related features here.
As a four-cylinder with lots of comfort and space, the Camry is still a car to recommend. There are just more competitors today that also warrant a close look, no matter what type of ride a shopper wants in a midsize sedan.
In its most performance-oriented version, however, the Toyota Camry is no longer true to what has made it such a popular vehicle and yet fails to deliver well enough on the promise of thrills.