The redesigned 2015 Toyota Camry looks a little different but feels and performs the same as the old one — meaning the best reason to buy a new one is because you like the one you already have.
If you own a Toyota Camry and are thinking of buying a new one, you may as well just stop reading this review right now; chances are you’re going to buy another one regardless of what’s said here in the next few paragraphs. Buyer inertia is powerful with the Camry, and it’s one big reason why Toyota continues to sell hundreds of thousands of them year after year.
The company has updated the Camry for the 2015 model year, but the changes are so subtle that if you didn’t know it was being updated, you probably wouldn’t notice any difference (compare the 2014 and 2015 models here). Big, dramatic changes to the company’s best-selling product have never been how Toyota works, but this year some challengers are stepping up their game — namely the new Hyundai Sonata and Subaru Legacy — making the Camry’s updates all the more important.
The 2015 Toyota Camry’s styling changes are subtle, and not entirely successful. The most noticeable alteration comes to the front end, where a gaping black plastic grille now extends from the edge of the hood all the way down to the street on the SE (it’s replaced by a multi-bar plastic look on some other trims). This is the least attractive styling change, giving the front end an oddly unfinished look, like Toyota forgot to attach the last piece of painted plastic to the bumper.
Things get better from there, thankfully, with new headlights and slightly revised sheet metal along the sides of the car, leading to new taillights that sadly look as generic as most of the offerings in this category. Faulting the Camry for generic styling is probably unfair; it’s like taking points off a refrigerator for being boxy. Given the constraints of designing a car for mass-market consumers who truly prefer function over form, the Camry is attractive enough to continue drawing happy buyers. With the notable exception of the new Ford Fusion and Mazda6, the competition isn’t winning any style awards, either; other best-sellers in the segment, like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, are just as generically car-shaped.
Two engines are available for the Toyota Camry, and they should be familiar by now. Standard (and present in my SE test car) is a 178-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Optional in higher trim levels is a much more powerful 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, still matched to the six-speed and routed only to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is not available and remains rare in this class, with the exception of the Ford Fusion and Chrysler 200, where it’s optional, and the Subaru Legacy, where it’s standard. The four-cylinder is reasonably smooth and powerful, allowing the Camry to keep up with highway traffic or accelerate briskly from a standing stop. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and the whole experience is generally unremarkable.
Competitors also offer four-cylinder base engines, but their powertrains do have some variations: The Accord and Altima now feature continuously variable automatic transmissions standard, meaning revs and noise in those cars are higher than in the Camry. For a similar price, the Fusion offers a tiny, 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that’s a few horsepower more powerful than the Camry’s base four-cylinder and provides decent seat-of-the-pants thrust. Both the Accord and Altima feature optional V-6 engines, while the Fusion’s larger optional power plant is a more powerful, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine.
The driving experience in the new Camry is largely the same as in the old Camry — calm, unchallenging and uneventful. Steering is light but not vague; despite significant boost from its power steering system to isolate the driver and provide an easygoing experience, it still feels accurate. The ride was a little choppier than I remember from my last experience in a Camry, with a loudness to bumps and broken pavement that wasn’t as well damped as in competing vehicles. The Camry tends to bounce more than expected over dips in the road, and the overall experience feels less sophisticated than in the Accord or Altima — and much less sophisticated than the Fusion’s excellent chassis. The Camry SE comes with a “sport-tuned suspension,” according to Toyota, so that may account for the harsher ride. Sporty is not the word that comes to mind with this Camry, though, making the idea of a sport model rather confusing.
The base four-cylinder engine is reasonably fuel-efficient, as well, rated 25/35/28 mpg city/highway/combined. A 175-mile test returned 29 mpg combined in our test car. This compares favorably with the Fusion equipped with the optional 1.5-liter, EcoBoost four-cylinder, which is rated 24/36/28 mpg, but lags behind the latest Accord (27/36/31 mpg) and Altima (27/38/31 mpg), both of which have the benefit of a CVT to boost fuel economy significantly, especially city mpg.
Less has changed in the interior than on the exterior, with the overall look of the dash and door panels remaining largely the same (i.e., acres of gray plastic). Some upgrades to materials are evident, such as the genuinely good-looking SofTex fabric material that accents the seats in the SE, and some seams have been eliminated for a cleaner look. Still, this is basically the outgoing car’s interior.
There are strengths and weaknesses: Visibility is quite good in all directions, with clear sight lines and relatively slim pillars helping the driver see out. The tall roofline with upright styling means there’s plenty of headroom for front or backseat occupants. On the downside, material quality is still a step behind the leaders in the class, as are the sophistication of the electronics and quietness of the cabin: Road and wind noise are more apparent here than in the Camry’s competitors.
Comfort is largely a non-issue: The seats are flat and largely without bolstering — despite the sporting pretentions of the SE trim — but this means they accommodate a wider range of body types and drivers without complaint. The rear seats feature decent legroom and width for full-size adults, but it’s the tall, formal roofline and large rear windows that allow the cabin to feel spacious for backseat passengers. Space and comfort are on par with the Honda Accord, even if the Toyota Camry’s technology and material quality are not. The Ford Fusion feels about as nice inside but not nearly as spacious, due to a swoopy low roofline that seriously cramps rear headroom. The Altima has decidedly more-sculpted front seats, but they’re not to everyone’s liking: On a recent comparison test, I found them to be supremely cushy and comfortable, but among my half-dozen colleagues, I was alone in that opinion.
When you opt for a higher Toyota Camry trim level, you get bells and whistles aplenty, but they still feel a step behind systems offered by competitors — especially the American brands’ units, like Chevrolet MyLink and Chrysler Uconnect. Opt for a midrange Camry, like my SE test car, and you get some basic functions on a standard 6-inch touch-screen that’s a major improvement over the outgoing model’s unit. Toyota’s Entune system has a fair number of features. Its USB port and Bluetooth allow for device connectivity, iPod control and hands-free voice commands, but the standard unit in the SE does not support apps like Pandora or Stitcher. Beyond the limited multimedia system, there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the Camry SE’s standard electronics, though navigation and app suite goodies are optional on all trims from the SE on up.
A big part of the appeal of midsize sedans is their ability to haul people and stuff, and the Toyota Camry does well in both departments. With 15.4 cubic feet of trunk room, the Camry is fully competitive with the main players in the segment. It matches the Altima and nearly matches the Accord (15.8 cubic feet), but comes up a little short of the Fusion’s 16.0 cubic feet of trunk space. Longer items can be accommodated when the Camry’s 60/40-split folding backseats are employed.
As of publication, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had begun crash-testing the 2015 Toyota Camry. Thus far, it has earned four out of five stars in its frontal test but hasn’t been subjected to any additional testing. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has also tested the Camry, declaring it “Good” overall and awarding it the Top Safety Pick Plus status. See the Camry’s crash-test results here.
Not much extra safety equipment comes on a $24,665 midsize sedan like the SE; in order to get the full electronic suite of features like lane departure warning, front pre-collision warning, blind spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert, one has to upgrade to the XSE trim then add these options — a $7,400 proposition. A backup camera is standard across the board. See what safety equipment comes standard on the sedan here.
Camry sedans sell amazingly well thanks to their combination of reliability, comfort, space and ease of use. The deal isn’t too shabby, either, starting at $23,795, including destination, for a base Toyota Camry LE. My test car was an SE with just one option, a carpet set, which rang in at $24,890. If you so desire, you can option a Camry up to nearly $35,000, which will fill it with leather trim, imitation wood panels, navigation, full internet connectivity and a powerful V-6 engine.
There’s so much competition for the 2015 Toyota Camry that in our 2014 $27,000 Midsize Sedan Challenge, we had 10 contestants and still didn’t include all the models in the segment. There are two that challenge the Camry for midsize sales leadership every month, however, and another that’s catching up. The Honda Accord and Nissan Altima match the Camry very well in terms of space, ease of use, reliability, price and powertrains, but there are a few differences. The Accord is available in hybrid and plug-in-hybrid models, for instance, and has some unique safety features, like a blind spot camera, that come standard on its midlevel EX trim. Both the Accord and the Altima also edge the Camry in fuel economy, thanks to their CVTs.
The third contender is the Ford Fusion, which has been gaining ground since its successful redesign. It offers no V-6 engine, only powerful, turbocharged four-cylinder engines, but it does offer all-wheel drive, which is something only the Subaru Legacy and Chrysler 200 can match in this segment. Like the Accord, the Fusion is also available as a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. The Fusion also has the edge in terms of available electronic equipment, offering things like automatic parking, but once you start adding all the options to a Fusion you quickly approach $39,000. That’s a lot of money for a midsize non-luxury car. Compare the Camry with its top three competitors here.
Toyota Camry sales aren’t likely to falter with this latest update to the brand’s icon, but Toyota has done nothing to attract new buyers to the model. The new Camry is perfectly suited to keeping current owners happy for another generation when they trade in their old model, but given how good and advanced the competition has become, “I already own one and want another” may be the only reason left to buy the Toyota Camry over its competitors.