Underneath the slightly tweaked exterior lies a bit of a beast.

2016 Toyota Camry XSE V6 Review

A dose of adrenaline does something, just not everything

By: Amos Kwon

Web2Carz Editor-In-Chief

Published: May 10th, 2016

Despite the fact that the CUV segment is the fastest growing group in the car industry, the family sedan wars still wage on, and the Toyota Camry still reigns as the plain potentate of that club with the best sales of any passenger car that no CUV can touch yet, not even the cousin RAV4 that occupies the #9 spot in vehicle sales. But most of the Camrys that sell are 4-cylinder versions that raise the pulse about as much as a Full House reunion.

In 2014, Toyota saw fit to give us the XSE V6 version of their staid family sedan, meaning it no longer just housed the lackluster 4-cylinder mill, instead giving the XSE the option of a 268 horsepower, naturally-aspirated V6. All of this power is bolstered by better steering and a more lively, more capable sport-tuned suspension. We drove one a few short weeks ago and gave it the full monty to see if the added power and precision could add up to a family car that delivered more than its looks could convey.

  • Driving Impressions

    Once you press the push-button ignition, you know this Camry is different from the four-pot version. It hums to life and you can feel a bit of the rumble through your posterior and through the steering wheel. Yes, this is still a Camry but one with a bit more attitude under the hood.

    The power is significant, but it's almost too much for the front wheels to handle from a dead stop. You don't even have to fully mash the gas to get the front tires to break loose, something that's alarming when you're trying to pull out into traffic. A lot of noise with not much initial traction. But once you get going, the XSE V6 hauls bacon.

    • Ride Quality: Over bumps and undulations, it's jarring thanks to the beefier suspension and 18" wheels. On the freeway, it's smooth and comfortable.
    • Steering: Far better than the standard XLE or LE version with improved input and precision. Still, it's no Mazda6 or Accord Sport.
    • Acceleration: Plenty quick once you modulate the throttle from a standstill to avoid tire spin.
    • Braking: One of the Camry's best aspects. Good progression and pedal feel.
    • Handling: We wouldn't call it taut, but the diminished body roll is noticeable. The car's balance in the apexes could use some improvement.

  • Technology and Safety

    Just like the Camry's exterior, there's nothing really wrong with the Camry's technology. All of it is pretty usable on daily basis, but there is room for improvement in the way the system looks and operates. Aesthetically and functionally, Kia's UVO system is way ahead of the game, and they could teach the veteran a thing or two about making an appealing system that doesn't have that antiquated look that appears to be made for the geriatric bunch.

    Most buyers will never complain about the tech in the Camry since they're likely part of the Camry faithful who want sensibility and reliability above all else. We just expect more for a car that's supposed to be a higher trim and also the best-selling vehicle Toyota makes.

    • Infotainment Screen Size/Quality: The 7-inch display is clear, but the font that also shows up in its Lexus brethren needs an update. That being said, it's easy to read and decent in its intuitiveness.
    • Bluetooth Phone Pairing: No issues here. Easy and fast with no problem recognizing and re-pairing upon re-entry.
    • Voice/Sound Quality: Solid voice calls on both ends, and the upgraded JBL Premium audio sounds great.
    • Controls: Big audio and climate control knobs are a breeze to use, though their design looks a bit antiquated. We'd still take these over novelty-style controls that make driving difficult.
    • Safety: Standard safety offerings are solid with ABS with brake force distribution, traction and stability control and rearview camera. Optional pre-collision system, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high beam round out an already very safe car.

  • Exterior Design & Styling

    When the Camry got a makeover in 2014 to mimic its younger Corolla brother, it was a welcomed change that gave the car more presence without detracting from the still conservative Toyota style. It was bolder without being polarizing, and the new design appealed to those who wouldn't normally seek out a Camry.

    The XSE trim takes things a notch up with sportier styling that borders on racy (for a Camry, that is). We're thankful that the touches aren't so dramatic as to make the car look like a boy-racer but instead ramps things up with noticeable but not offensive touches.

    • Front: The new mesh grille gets dressed in piano black plastic, giving an air of 'sinister' to the Camry's face. LED trimmed headlights add attitude.
    • Rear: Other than the XSE badging, the twin round exhaust pipes and the color-matched rear spoiler, it's not much different than the base car. The angular taillights from the old Camry were actually a bit more dramatic than these wraparound versions./li>
    • Profile: The profile of the Camry is well-proportioned. We like the 18" machined alloy wheels with black trim, too.

  • Driver and Passenger Comfort

    There's nothing uncomfortable about the Camry. Get inside, and you'll be hard-pressed to complain about how the place feels for driver and passengers. The sportier seats work well in turns and on the open road, while the controls are easy to use. Ergonomics aren't top notch, but they're pretty damned good thanks to intuitive knobs and large buttons.

    Too bad we can't call the interior even remotely exciting except for the contrast red stitching on the seats. We don't expect anything like a Porsche, but it's just not a special place like the Kia Optima or the Mazda6. We're guessing most Camry buyers won't care much about this since they are, after all, buying a Camry. At least build quality inside is spotless. Oh, the shift knob is one of the ugliest we've seen. C'mon, Toyota, stop making it look and feel pathetically weak.

    • Front Seats: Good bolstering and support. Nothing wrong with these guys. The suede-like inserts are nice and grippy.
    • Rear Seats: Great for two, decent for the middle passenger.
    • Visibility: Good visibility all around. The pillars aren't overly large and the seating position is right for the segment. Not too high, not too low.

  • Storage and Cargo Room

    What's a family sedan without good storage and cargo? The XSE is the same as all of the other Camry models, which is to say a good thing. We wouldn't call the storage options cavernous, but you're not lacking for space to place your daily items.

    • Storage: The armrest compartment is deep and long, and the binnacle at the base of the center stack is big and properly angled to keep things in place even when the retractable door is left open.
    • Trunk/Cargo Room: 15.4 cubic feet of capacity in the trunk is larger than the Mazda6 but slightly smaller than the Honda Accord sedan. It's competitive for the segment and holds plenty of gear for weekend trips.

  • The best driving Camry ever made

    The Camry can seriously rest on its laurels. It's as if the car's voluminous sales are propelled largely on reputation. But that doesn't mean the Camry isn't a capable car. It does a lot of things decently, just not any one thing really well. But that's what the Camry is all about. It's well-rounded like a pair of cushy brown oxford shoes. The XSE V6 adds speed laces and a layer of performance technology and succeeds as a sportier version of its pedantic brother. Driving enthusiasts will stay away, but drivers who want all the practicality of a family sedan with a bit of grunt will be very satisfied.

    You can't go wrong with the Camry, and millions of happy consumers understand what that means. In the end, we appreciate Toyota's efforts to provide a more amped-up version of the Camry, albeit with some compromises that still keep it a wise choice for the masses.

  • Price & Specifications

    Engine: 3.5-liter V6

    Transmission: 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters

    Drivetrain/Layout: front-wheel drive, front-engined

    Power Output: 268 hp, 248 lb-ft of torque

    Fuel Economy (mpg): 21 city / 31 highway

    Base Price: $31,370

    As Tested: $34,260 (incl. $835 delivery, processing and handling fee)

    Standard Features: sport-tuned suspension, stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, smart stop technology, anti-theft system with alarm, ten airbags, 18" machined alloy wheels with black painted accents, LED low/hi beam headlamps with black sport trim bezels and auto on/off, LED daytime running lights, power tilt/slide moonroof, color-keyed rear spoiler, dual chrome-tipped exhaust, Entune premium audio with integrated navigation, app suite and 7" touch-screen display, sport leather-trimmed ultrasuede heated front seats with 8-way power driver seat, 4-way power passenger seat, leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, backup camera, TFT Multi-information display, Qi Wireless Charging, tire pressure monitoring system, dual-zone auto climate control, smart key system with push-button start.

    Options on our test vehicle: blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, Entune premium JBL Audio with integrated navigation and app suite: includes the Entune Media Bundel (7-inch high-res touchscreen with split screen display, AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, 10 JBL GreenEdge speakers in 8 locations, AUX audio jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone capability, phone book access and music streatming via Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free; Advanced Technology Package: includes pre-collision system, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high beam

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