It’s hard to be the king, especially in an increasingly tight mid-size segment, but Toyota keeps its crown with more tweaks and a sportier new trim.
Fuel-efficient four- and six-cylinder engines, plus an outstanding gas-electric hybrid that nails it for price and impressive fuel economy.
While the number of serious contenders for the mid-sized sedan crown grows more impressive every year, it doesn’t really seem to matter. The Toyota Camry has remained firmly in that position for years, and the company can’t seem to build enough to fill demand. The Camry’s 2012 redesign included a pointier front end, chiseled front fenders and an accent crease extending across the doors and fenders. The windshield area was also increased for improved visibility. Toyota claims there’s now slightly more passenger space than before resulting from cabin-layout adjustments. Buyers can choose from four different upholstery finishes, depending on the model, from woven fabric in base models to leather with faux suede seat covers at the luxury end of the scale. Revisions to the front and rear suspension were designed to keep the Camry more stable in a straight line, sharpen steering response and improve ride comfort. Very little was changed under the hood, although Toyota rates the standard-issue 178-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder at 25 mpg in the city and 35 mpg highway, or 21/30 for the carryover 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. In the Camry hybrid, Toyota installed a new 156-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, replacing the previous 147-horse 2.4-liter unit. The 2.5 and its electric-motor assistant produce the same 199 pound-feet of torque as before, but the Hybrid’s net 200 horsepower has increased by 13. Fuel-economy numbers have jumped to 43 mpg in the city and 39 highway, versus 33/34. That’s a 30-percent improvement in city driving. Both gasoline engines operate with six-speed automatic transmissions, while the Hybrid uses a continuously variable unit. All Camrys arrive well equipped, although the top-line XLE is understandably loaded to the hilt. The fun-to-drive SE comes with sporty suspension tuning, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, sport front seats and a quicker-shifting transmission that blips (rev matches) the throttle when downshifting, which promotes stability. For 2014, the new SE Sport starts with the four-cylinder SE but adds the 18-inch wheels and lower-profile tires from the SE V6, a power driver’s seat and moonroof.
Base price (incl. destination): $22,850; $26,800 (Hybrid, 2013)
Type: Four-door sedan
Base engine (hp): 2.5-liter DOHC I4 (178)
Optional engines (hp): 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (268); 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (156) with 105-kilowatt electric motor (200, combined, Hybrid)
Layout: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive
Transmissions: Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic (opt.); continuously variable (hybrid)
MPG (city/hwy): 25/35 (2.5, MT); 43/39 (Hybrid)
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver’s-side knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control
Weight (lb.): 3,260