Mention the Toyota Camry and the image of sensible shoes, family wheels immediately comes to mind. The ultimate mainstream conveyance, about as exciting as a cold bowl of Cream of Wheat and so predictable it puts you to sleep.
It has been one of the most popular cars sold in Canada for at least the past couple of decades and is still at the top of its game as far as value for money and common sense transport is concerned. Admittedly not the most scintillating car to drive, the Camry nonetheless appeals to a wide range of buyers when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.
But what about as a luxury car? After all, Lexus utilizes the Camry platform with its ES 350, and when you get down to it, what essentially separates a luxury car from a hum-drum family sedan is its level of equipment. The ES 350 is more or less a V-6 Camry in a three-piece suit and the driving experience is much the same with both cars.
In fact, a top-of-the-line Camry XLE V-6 can go to-toe-toe with the ES 350 in most departments and is thousands of dollars cheaper. If you blindfolded me and took me for a ride in these two, I couldn’t tell you the difference between them.
The Camry XLE comes in two varieties; one with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and the other with a 3.5-litre V-6. Price-wise, about $3,800 separates them. Both have a six-speed automatic transmission only, and a full roster of functional and convenience features, including four wheel disc brakes with ABS, a vehicle stability control system and traction control.
My tester, a V-6, develops some 268 horsepower, which makes this car lively but not overpowering. You can go from a standing start to freeway speed in around seven seconds, give or take, and it delivers 9.7 litres/100 km in town and a reasonably thrifty 6.4 on the highway. This makes it thirstier than its four-cylinder counterpart, but not by much.
But what distinguishes the V-6 is its level of refinement. In terms of linear power delivery, NVH noise level and civility, they just don’t come any better. This is one of those cars that old guys try to restart even when it’s already running; whisper-quiet and virtually inaudible in operation, it’s arguably the most refined V-6 Toyota has put forward.
In fact, the whole driving experience of the Camry XLE V6 is all about refinement. For its $33,700 base price, here’s what you get:
- Heated front seats. Absolutely indispensable in this country, and they come with several settings.
- Leather interior. I like it, but it’s not a prerequisite.
- Dual zone climate control system. More usable than most, but not crucial.
- Navigation system with voice activation and a seven-inch monitor. Never used it.
- Back-up camera. Handy and easy to use, but there is still no substitute for mirrors.
- Bluetooth capability. I don’t tweet, Facebook, YouTube or talk on the phone while driving, but lots of people do.
- XM satellite radio. I’ve come to really appreciate this feature.
- Simulated wood trim. Simulated?
- Eight-way power-adjustable driver seat. I could probably get by with four or five adjustment settings.
- Steering-wheel-located audio controls. A nice feature, but not mandatory.
- Push-button start. This feature, regardless of what vehicle it’s on, is pointless, annoying and just silly. Make it an option.
Many of these features are standard fare when you get past 30 grand and, honestly, I could probably get by without most of them.
Toyota does offer a slightly less opulent V-6 Camry in the form of the SE, and it features a fabric interior, retuned suspension and steering wheel shift paddles for those who like to get it on once in awhile. The SE V6 is also $4,000 cheaper than the XLE, which is worth keeping in mind.
One small note: All Camry models have a mini temporary spare tire, which I can understand (but don’t necessarily agree with) in entry-level models, but the XLE should have a proper full-size tire. On balance, were I in the market for this car, I’d probably plump for the SE. I just don’t need all those extras. That said, lots of folks do.
Regardless of which model you choose, the Camry penchant for ease of operation, driver-friendliness and thoughtful ergonomics is very much in evidence. Despite the fact that I often drive much more expensive cars that feature better performance and higher levels of luxury, I found myself actually looking forward to getting behind the wheel of this Camry. It has decent power, more than adequate comfort levels, straightforward controls and switchgear and is reasonably thrifty to drive.
Not hard to see why, in one of the most competitive segments of the market in Canada, they sell so many of them.
2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base Price: $33,700; as tested, $35,325
Engine: 3.5-lire V-6
Horsepower/torque: 268 hp/248 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.7 city/6.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Buick Regal