2021 Toyota Camry

By November 6, 2020

A couple of years ago the Toyota Camry went through a transformation from boring to exciting. It’s still calm and collected although it looks more sporty than it is. For 2021 there are a few mild style changes and an optional 9.0-inch touchscreen.

Toyota offers three engines, a base inline-4 making 203-horsepower with an 8-speed automatic and front-wheel drive; a V-6 cars with 301 hp and eye-opening acceleration; and a 176-hp hybrid that can top 50 mpg.

The front seats are comfortable and the rears are okay even with a low roofline, while the trunk is an average 15 cubic feet.

The EPA rates the 4-cylinder Camry LE and SE at 28 mpg city, 39 highway, 32 combined. Camry XLE and XSE sedans rate 27/38/31 mpg. All wheel drive reduces the mileage by 2 or 3 mpg.

With the available V-6, the Camry XLE gets 22/33/26 mpg and XSE the same. Ironically, the Camry TRD, with cosmetic aerodynamic additions, gets less, at 22/31/25 mpg.

The gas-mileage king is naturally the Hybrid LE, which delivers 51/53/52 mpg. The XSE and XLE have less energy-dense batteries and get 44/47/46 mpg.

Safety-wise, the Camry aces its NHTSA tests with five stars across the board; same with the IIHS, which makes it a Top Safety Pick+. Every Camry comes with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. Available equipment includes a surround-view camera system and blind-spot monitors.

Model Lineup

There are nearly 12 models of Camry. Besides the safety features, standard equipment in the base Camry LE that costs more than $27,000 includes power features, LED headlights, power driver seat, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The Camry XSE or XLE adds dual power front seats, keyless start, premium JBL audio, and more. The TRD model has similar features plus tweaked handling and ride; the full-loaded price could run to nearly $40,000.

Camry XLE and XSE V-6 sedans can also run to nearly $40,000 with their available cooled seats and surround-view camera system.

Exterior

The Camry rides on a 111.2-inch wheelbase, and is just over 192 inches long; that makes it average-sized for a mid-size car (smaller than the Accord).

It is subtly updated for 2021. Its long nose, short decklid and racy silhouette remain intriguing. There’s a wrinkled pug-like front end, a strake that draws up against its flanks, and black pillar trim on some versions, as well as strakes and slits on others. The Camry clamors for attention and gets it.

Interior

The cabin has the same kind of flair. The center of the dash houses a touchscreen, either 7 or 9 inches, framed by vertical sticks of wood or metallic trim. Tan or gray fill the base cars, but higher models get convincing wood trim, while the XSE and TRD shout with red-stitched trim and upholstery.
The front seats are supportive and firm, if thin, with power adjustability for the driver. There’s optional power for the passenger, plus available leather, heating and cooling. The standard upholstery is cloth and not terribly impressive, but the leather has a Lexus level of quality.

There is a decent 38.0 inches of rear leg room, but it feels confining back there because of a high window line. Also, the low roofline makes tall passengers duck to get in. The trunk is 15.1 cubic feet, even in the Hybrid. The Camry has a fair assortment of small-item storage for passengers, too.

Driving Impressions

Don’t let the styling scare you; the driving dynamics are still gentle.

Base cars get a 2.5-liter inline-4 that sends 203 hp to its front wheels via an 8-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is an optional upgrade with the base engine only on some trim levels for all-weather traction. It’s the adequate performer of the bunch, a little grumbly at lower speeds, never excessively eager.

The 301-hp 3.5-liter V-6 seems like an unusually powerful fit for a car like the Camry, and maybe we should say for a car with buyers like Camry buyers. But we’ll take it. It gushes with good V-6 sounds, pours out superb passing power, and since it’s only offered in XSE and XLE trim, comes bundled with features that ordinarily be found in a Lexus.

We would still choose the Camry Hybrid, with its 176-hp version of the inline-4; its batteries and electric motor bring it to a total of 208 hp. It’s about the same speed as the base engine, and it works well with the electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

It’s easy to discern ride and handling by the model name. If it has an “L” in it, it’s tuned for easygoing steering, ample body lean in corners, soft tires and a softly composed ride. “S” Camrys get lower ride height, more starch in their suspensions, more weight in their steering, and more grippy tires. The S models are more entertaining than an LE or XLE, and don’t have the extra few hundred pounds of the Hybrid Camry to weigh them down.

The TRD takes things in an unexpected direction. The 301-hp sport edition gets a more buttoned-down suspension with even lower ride height, thicker anti-sway bars, and stiffer dampers along with more body bracing and bigger brakes. It’s the enthusiast’s choice, and makes itself known with a cat-back exhaust and summer-tire grip. It’s virtually a sport sedan, and rival to the Nissan Maxima.

Final Word

There are four distinct Toyota Camry personalities, all of them with exciting styling. The base 4-cylinder is your sedate family sedan; the Hybrid is your high-mileage and practical sedan; the V-6 with leather pushes the Lexus boundary; and the TRD is a downright sport sedan. There’s a lot of competition for three of them, so we think the Hybrid is the best fit.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection

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