The Toyota Camry is a mid-size sedan that is consistently one of the best-selling family cars in America — the four-door reigns supreme in the world of sensible cars. Over the course of 38 successful model years, the Camry has been refined into one of the most reliable and economical cars in its class, at the cost of being labeled mundane. Recently, Toyota has made great efforts to spice up the Camry’s image with more daring exterior design, upgraded interior features, and a sporty TRD model. 2021 Toyota Camry pricing starts at around $25,000.
The most recent update for the Camry came in 2018 — a light update on the last major redesign that happened in 2012, but it was important to keep the Camry up-to-date. Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda declared in 2017 that his company would produce “no more boring cars.” Keeping that promise, the 2018 and later Camry are made with bold body lines and a complex front grille and headlight arrangement that kind of looks like Darth Vader’s mask. But the current Camry is true to Toyoda’s order: it’s not boring.
Most importantly, the Camry is designed for passengers. All Camrys are four-door sedans. The traditional sedan cabin is tall enough to provide ample headroom in the back seat. The trunk is also well-sized (15.1 cubic feet) to carry luggage for two people on a long trip, or four for a weekend. Bottom line: this is a car made to carry people, and to navigate urban and suburban environments.
First and foremost, the Camry is an economy car. If you’re looking for open-grain wood and heated leather armrests, you’ll want to check out Toyota’s upscale Lexus brand. However, the Camry is not cheap inside, and it’s perfectly comfortable. If you get the top XSE trim you’ll enjoy heated leather front seats, wireless device charging, a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment interface, a JBL audio system, and a panoramic glass sunroof.
As you would expect, Toyota does an excellent job with the interior layout of the Camry. Frequently used function buttons are placed on the steering wheel for easy access, while the simplified climate controls are right where you expect them on the center stack.
The 7-inch or available 9-inch infotainment touchscreen is mounted high on the dash, sticking up prominently. That’s a safety feature because it allows you to see the screen without taking your eyes off the road for too long. Toyota’s touchscreen software is similarly easy to understand and use.
The back seat is comfortable, with plenty of head and leg room for passengers up to six feet tall, or more if you slide the front seats forward. As a family car, Toyota provides LATCH points for child car seats in the back. There’s 15 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk, which is enough for luggage or a pretty good sized run to the big box grocery store. Plus, the rear seats fold down if your errands take you to the home-supply store for bigger items.
The 2021 Camry comes with three driveline options. There’s a basic 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine (203-206 hp/182-186 lb-ft of torque), or a 3.5-liter V6 engine (301 hp/267 lb-ft of torque). Both of those options come with an 8-speed automatic transmission. If you buy the 4-cylinder, you can get your Camry with all-wheel-drive, which is great in the winter. The V6 Camry is available only with front-wheel-drive.
Since 2007, the Camry has also been available as a hybrid. This model uses the 2.5-liter engine (176 hp/163 lb-ft of torque) paired with an electric motor (118 hp/149 lb-ft of torque) and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with front-wheel-drive. The combined system delivers 208 hp, which is about the same as the four-cylinder gasoline-only setup, but the power feels better. The Camry Hybrid has acceleration like the V6 because all the torque from the electric motors is available immediately.
There’s no bad choice with Camry drivetrains. Think of them as good, better, and best. Which drivetrain is best for you depends on your needs and budget.
Over 38 years (and counting) of production, Toyota’s engineers have made the Camry’s on-road dynamics very consistent. The basic Camry driving experience is unremarkable, by which we mean that it does everything pretty well. If you buy the SE or XSE trim you’ll get a sport-tuned suspension that is modestly firmer, but not jarring.
There’s also a Toyota Racing Development (TRD) model, that comes with a special “track-tuned” suspension with upgraded springs, struts, and anti-sway bars as well as oversized front brakes. This model includes the V6 engine, so it’s the real hot rod of the family. If you need to haul the family but your heart wants the open road, this is the Camry for you.
The Camry is reasonably quiet even on rough pavement. Like all passenger cars, it offers a lower center of gravity than an SUV, and more direct and connected steering response. If it’s been a while since you drove a sedan, you might be surprised at how easy the Camry is to drive and use. The 4-cylinder offers highway fuel economy of 38 mpg, and the V6 returns up to 33 mpg, so you’re getting a good value with either choice.
Overall, we liked the handling and ride of the XSE Hybrid best of all. The power of the hybrid driveline paired with the smooth and solid feel of the sport-tuned suspension just seemed right for each other. The hybrid is fast, punchy, and solidly built. And with fuel economy rated at 47 mpg on the highway, it’s also the thriftiest option.
The 2021 Camry ranges from affordable to sporty to luxurious, with 12 different trim levels to choose from:
- LE (starting at $25,000) – This is the most basic Camry, outfitted with the 4-cylinder engine, a 7-inch touchscreen, bi-LED headlights, and a backup camera.
- LE Hybrid (starting around $27,000) – The mileage and power of the hybrid in a basic package. Also includes a smart key push-button start system.
- SE (starting around $26,500) – Moving up the trim ladder. Adds the sport-tuned suspension, SofTex upholstery, automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a few more goodies.
- SE Nightshade Edition (starts around $27,000) – A special appearance package with black wheels and blackout trim.
- SE Hybrid (starting around $29,000) – All the good features of the SE trim, including some blackout elements, together with the hybrid drivetrain.
- XLE (starting around $30,000) – This is the luxury trim, with the 9-inch touchscreen, wireless device charging, heated leather seats, and the smart key system. Seat cooling, and the JBL premium audio system are available.
- XLE Hybrid (starting around $32,000) – All the luxury features, but with the hybrid drivetrain.
- XSE (starting around $30,500) – This trim blends the XLE luxury features with the SE sport suspension and visual features.
- XSE Hybrid (starting around $33,000) – All the sport and luxury features with the hybrid drivetrain.
- TRD (starting around $32,000) – The special hot rod includes 19-inch wheels, aerodynamics, special track-tuned suspension, brakes, and the V6 engine. Luxury features like the 9-inch infotainment and JBL audio are available options.
- XLE V6 (starting around $35,000) – Luxury features of the XLE with the optional V6 engine.
XSE V6 (starting around $35,000) – This one is the whole enchilada with the V6 engine, sport suspension, and all the luxury features.
If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a Camry on Toyota’s official web site.
The 2021 Camry is Toyota’s bread-and-butter car. There isn’t a bad choice in the entire lineup, but our favorite features are the sport-tuned suspension and the hybrid drivetrain. The sport suspension gives the Camry a great driving experience without sacrificing comfort while the hybrid drivetrain delivers plenty of power along with impressive fuel economy. Thankfully, you can get both of these best features together.
The XSE Hybrid is our choice for the best all-around Camry. This is a car we would be happy to drive every day because it combines the sport suspension, the power and economy of the hybrid drivetrain, and luxury features such as the 9-inch touchscreen, heated leather seats, and wireless device charging.
Toyota delivers every Camry with its advanced Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ package. This includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, lane-keeping assistance, automatic high beams, road-sign assistance, and speed-matching adaptive cruise control. This is in addition to all the usual features like stability control, many air bags, and a generally safe structure.
The appeal of the Camry as a family car is that all those advanced safety features are standard. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring are still optional, but well worth the $680 package price to add on.
The Toyota Camry is a great choice for anyone who wants a reliable, comfortable, and economical car.
Family buyers can choose a Camry that meets their budget without sacrificing advanced safety features, while those who want a sportier alternative can upgrade to the SE or TRD models. The luxury features in the top trims make the Camry a sensible alternative to premium brands at premium prices.
Finally, the Camry Hybrid is the industry leader in combining excellent fuel economy in a package that is truly fun to drive.
The 2021 Camry represents everything that Toyota has learned about building passenger cars for the American market. It’s available in a wide variety of trims, all within the economy car price range. At the same time, Camry delivers the most important comfort, convenience, safety, and driving features that consumers want. In terms of value for the dollar, it’s hard to think of any mid-size sedan that delivers more for your money.
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Photos by Jeff Zurschmeide