Toyota is one of the few manufacturers to offer a V6 in a mid-size sedan, and the 3.5-liter unit under the Camry's hood offers smooth, on-demand power in nearly any situation. It pairs nicely with the eight-speed automatic, and, in this application, seems to require fewer downshifts than when paired to the smaller four-cylinder.
Most of our time was spent with an XSE tester with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 206 hp – three more than on other Camry models and more than the base engines on the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, and Nissan Altima. Around town, the combination proved to be more than adequate with decent step-off and smooth upshifts. This engine/transmission combination features an EPA-estimated 28 miles per gallon city, 39 mpg highway, and 32 combined. We managed to better that combined figure with a vehicle-measured 33.9 mpg in driving equally split between highway and suburban roads. This is an exceptional number that would've been unheard of for a mid-size sedan a handful of years ago.
With a new, stiffer platform, the XSE cranks things up a bit further with larger wheels and tires, quicker steering, recalibrated dampers, and larger diameter front and rear sway bars. The somewhat firmer ride, however, remains smooth, easily soaking up potholes and other road imperfections and nearly perfect for long-distance cruising.
At the same time, when coupled to the four-cylinder engine, the eight-speed automatic downshifts frequently in a never-ending electronically-controlled search for optimum fuel economy. While the engine is relatively quiet and docile in around-town driving, it awakens rather harshly when you put your foot into it – with a distinctly un-Toyota-like lack of refinement that can not only be heard, but felt through the accelerator pedal, as well.
Finally, even though the Camry has come a long way in the past decade, the most performance-oriented model – the XSE – can still hardly be called "sporty." There's noticeable body lean in corners, while the steering system offers very little feedback to the driver.