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2019 Toyota Camry SE review ... via rental

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Again, the rental agency was out of compacts and I got upgraded.  I jumped up 2 categories, into a Toyota Camry SE with less than 10,000 miles.

I never recall liking Camrys, thinking back to when I was given keys to a late 1990s model and the vague and boring motoring experience that came with that.  The Camry has come a long way.  I didn't fall in love with this car, but I'd have to say I liked most things about it.

First, from once being a boring looking vehicle, most vantage points on this vehicle are flattering and much better than they've been in past model years.  The only exception is the grille.  Toyota can't seem to separate itself from the abrasive, overwrought shovel nose front grilles it shares with its relative, the Lexus. However, the subtly curved lines all around are a welcome relief.  They are seen in the side profile, mostly along the belt line, and even on the trunk lid, rear fascia, and rear tail lamps.

The interior gets a thumbs up in terms of the seating and the amount of space.  For a person of average proportions, the front seats with a decent amount of bolstering and nice scooped inset areas are comfortable.  On the Camry SE, there's a horizontally ribbed material in the inset that is unusual and that I can't quite make out.  Looking at LEs on lots while I had this rental, the shape of the seats is the same, except that they are upholstered all the way around in a mouse fur type cloth.  The leather wrapped steering wheel feels good and does not have the squared off bottom.

The instrument panel and how you interface with it is mostly a fail.  In the cluster in front of you, the speedometer and tach are "normal."  However, the temperature and fuel gauges are not.  The tank holds a respectable 16 gallons, yet the way the fuel gauge moves downward as one starts using up the tank is in no way proportionate to what is really going on.  Part of it can be that the temperature and fuel gauges are angled in a strange way I didn't care for.  The controls arranged horizontally to the left side of the dashboard, though, which include the trunk release and fuel door release, are perfectly sized and placed.

The center stack is not likable and not even that intuitive.  The audio and info screen is fussy.  Then, I think about the new Malibu, for example, where interfacing with the screen is much easier.  The climate control panel is a little better, but could be even simpler.  The worst thing about what's in front of you is that strongly angled part in the panel that merges with the right side of the console.  You need to reach into that Bermuda Triangle to charge your phone and use the cubby with the cover that slides back and forth nicely.  As for the console's surface, it's higher than I'd like it to be, but not as high as some many cars where you feel like an astronaut ... and which are not even sports cars.

On the road, the Camry becomes more likable.  The engine has a strong enough pull and merges into the highway or passes well.  I looked under the hood, which is fairly jumbled looking compared to simpler layouts in other brands, and found a 2.5 liter 4 banger.  It pumps out 203 horses.  It also delivers close to 40 mpg.  I like this part:  it's over 2 liters, it puts out over 200 horses, they did it without a turbocharger, and the engine can fetch 40 mpg.  On one jaunt, I got 38.63 mpg, with a minor amount of getting on and off the highway.  Therefore, I don't like how one popular domestic sedan (cough) at the same price point went to a diminutive 1.5 liter 4 AND a turbocharger to get the power and similar gas mileage.  Once one is edging $30,000, I don't think there's anything wrong with asking for at least 2 liters worth of powerplant.

The transmission is an 8 speed geared automatic. I thought it might be a CVT.  Thankfully, it was not.  Earlier shifts pulling away from a light are smooth and feel just right.  When in a mid-range pass or if climbing a grade, the automatic transmission seems to, at times, hunt for a gear.  And, with that, it sends the normally smooth engine into a state of graininess that comes into the cabin.  At all other times, the cabin is hushed and isolated well from both wind noise and tire thum.  I'm almost certain, though, that the powertrain is as dependable as that of any Camrys that came before it.

I had this review thought out before I read any other reviews or summaries about the car.  I then happened onto US News or Edmunds, which gave their pluses and minuses on the Camry.  I'm in line with much of what they report.  The one thing they mentioned is how touchy some of the advanced driving sensors and compensating features are.  This rental car had the lane keeping warning ... and what appeared to be some correction.  I felt a slight tug at times.  I wasn't digging on this when it was raining outside and big rigs were passing me on the interstate or if I was in a road work zone.  I would have had much more use for the blind spot alert on the exterior mirrors or rear cross traffic alert.  This car did not have them.  However, they are available via an option package.

The new Camry's winning hand is its steering and road stance.  The on-center feel is damn near perfect.  The amount of assist also seems just right, whether it's navigating a parking lot or a two lane mountain road.  It's this aspect of the car that makes it very easy to live with.  And it's an aspect that is far improved from earlier Camrys I've driven.

I returned this car with mostly a positive impression of it.  Come on, Toyota.  Lose the exaggerated front end fascia theatrics.  Design a more sensible dashboard and ease up on the center stack, both in terms of its fussiness and by giving you more working room under the climate control area.  With some fine tuning of the packaging here and there, the reliable and competent Camry could be even better.

(photos forthcoming)


Edited by trinacriabob
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1. Side view - sleek enough; bigger alloys on skinnier tires on the SE


2.  An angry appliance with a lot of cheap plastic up front


3.  Some good lines on this vehicle; I also prefer the gas cap on the driver's side


4.  Spacious cabin up front; the console is high, but I've seen higher


5.  Spacious rear seat


6.  Note the angled temperature gauge and fuel gauge; the fuel gauge moves more "slowly" than it should


7.  Left side controls:  mostly about audio


8.  Right side controls:  cruise control, some radio, and 2 driving assistance controls that can be regulated or shut off; that's right, I guess you can shut off the lane departure warning


9.  This group of controls, down and to the left, are placed well and make sense


10.  The audio area was busier than I would have liked.  Those silver buttons don't feel good to the touch, IMO.  I find this set up overstyled.


11. The strong diagonal that I don't like and the climate controls right above it


12.  Kudos here; the shifter is hermetically sealed, it seems, from having liquids get in there, unlike some cars I've owned


13.  The driver's seat is very comfortable;  this is the SE's seat style, while the LE's is just one color of cloth


14.  Ditto for the rear seat


15.  If driving solo, move up the passenger seat a few notches so it aligns with the B-pillar to give you better visibility


16. The real sail panel (C-pillar) may look thick but, because of the parallel lines, it's not at all bad for looking over your shoulder to change lanes or scan what's around you.


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7 hours ago, esionern said:

It looks great. How about its fuel efficiency?

Under ideal circumstances, it will get 40 mpg on the highway.  In the write up, I posted 38.63 mpg on a highway segment with some stops here and there (gas, food, etc.).  Not bad.  I'm assuming mid to high 20s in all city driving without a lead foot.

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