Road Test Review – 2015 Toyota Camry XSE 2.5L – Sportier Handling + Surprising Four-Cylinder Pace

2015 Toyota Camry XSE 2.5L Review

America’s sweetheart is heavily redesigned inside and out for 2015, so you are forgiven for missing a few trim-level additions for this year: an XSE four-cylinder and even an SE Hybrid.

What’s the rationale behind Toyota’s move to bring flagship style and handling upgrades to all powertrains?

— pretty low take rate for the V6 dramatically limited the previous V6 SE’s possible market share. This also cut the number of people who benefited from its crisper steering, handling and design outside

— the new XSE upgrades outside, in the suspension/tire setup and cabin are appealing at all price levels versus the more trad look of the XLE or LE

Most of the launch excitement for the Camry among auto writers centered on the V6, for obvious power-mad reasons.

Learning that fewer than ten percent of people choose the V6 is perplexing to car nuts. Are the just super cheap, or totally oblivious to how nice it is to have big HP and torque?

What is going on??

After a week in the four-cylinder Camry XSE, though, shows us the inside of the trend curve. We’re joining late, but the revelation is real: the 2.5L actually feels plenty fast.

Shocker, yes.

The car is a near-universal hit among all drivers, and we finally see why thanks to this XSE.

Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary are the headers below for this Camry XSE road test review.


Camry XSE is by far the most exciting design of the best-selling Camry. Swapping the traditional grey horizontal plastic grilles from the LE and XLE for a gloss black honeycomb mesh works wonders for the Camry’s overall road presence.

Fitting flush to the bumper’s painted surfaces, this forms a kind of teardrop shape around the lower jawline of the vehicle. The black grille fades into the upper intake sectionin a clean and smooth progression. Just a single chrome bar in that top grille houses the Big T badge. The overall effect is to be ultra-modern and up with sports-car design trends toward a single-frame grille. The menacing style has side benefits, though: this is the design employed on the NASCAR Camry, making it one of the meanest looking racecars around the 200MPH super speedways.

A grille swap might not guarantee that kind of pace, but it definitely does not hurt. It clears the slowpokes out of the fast lane nicely.

Another treat with this ‘sport’ versus ‘luxury’ design is that it neatly splits Camry sales across the two looks. Even the best-looking single Camry design ages rapidly on the market because of the sheer volume they sell. Instant ubiquity is not as fashionable as being among a select crew.

The profile design also injects passion into the familiar Camry shape. A strong rising shoulderline from the front wheels stretches back through both doors and into the trunk edge. It is muscular and unique.

The glasshouse is also tweaked to add a gloss black trailing edge to the C-pillar and and back doorframes. This modest detail avoids looking like a blanked-out window thanks to its slim shape and glossy finish. Why add it att all, you might wonder?

We believe it is to visually stretch the Camry rearward. In passing and just as a flash of proportions, the technique does help the new Camry feel more premium and a bit more rear-drive in its stance.

Out back is where the new ‘Bold’ design plotline has been lost. We are back to standard blobs of brake lights taking up most of the trunk face. These are not LED lit, which is a step back from even a 2005 Camry, oddly.

A long-tail spoiler is actually functional for aerodynamic smoothness on the highway, while twin exhaust pipes are a nice detail as well. But if the nose is memorable, the tail is as forgettable as always.

The best part of all this is choice: you can pick your look for the first time in a Camry beyond color, wheels and perhaps a mini bodykit — the only upgrades available until this generation.

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The Camry XSE is not just an exterior fun-ification. De-blanding the cabin was also a big part of the differentiation strategy for this new 2015 Camry lineup.

Where the LE-style trims are all familiar earth-tone soft plastics inside, the XSE takes a big page from the NISMO playbook: red-stitched hypersuede (an Alcantara-type material) wraps most of the driver touchpoints of the car: armrests, dashtop, seats and gearlever.

It is surprisingly effective. The black/grey and red cabin details are seductive like no Camry before.

The cabin is simply perfect for all drivers to hop in and be comfortable instantly. For any driver anywhere on the planet to instantly feel at home is a testament to a great driving position and overall universal appeal.

But there are gripes, even with the newest Entune 3 touchscreen audio and navigation option as fitted to the test car. You have to nitpick to find an irritant, but the voice recognition is still hit or miss. It often has trouble hearing you or processing the command — leading to multiple attempts. Eventually, it is able to get whole addresses in one statement — but you need to ensure there is little noise to make it work right. That meant AC turned down, stereo off and enforced passenger silence in car as commands were attempted.

What really, really helps is to train the Entune with your voice. It learns your pronunciation via a 2-min command prompt where you read specific phrases. Once you have done this, it has far fewer misfires. This gripe needs a caveat, though. And that is that all voice recognition systems kinda suck.

(Our fave user experience is the Lexus Connect, where you tap a mirror button and it calls a concierge. They input address and send it wirelessly to car nav system.)

Typing an address while moving would be extremely helpful, but is locked out while car is moving. Even with a passenger in front.

So that is one issue to highlight.

Another is that the keyfob and remote start functions – as equipped on the test car for a $300 option – have a short range. Perhaps the battery was running low, but we’ve experienced this with other Toyota vehicles too. It only works from about 25 feet away. NBD for unlocking, especially with the proximity door-unlock as you touch handle, but not helpful for remote start. Fragile flowers that we are, we’ve been using this winter warmup feature to do the opposite: cool the car down when it has been in hot summer sun.

Lastly, though standard trial SXM satellite radio is great to have and the JBL audio system thumps powerfully…. the reception for the radio is often blocked by trees or buildings. This hurts GM cars too; Ford antenna’s seem much stronger and do not cut out as frequently.


The big revelation from driving the XSE 2.5-liter is that buyers are not, in fact, braindead to the merits of big power like the optional V6 delivers. The four is plenty rapid and enthusiastic thanks to a somewhat low torque peak and decent horsepower ratings. 178 ponies and 170 pound-feet of torque just feel like strong stock.

This is partially thanks to the six-speed automatic transmission. Versus an Altima four-cylinder we drove around the same time, the conventional torque-converter auto in the Camry makes it a much more entertaining steer. The Altima CVT has merits, but feeling engaged and playful on full throttle is not one of them.

Where the 2.5-liter Camry suffers most versus the V6 is highway passing power. The V6 will leapfrog slower traffic twice as quick as the four.

Flipside is 25/35 MPG, unreal smoothness at all times from the nose, and a lighter feel at turnin. The four also spins its front wheels much less than the V6, which is perhaps too eager to light up the inside tire when turning right out of a parking lot and back onto the road.

Shift paddles are a nice inclusion, especially for downshifting ahead of corners or for engine braking.


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About The Author

Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of, an innovative and rapidly expanding automotive news magazine.He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)