2019 Toyota Camry XSE V6 – Drive Review with Performance Video

What a difference a year can make! For the shockingly designed Camry that was so polarizing in 2018, 2019 has mellowed the reaction to its looks and let us really focus on what a terrific upgrade it is. Both versus previous-gen Camrys and its most of its mid-size rivals, for that matter.

For your scribe, a year of driving his personal ‘beach car’ (CX-9) during in a press-car drought meant that getting in Camry V6 is nothing short of a revolution!  So fast! So quiet and such sophisticated electronics!  I had a thought the day before Toyota announced there will be a racier TRD version of Camry for 2020 with track-optimized suspension, grip and induction/exhaust for the best-seller.  My thought was: I would love to take this car on a track and really push its limits to the max!  As an auto journo, I almost chastised myself at the sacrilege of taking a Camry for a track day.  But after driving an unfun and unfast vehicle of any kind, Camry V6 is a performance car.

Preposterous as a track Camry might sound it is actually very accurate for this top model Camry. 5.7-seconds to 60-mph and potent passing speeds thanks to the new eight-speed automatic. Excellent steering feel and genuinely entertaining to throw into corners. Great driving position and seats that adjust massively more than before. This is a great driver’s car.

We touched on three core themes in the drive video review and will cover them here in more detail: what is new in the Camry for 2019, what is great about this car, and what its downsides (perceived or real) are for this generation.

New for 2019?

The Camry came into 2019 with just one detail tweak: the addition of Apple CarPlay as standard on all trim levels. This might not be a detail, actually, because once you have started using it there is almost no going back to the old disconnected media head units of before.  CarPlay is a piece of cake to start using in Camry: you just plug in your phone and poof, there are your main 11-or-so application icons. A Toyota one in the lower left takes you back to the car’s built-in nav and menu system, but you’ll rarely need to visit those areas.

Favorite parts of CarPlay are how seamlessly it continues your media experience from phone to car. You can pause a Pandora station on your phone and un-pause it moments later in CarPlay.  Google Maps is brilliant for its 3D satellite map visuals and more-accurate traffic info via color shades over the roads. Phone calls and texts become silly-simple to answer or reply while keeping hands on the wheel.

CarPlay is the present and certainly the future — at least for iPhone users. Camry still lacks Android Auto integration but that is rumored to be coming in the next 2 years.  Like the CarPlay rollout, it will become standard equipment on almost all Toyota products.

Standard works because all Camrys and most other Toyotas have a full media display screen these days even in the cheapest trim levels. It really does negate the need for factory sat-nav in 98% of situations. You do have to have at least intermittent cellular signals to make it work smoothly, though, so still not perfect for extra-rural places without coverage.

What’s great?

Camry is great for so many reasons in this top V6 model.We can summarize this as Looks, Drivetrain/Performance and Cabin.

The design is cery chic and eye-catching, the stance is low and planted, and there is a ton of differentiation across trim levels. New bumpers, tinted lamps, special grills and much more are different among the many models.  The XSE’s controversial nose is even fairly normal these days and looks pretty cool. Again, in 2019.  In 2018 it was a puzzle of intersecting lines and creases that made little sense to the eye.

And the second unusual XSE feature — that we’ve loved from the start — is the contrast gloss-black roof. It is perfect for XSE because the model has the dark glass panoramic moonroof anyway. So this basically just blacks out the pillars and creates a shark fin in the C-pillar shoulder. But this is not for everyone — and 2019 means that new colors are available in general, and there are far more XSEs with monochrome paintwork. The XSE stands out less like this versus the LE and XLE but it has its own sexiness and appeal.

The drivetrain is an absolute gem. This V6 and eight-speed auto are a fine pair and feel so thoroughly engineered as to be almost perfect. It is faultlessly smooth and mostly silent except for a slight growl on full throttle. It is genuinely rapid at highway speeds but slightly slower off the line than we expected. This is likely electronic — as some YouTube commenters have noted. Power is held back a tiny bit when you floor it from a stop around a corner, for example. Either via the ESP system or just to aid in refinement, the result is that the inside front wheel will spin away some power and the rest just doesn’t arrive until about 4000 rpm when the engine is on full song.

This is not really obtrusive and helps relax some of the funky axle tramp and other uncouth behaviors from previous Camry V6s. Those that sometimes felt like the chassis could not handle the power very elegantly. Yes, this new Camry can definitely light up the front tires on hard launches. But it does so in a supremely refined and smooth way. An improvement in our book.

A limited-slip differential on a future TRD model would definitely help grip around tight corners, but then you would have big torque steer that is almost completely absent in the production car. As it stands, this powertrain is rocket on the highway and buttery-perfect almost all the time.

The cabin. This is where Camry is arguably most improved versus before. The driving position alone gets HUGE apprise from sporty drivers. You can now sit properly low and have the steering wheel extended out farther, and lower, and ever before. Makes a huge difference in initial driving impressions. Also in everyday comfort.

And lastly for actually holding you in place around fast corners.

The new seats are awesome to look at and great to sit in. Truly comfortable and also supportive. The only things missing are an extendable squab base piece like BMW drivers know and love. And then cooling functionality. Cooled seats are pretty amazing, especially in the hot hot South. We also craved tinted windows for aesthetics and UV management.

The design of the dash is wildly sweeping with cool leather-wrapped lower elements to match the racy red leather seats. Definitely something that draws high praise from many people. The leather itself feels great and the overall sense of quality is Toyota-perfect in 2019.  In 2018, we noticed some rattles and trim-piece issues that were happily not a problem in the 2019 tester.

What’s on the wishlist?

The sports sedan cognoscenti have wished for a few things in this new V6 Camry to make it the real Maxima and V6 Charger-killer it so aspires to be. Those things are firmer suspension and a better front diff/traction solution so you can have the full power even from a stop. The firmer suspension argument doesn’t hold up in my eyes for street use.  Four-cylinder and V6 XSE’s both get larger anti-roll bars than the other trims and they do an admirable job keeping body roll in check.

Yes, there is body roll.  But the center of gravity feels much lower in Camry V6 than Maxima or base Chargers. That means you can pivot without massive float.

Firmer springs might make the XSE or TRD feel sportier but would only improve slalom speeds and grip very slightly. And not enough to justify the constant jabs, bounces and pings that hard suspensions give daily drivers in real roads with potholes and expansion joints. We vote nay on firmer springs, but might change our tune if we did track the Camry.

The front diff question is more salient. Is it artificially limited or just ESP-managed traction that dulls the sense of first-gear power (VERY slightly)?

Might wider rubber accomplish the task of better mechanical grip without using an expensive and torque-steery limited-slip diff? Or perhaps different tires?  As fun as a GTI-like front end would be on a Camry we don’t think that 99% of buyers would like the trade-offs and reduced refinement.

The only other thing on our wishlist is for slightly sexier LED DRLs up front. These just aren’t a home run in the way some LEDs make you feel like the coolest driver in the world on grey days or at dusk.

Overall, Camry XSE V6 is a solid favorite car here at Cars-Revs-Daily.  When it comes to real-world cars with real-world prices, the $38k Camry V6 with every option is a fantastic machine. One that is better than any Camry before. And also nearly every other mainstream mid-size sedan available.