Sporty looks don’t equal sport sedan

The Toyota Camry has been the best-selling midsize sedan for quite some time. Year to date, the Camry is the fourth-best-selling vehicle in the U.S. behind America’s workhorses, the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram pickup. We’ve tested themore powerful V-6 and frugal hybrid variants, but we haven’t tested the volume Camry engine. Until now.

Our 2017 Toyota Camry XSE tester is powered the base 2.5-liter I-4 making 178 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic sends power to the front wheels. The Camry accelerated to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 16.5 seconds at 86.5 mph. Stopping from 60 mph took 126 feet. The four-cylinder Camry lapped the figure eight in 27.4 seconds at 0.63 g lateral average and pulled 0.82 g around the skidpad.

Although we expected the four-cylinder to be slower than the V-6 (6.1 seconds; 14.5 seconds at 98.0 mph; 27.0 seconds at 0.68 g), it was also slower than the hybrid model in a straight line (7.1 seconds; 15.5 seconds at 91.0 mph) but marginally faster around the figure eight (27.5 seconds at 0.64 g).

2017 Toyota Camry XSE front three quarter

The base Camry’s acceleration is about mid-pack for the segment and falls in with the 185-hp Hyundai Sonata 2.4-liter, 192-hp Kia Optima 2.4-liter, and 160-hp Chevrolet Malibu 1.5-turbo and ahead of the 181-hp Ford Fusion 1.5-liter EcoBoost (9.1 seconds).

Quicker competitors include the 189-hp Honda Accord 2.4-liter (7.5 seconds; 15.8 seconds), 182-hp Nissan Altima 2.5-liter (7.8 seconds; 16.0 seconds; 27.5 seconds), 184-hp Mazda6 2.5-liter (7.9 seconds; 16.1 seconds; 27.5 seconds), and 170-hp Volkswagen Passat 1.8-liter turbo (8.0 seconds; 16.2 seconds; 27.6 seconds).

On the street, the four-cylinder Camry has adequate power to keep up with California traffic while providing a comfortable ride. Considering its mission as a family-friendly midsizer and not a sport sedan, it lived up to our performance expectations. The XSE trim adds sportier looks, but those looking for a sporty midsize sedan won’t likely have the base Camry on their driving list. And that’s OK because the 268-hp Camry XSE V-6 is available for those who must have a Toyota.

Most shoppers with the Camry on their short-list are more concerned about fuel economy than track times. The 2017 Toyota Camry with the 2.5-liter engine is EPA-rated 24/33/27 mpg city/highway/combined. In our Real MPG testing, a 2015 Toyota Camry LE with the 2.5-liter engine achieved 23.9/33.1/27.3 mpg. Not a significant difference. (The EPA revised its ratings procedure for 2017.)

Although most of the Toyota Camry sedan’s sales are due to its reputation for high build quality, solid reliability, and fuel efficiency, there is one surprising let down: front-seat interior space. No matter how hard I tried, I felt cramped and could not find a comfortable seating position in the Camry.

2017 Toyota Camry front three quarter 07

According to Toyota, the Camry has 37.9 inches of maximum front-seat headroom. In comparison, the Honda Accord has 37.6 inches, the Nissan Altima has 40.0 inches, and the Hyundai Sonata has 40.4 inches of front-seat headroom.

As long as I have been driving, my default driving position is to lower the rear of the seat cushion (below my butt) as much as possible and tilt the front of the seat cushion (below my thighs) as high as possible without inhibiting my outward view. Despite doing this in the Camry, I felt cramped. In fact, with the rear of the seat cushion lowered all the way, my 5-foot 9-inch frame felt like it was sitting on top of the car and not in the car.

Even with my low seating position, placing my fist on top of my head also touched the ceiling. A 2017 Honda Accord sedan I drove recently had double the headroom. In fact, the new 2016 Honda Civic has nearly as much headroom (37.5 inches) as the Accord. All three cars had moonroofs. A few taller passengers (5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet tall) felt scrunched up in the front passenger seat, which lacked height adjustment. One passenger said it had the same seating position as his 1994 Dodge Ram 2500 HD. Subjectively, the Camry feels more claustrophobic than either Honda and the new sixth-generation 2016 Chevrolet Camaro (38.5 inches of headroom).

Despite my rear-tilted seating position, I felt like I was leaning forward about to fall through the front windshield. It’s a similar sensation to riding in the front row of a rollercoaster as it crests the top of the lift hill for its initial descent. Unfortunately, that rush never came.

Base price for our 2017 Toyota Camry XSE 2.5 tester started at $27,145. Standard sporty features that separate the XSE from the more luxury-focused XLE include transmission paddle shifters, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and chrome exhaust tips.

Options include a $500 blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, the $750 Advanced Technology package (pre-collision system, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high-beams), the $845 Convenience package (a smart key system, push-button start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink, and an alarm), the $710 upgraded Entune Premium JBL audio system with navigation and App Suite, and a $915 power moonroof. Total price for our loaded tester came to $30,865.

In a 2013 comparison, the Toyota Camry SE placed last behind the second-place Honda Accord Sport and first-place Mazda6 Grand Touring. Since then, all three of those cars have received a mid-cycle refresh. Despite nearly 2,000 new parts with its 2015 refresh, our 2017 Camry XSE is slower than that 2013 Camry SE model (8.1 seconds; 16.2 seconds at 87.0 mph; 27.6 seconds at 0.61 g).

Although we were disappointed with the sedan’s subjective front seat room, the four-cylinder Camry XSE is a solid choice for those who want more aggressive looks with their grocery getter. For those wanting a bit more sport with more front interior space without giving up the vast rear interior room, there is always the Honda Accord. For those who can give up some rear-seat space and still want more front-seat space and the best handling car in the segment, there is the Mazda6.

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