The Toyota Camry became “America’s favorite sedan” a long time ago, much to the chagrin of automotive patriots from North America. The Camry continues to play that role despite the proliferation of SUVs doing their darndest to unseat this perennial. While many Detroit companies seem to have phased out most of their competing sedans, the Camry continues to plug along.
So how well does the Camry plug along? The ClassicCars.com Journal staff tested a 2023 Camry SE Hybrid Nightshade sedan to observe the state-of-the-art of suburban transportation.
Those days of Camry DX, LE, and SE are long-gone. Today we have thirteen Camry models. They start with the $26,320 Camry LE and then continue with the following:
- $28,655 LE Hybrid
- $27,860 SE
- $28,860 SE Nightshade
- $30,190 SE Hybrid
- $31,190 SE Hybrid Nightshade
- $31,070 XLE
- $33,545 XLE Hybrid
- $36,195 XLE V6
- $31,620 XSE
- $34,095 XSE Hybrid
- $36,745 XSE V6
- $33,385 TRD
When the current-generation Camry debuted for 2018, it was somewhat of a revelation because Camrys of the past had been so deliberately milquetoast. Though styling is obviously in the eye of the beholder, the new Camry certainly came off appearing much sportier than it had done in the past. Within the Camry series, different trim levels may feature different styling (especially up front), with some appearing more polarizing than others. In the case of our Camry SE Hybrid Nightshade, it features a “black front grille with sport mesh insert” complemented by black side mirrors, window trim, and badging. Nineteen-inch bronze alloy wheels set it off the Reservoir Blue nicely. Other trim levels feature more of a massive “chin” that the SE, XSE, and TRD manage to avoid. Perhaps the typical Camry target market will not care, but we may have a different opinion: the schnoz can also be polarizing depending on trim level, with some invoking the look that Acura was criticized for a decade ago.
Camry hybrids are powered by a 2.5-liter Dynamic Force DOHC four-cylinder with dual variable valve timing that offers 176 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. With assistance from a 650V hybrid system, combined horsepower becomes 208. Considering today’s Camry serves a purpose no different than a four-door Plymouth Valiant from several generations ago, the performance of the Camry is somewhat of a revelation: 0-60 in the low sevens and quarter-mile ETs in under 16 seconds. To contrast, a Valiant with the Slant Six would get to 60 in almost the same time as the Camry’s ET. The performance available from your average, contemporary four-door sedan (hybrid or otherwise) is quite astounding though, according to the buff books, the Camry hybrid isn’t as hot as other vehicles in its class. Nonetheless, it doesn’t suffer because of it.
Even though this isn’t a Prius, the Camry hybrid may appear to be a more impressive vehicle, all things being equal. The amount of comfort available due to its size belies the fact that it’s federally rated at 44 mpg city/47 highway/46 combined. While that’s about 10 mpg less than the Prius, the Camry is much more car without compromise. We ourselves achieved 45 mpg in mixed driving. And remember that Valiant? It could only achieve half the mpg at best. For those stats alone, we absolutely adore the Camry and the technology that has driven it to this point.
Our SE Hybrid Nightshade was furnished with Sport SofTex-trimmed front seats with fabric inserts. It’s a durable imitation leather that appears across the Toyota spectrum, but it lacks a luxurious look and feel. On the SE Hybrid Nightshade, the driver-side seat is power-operated and includes lumbar support; the passenger makes do with manual controls that is just fine with us. Otherwise, our Camry came with most of the conveniences you’d expect in a modern sedan, such as remote keyless entry system, push-button start, USB-C port, dual-zone climate control and, typical for modern cars, a busy, 4.2-inch multi-function display between the speedometer and tachometer. We do like the knobs used for volume and tuning and, of course, if you prefer buttons, you have the steering wheel to adjust volume and a whole bunch of other things. The infotainment system is straightforward and not too difficult to pair with your phone, especially for those adept at setting the clock on a VCR.
Driving the Camry SE Hybrid Nightshade is a benign experience. It does everything you demand and does it while serving up stellar fuel economy. If the Camry was a rental car, there would be no doubt it would be the best rental car in the world. You can depend on its competency like no other — something we wish we could say about most things in life. You need to make a fast turn? The Camry will do it with aplomb. The experience won’t be like a Supra’s but, as a testament to modern transportation devices, the Camry will handle what you put it up against. It’s an out of sight/out of mind experience, like an extension of your being combined with reliability that has been a Camry trademark since it unseated the Ford Taurus as America’s favorite sedan (though there’s been that pesky Honda Accord on occasion). In some ways, the Camry is the anti-SUV because it offers all the spaciousness and utility most need while offering enough interior and ride comfort so you can enjoy your podcast with a minimum of fuss. Like many modern cars, there are several gimmicky driving modes: Normal, Sport, Eco, and EV. Each setting offers a selection of shift points and electric motor cut-offs that will affect acceleration and economy. Considering the more economy-minded settings can be lazy in hilly country, we can appreciate this feature in opportune moments. However, it would not surprise us that thx x e average Camry drive keeps it on one setting and has forgotten about it.
The 2023 Toyota Camry SE Hybrid Nightshade reminds me of how one magazine characterized the Camaro in 1968: it tries to be all things to all people. The Camaro was criticized because, while it aimed to please a large segment of the population, it seemed to excel at nothing because it wasn’t focused. In comparison, the Camry doesn’t suffer from trying too hard. On the contrary, it seems more adept at checking all the boxes and being competent at everything — not quite the teacher’s pet, but one that will always be in the teacher’s good graces if given the occasional apple. For this, we have great respect for the Camry SE Hybrid Nightshade, as we have no bones to pick with its efficiency. However, as folks who aren’t quite the Camry’s target market, we are left wanting more: we would love better styling, sharper handling, a more upscale interior (which can be faked quite easily, as Mazda has proven) and, perhaps, better acceleration to be more competitive with other hybrids in the market (though the seat of our collective pants has no issues). None of these things truly matter at this point considering Toyota is preparing the next-generation Camry for 2024. If the latest offerings from Toyota are any hint, such as the GR Corolla, GR86 coupe, or even the I-hate-to-say-it-but-the-new-Prius-is-almost-stunning Prius, we may even be excited with what Mr. and Mrs. America will be able to drive next.