The Peppy 2017 Toyota Camry XSE

Driving hybrids rather spoils you for regular engines and regular transmissions: on a hybrid there’s a continuously variable transmission and what most non-hybrid drivers don’t realize is that it makes your car really peppy and reactive. Ya know how on a standard gas engine if you punch it from a stop there’s an acceleration that has hiccups as the car revs up then shifts to the next gear? You don’t get that with a CVT and so even a relatively low powered hybrid can be surprisingly fun to drive. Rent one, you’ll see what I mean.

Which is to say that I really enjoyed the peppy little 2017 Toyota Camry XSE but kinda wished it was part of the extensive Toyota hybrid line just to get that CVT system. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nicely thought-out smaller family sedan with a good entry price, but going from a stop there was a point where you were going about 15-20mph when the automatic transmission downshifted that was the “hiccup” I mentioned earlier. But once you were past that shift point, the car was super responsive and really fun to drive, holding the road nicely as I zipped around curves and passed slower traffic on the highway.

And the Camry XSE is a smart looking car too:

2017 toyota camry xse exterior

The front grille is very distinctive on the car too, a welcome improvement from 2016’s horizontal slats. This is known as the “sports mesh front grille” and it’s cool, reminiscent of higher end sports cars and big, bold pickup trucks.

As an SUV driver, I always marvel at the trunk and back storage space of a sedan, and the Camry has a nice amount of storage space, plenty enough for our day-to-day driving. Again, Toyota’s done a nice job of giving the car just a little bit of a forward lean for that predatory sports car look, while still keeping it with the traditional sedan lines:

2017 toyota camry xse rear exterior view

This distinctive bright blue color? It’s “Blue Streak Metallic” and it really pops when you see it in person. The most popular car color across all vehicles is white, but Fortune thinks that blue could actually overtake that. If they’re all cheery blues like Blue Streak Metallic, that might just come to pass.

Of course, you get a very different view of the car when actual weather decided to show up. Here’s the Camry XSE with a light dusting of snow, just in case you live in an area where this’ll be how it looks for a percentage of the year:

2017 toyota camry xse with snow

Not quite as blue, and if you look closely at the door panels, the dirt shows the gentle line towards the back wheel well better than when the car’s clean.

Fortunately, even on those cold days, the front and rear heaters work great, as do the seat heaters. I spend a lot of time with the entertainment and control system, however, and if you’re a Toyota fan, you already know the basic layout and functionality:

2017 toyota camry entertainment center

Important to notice is that this Camry model has zonal temperature controls, which is a huge benefit. Also note all the icons used by the design team. It can be a bit confusing, so I appreciate the word “front” under one of the defroster/defogger buttons, though why they tie sideview mirror defrosting to the rear window rather than the front is a bit hard to grasp. Then again, I never turn on one without the other, so perhaps it could all just be controlled with a single button?

The JBL sound system offered a nice, rich sound too, and we definitely listened to our favorite XM Radio stations at volume. While singing. Of course. I mean, you sing along while you’re driving too, don’t you?

And back to icons, can you guess what each of these buttons controls?

safety controls, 2017 toyota camry xse

It’s interesting that as we get smarter cars, it gets a bit more tricky to figure out the universal language-free icons and graphics to use that will quickly and accurately convey their purpose. If you’re curious, I’m 99% sure that, left to right, that’s blind-side monitoring, traction control, lane monitoring and front collision avoidance. Why you’d disable any of these I don’t know, but perhaps that’s why this row of controls is discreetly tucked to the left of the steering wheel, not in the main control area.

Toyota has a nice strip of plugs and ports — and wireless cellphone charging if your device supports it — tucked into the middle of the console. It’s a bit weird that it’s not rectilinear but rather at an angle on the side, but since I use the USB (I know, it doesn’t look like a USB plug in the photo below) and the 12V adapter (for radar detectors, naturally), I really appreciate these being so easily accessible:

plugs and ports, 2017 toyota

The dashboard design and layout is good too, though the usual question about why show a tachometer if you’re in an automatic transmission?

dashboard gauges, 2017 toyota camry xse

The answer is that the XSE has paddle shifters if you really want to switch to more manual control. Since I don’t fully understand how they work I’m a bit paranoid of dropping into the wrong gear accidentally so rarely touch them (as I suspect 99% of owners also do) but if you want a more responsive drive, then manual gear shifting + tach is a good combination until you get the feel of the engine and its rev whine.

Look again at the above, however: It shows one of the most disappointing aspects of the 2017 Toyota Camry XSE: Fuel efficiency. Or lack thereof. I saw an average of 21.3mpg on a small family sedan. Admittedly I drive a bit more aggressively than most owners and it’s a V6 not a V4, but it’s a real disappointment that this car isn’t getting 30mpg or even higher fuel efficiency. The EPA ratings for the vehicle are 21/30, so rather than being low, I’m right on target for fuel efficiency. It’s 2017, this is a car that people will own into the 2020’s. It should get better mileage.

Still, that being said, we enjoyed this cute little Camry. It was fun to drive, had plenty of space for my teen daughter and her friends, along with our stuff and a trunk full of musical instruments and shopping bags. The lines give it an appealing curb factor, and the base price for the entire Camry line of only $23,070 [base MSRP of the XSE is $26,310] is very attractive as a first car or first family car. Toyota just needs to up the fuel efficiency a bit…

AS DRIVEN: 2017 Toyota Camry 4-door XSE V6 sedan, blue streak metallic / gray, 3.5L V6 DOHC Dual VVT-i engine with 268hp and 6-speed automatic ECT transmission. Additions: blind spot monitor, Entune premium JBL audio with nav system, advanced tech package, emergency assistance kit, paint protection film, hide away cargo net, door sill enhancements, four season floor mat package, rear bumper applique, wheel locks and remote engine starter. MSRP AS DRIVEN: $35,903.

Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the 2017 Camry XSE to drive for a week for the purposes of this review. Thanks, Toyota!

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