2016 Camry V-6 XLE road test: Smooth, comfortable, peppy

2016 Toyota Camry XLE

2016 Toyota Camry XLE

People buy automobiles for lots of reasons — to enjoy the excitement of a sporty new toy, to make a fashion statement, to own a prestige symbol, or just to get a solidly built, comfortable, practical and relatively affordable vehicle that will last them a long time. Put the 2016 Toyota Camry — and all of the Camrys that came before it — in that last category.

The millions of satisfied owners have left no doubt that the Japanese manufacturer has its multinational finger on the pulse of the typical American car buyers. What they are looking for is a car that is economical to drive, reasonably well equipped and roomy enough for a growing family and their vacation-trip belongings.

What they do not need is a hot rod, a high-performance sports sedan or an expensive premium vehicle designed to let the neighbors know the grass is greener on their side of the fence.

I recently spent a couple hundred miles with a V-6-powered, top-of-the-line 2016 Toyota Camry XLE and it was a sterling example of the core values that these customers are looking for.

But, as the most luxurious and most expensive Camry available, it is not the vehicle of choice for the bulk of Camry buyers, who have shown a preference for less costly Camrys with more frugal 4-cylinder engines.

Toyota Camry instruments

Toyota Camry instruments

Instead, the XLE might be the sensible purchase for a person looking for a lower-cost alternative to the Lexus ES 350, an identically powered, similarly sized and more opulent sedan from Toyota’s upscale division.

So, let’s see what you get for the manufacturer’s suggested price of $35,118, including a delivery charge of $835.

First of all, it should be noted that changes to the five-passenger sedan are minor. The major overhaul came in 2015, when styling was updated and the suspension upgraded to add a little agility to the driving experience.

The interior, while probably luxurious enough to satisfy most Toyota customers, has enough hard-edged surfaces to remind one that it is down-market from its Lexus cousin.

Performance for the front-wheel-drive sedan is provided by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that can produces 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission, it can move the 3,460-pound Camry from a stop to 60 mph in approximately 6 seconds.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel mileage at 21 miles per gallon around town and 31 on the open road. In my week of driving on mostly level suburban roads and four-lane highways, I managed to average 25.5 mpg.

What a driver will appreciate more than the quickness is the smooth and quiet application of power and the seamless shifting of the transmission.

Toyota Camry front seats

Toyota Camry front seats

The Camry’s driving dynamics are controlled by an independent suspension, MacPherson struts in front and a dual-link setup with stabilizer bar at the rear; electric rack-and-pinion steering; and four-wheel disc brakes, vented at the front wheels and solid at the rear.

The available SE and XSE trims offer the sportiest suspension tuning, while the XLE is focused more on a comfortable ride.

To keep all of this in perspective, sportiest does not mean overtly sporty, and the softer suspension settings do not result in sloppy handling. In short, Toyota understands that its customers are interested in competence, but nothing that would seriously deteriorate ride comfort.

In keeping with its status at the top of the food chain, the 2016 Toyota Camry XLE offers an abundance of luxury features.

Included as standard equipment were a sunroof, audio system, navigation, leather upholstery, 7-inch touch display, power front seats with heaters, 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback to increase cargo capacity, keyless lock and ignition and dual-zone climate control.

Toyota Camry rear seats

Toyota Camry rear seats

An additional $805 includes a 10-speaker premium sound system with satellite radio availability, a suite of apps, a USB port, Ipod connectivity, Bluetooth hands-free phone system and a wireless smart phone charger.

Standard safety equipment includes a full complement of airbags and side curtains, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, and a rear-view camera.

The Advanced Technology Package ($750) adds lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, headlights with low beam and high beam that switch automatically depending on traffic conditions, and a pre-collision system that warns of an impending collision and applies brakes automatically if necessary.

Safety Connect ($515) provides automatic collision notification for one year, stolen vehicle locator and roadside assistance.

Finally, another $500 gets you a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert. I had not previously experienced rear cross-traffic alert and I found it particularly helpful when backing out of a mall parking space with large sport-utility vehicles on either side of me. Several times, I was warned of an unseen moving car about to cross my path.

The 2016 Toyota Camry XLE is similarly equipped and similarly priced to its major competitors — Chevys, Fords, Hondas, Nissans , Hyundais— and each puts a slightly different accent on the driving experience. If comfort,V-6 power and durability are at the top of your list, you might want to look into Toyota’s take on the premium mid-size sedan.

However, if you are looking for all of the known Camry positives, but would like them in the most frugal Camry available, you might be interested in the Toyota Camry Hybrid. Click here to learn about it.

Turn page for complete specifications of the Camry XLE.