Home Automobiles Steve Says The Fun In This Car Is “How It Handles”

Steve Says The Fun In This Car Is “How It Handles”

Freshened styling, all-wheel drive and a Dynamic Force engine pumping out 203 horsepower, the Camry SE Nightshade Edition,with its honest to goodness key and no side blind zone alert, could be the $30,000 car of your darker dreams.

So what is it you want out of your Camry? 

A bare bones, $25,000 LE that’ll net nearly 40mpg on the highway?  Maybe a hybrid.  How about a sharp-handling TRD?  There are 17 different choices in the Camry family. 

But until recently you couldn’t get one with all-wheel drive.  But that changed last year and the car you’re looking at here blends 4-wheel traction, the sport-tuned suspension of the SE trim and the sinister looks of the Nightshade Edition.  With the Carpet Mat Package, MSRP is $29,839. 

The bolder front-end design combined with all of the blacked-out bits and contrasting silver metallic paint provides a very sport edition-appropriate look.  I really like it. 

Of course, you can also spec this one in front-drive but my Camry runs with an automatically disconnecting all-wheel drive system that can move, on demand, up to 50% of the engine’s power to the rear wheels.  It’s a $1,400 option.  And just like the Lexus ES I recently tested, it’s only available with the 4-cylinder engine, rated at 25mpg city/34mpg highway which is slightly less economical and possesses a smaller driving range than all of its competitors. 

I said it had 203 horsepower earlier; it’s actually 202 with all-wheel drive and 182 pound-feet of torque.  So it has a leg up in the output department but it’s also the heaviest car of the bunch.  All that being said, its racy looks are writing checks that its motor can’t cash but is it brutally slow?  No. 

And the sport-tuned springs and shocks along with the thicker front stabilizer bar and a set of underrated Hankook tires provide the foundation for a beautifully supple ride that also likes to dance. 

The fun in this car can be found in the way it handles, not what’s under the hood.  The steering is excellent, too. 

Fact of the matter is that this chassis is stellar and despite its lack of oomph I really enjoy driving this Camry; the ride is as smooth as Taylor Swift’s airbrushed face and this car legitimately handles – Toyota has nailed the suspension tuning.  The engine is a smooth character as well but, man, it often feels really slow and the disconnecting all-wheel drive system can be clunky. 

It’s also a really comfortable car with straightforward controls.  But unlike Hyundai or Kia who always surprise by giving you more than expected Toyota is the exact opposite.

I first noticed this in my ES test but figured it was probably an anomaly but here it is again; an occasional, disconcerting skip in the drivetrain, presumably as the electromagnetically controlled coupling at the rear engages.  Toyota says this AWD system is transparent to the driver but I disagree.  And 8-speed auto with paddle shifters but no drive modes is the only transmission.

And what I mean about the lack of surprise from Toyota is most evident from within here.  I know 30 grand isn’t considered expensive anymore but would it kill Toyota to throw you a bone once in a while?  I haven’t driven a car with an actual key in ages and though there’s a new 7” floating design infotainment screen in here and some nifty splash screen graphics, this car feels rudimentary.  No height-adjustable passenger seat, no heated seats, a droopy rear armrest with no USB ports or HVAC vents back here, no LED lighting or a wireless charge pad.  Or how maybe a graphic AWD depiction in here?  And Toyota can brag all they want about Safety Sense 2.5+ being standard but it doesn’t include the 2 most important, everyday features; a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert.  They’re optional.  

On the plus side, there are automatic high beams, dynamic radar cruise control, a very basic but easy to use touchscreen with Android Auto and CarPlay, and sporty-looking synthetic seats with fabric inserts which are very comfortable and provide long trip comfort.  The new dash design also looks really good even if it isn’t exactly modern. 

So that’s the SE Nightshade Edition; a Camry that I like but one that leaves me wanting a little more.  

By TestDriveNow Auto Critic Steve Hammes for SouthFloridaReporter.comFeb. 15, 2021

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