While they may not be getting much credit for it, Toyota has been delivering on a promise to make their products more engaging of late. Sometimes they go too far, as in the overly stiff Rav4, but the latest redesigns of the Corolla and Highlander have shown the ability to walk that fine line between comfort and composure without losing sight of the practicality and efficiency expected of a Toyota.

The Camry, while only undergoing a partial redesign and some savvy trim tweaks, seems to have captured a little more of that personality while still being, well, a Camry. Sure the grille looks positively stunned that I’m complimenting it so, but for reals, it looks good, it drives well, and it just works. Whereas formerly it was simply relegated to the “If you must” pile for reliable family motoring, well, now it gets an enthusiastic “Hey, you could do a lot worse!”

While Brendan tackled the Camry vs Accord showdown in gunfight V6 trims, I spent some time in the well-featured Camry XSE armed with a four-cylinder knife. At 178 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque from the 2.5L, the Camry four-cylinder may come across as feeble, but that’s hardly the feeling one gets from the driver’s seat. From there, it feels just fine. Unexciting, but fine.

The six-speed transmission is smooth, and though “Super ECT” seems a bit childish it did its work as expected, moving up the gears smartly, and delivering downshifts when prodded by throttle input. Don’t let the paddle shifters fool you into thinking you’ll be banging off rev-matched downshifts as you attack corners, because you’ll likely forget they’re even there – the paddles, not the corners. They do, however, work should you need to call up a gear change to labour up a steep hill or some steam for a passing maneuver. There’s also an S mode. Silly Toyota, S mode is for sports cars. Well, perhaps if you’re feeling impatient you might choose to use this mode that will hang on to revs and keep the 2.5 wailing away. The big four doesn’t sound all that pleased when pushed.

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The chassis is surefooted enough, and the steering a parking-friendly weight without much feedback, but also without any excess play and a direct response from the wheels. Our tester was shod in 225/45 tires on 18-inch alloys wheels that looked a little goofy to me – like they were missing chunks of rim because of the paint pattern. Oh well, the key element was the right balance of sidewall and stiffness that offered a composed but accommodating ride. Personally, I might opt for a lesser trim with 17-inch tires and more sidewall in a Camry and give up on a bit of that composure for even better comfort and bump absorption levels. Despite a sport-tuned suspension, the prevailing dynamic is still front-wheel-drive family car, even if it is solid and reassuringly stable in the corners.

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