2021 Toyota Camry Review

2021 Toyota Camry - Island hopping with all-wheel drive


Kiawah Island, South Carolina- Venturing on vacation is made easier when tooling around Atlantic shore barrier islands in a four-door 2021 Camry, especially one now fitted with all-wheel drive.

Toyota reintroduced sure-footed all-wheel drive into its popular mid-size sedan in 2020, after a long three decade absence. For now, AWD remains exclusive to Camry's sold on North American shores.

While all-wheel drive is welcome in the four-season Midwest, the take rate along sun-belt states tends to fall. But this Prairie State traveler found himself thankful as an unusual all-day super soaker greeted our landing party. These thunder boomers, ubiquitous in Chicagoland, tend to jump in and out of the Carolinas with a much shorter shelf life.  

In any event Camry AWD muscled through standing water with sure-footed grip.  The dynamic control torque all-wheel drive minimizes fuel economy drag while directing 50 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels in response to front-wheel slippage. When not needed, a rear drive axle electromagnetic control coupling disengages a propeller shaft to conserve fuel; all transparent to drivers. Toyota estimates about a 15 percent take rate nationwide for all-wheel drive. The mid-sized Camry offers AWD exclusively within all four-cylinder engine trim levels.

A 2021 update sees the retirement of the low-volume base L trim.  Not to worry as Camry still offers a wide array of trims and a V-6 engine option.  Several mid-size rivals have quietly dropped V-6 punch from their portfolio, most notably South Korean automakers Kia (in its K5 renamed from Optima) and Hyundai (the Sonata).

And the count of mid-size rivals continues shrinking most notably from the domestic ledger.  Both General Motors and Ford Motor Company wiped sedans of all sizes from there sales palate, opening up valuable production lines for trendy five-door crossovers. Chrysler continues producing the full-size 300 sedan, but an aging platform finds itself colliding with a new corporate parent, Stellantis. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is no more as of January 2021 and the 300's future remains highly murky.

Our vacation tester is a member of Camry's eighth-generation, on sale since 2018. It's easily the most stylized exterior of the past 38 years with a lower roof line and chiseled characteristics.  It's no longer the plain Vanilla selection. The first-generation Camry, compact-sized upon arrival, made its U.S. debut in 1983 sporting two body styles:  a four-door sedan and five-door hatchback.

Up front Camry sports a large revamped lower air dam cinching towards the middle. Above, the small grille and hood nose come to an arrow head front with the circular "T" logo at center.  Eagle eye head lamp housing wraps around to side fenders.  The large rear window, small trunk lid and wide 'C" pillar add up to a sportier flair. The vacation-ready trunk swallows an average but acceptable 15.1 cubic feet of luggage.

Pandemic-specific U.S. sales in the 2020 calendar year reached a respectable 294,348 units. Positive owner satisfaction scores coupled with years of above-average reliability keep sales number strong. Camry ranked as the best-selling four-door sedan and the sixth-best overall vehicle following behind three full-size pickups and two compact crossovers. Historically, Camry resales values remain healthy.

Two traditional internal combustion engines return from last year: a naturally aspirated (non turbo), high-compression, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine comes in LE, SE, a tricked-out-in-black SE Nightshade, XSE and XLE. The 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6, exclusive to XLE, XSE and low-volume TRD trims, provides 301 horses. Both team with a smooth, quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission.  Toyota promotes LE and XLE trims as comfort first while SE and XSE emphasize sportiness with its sports-tuned suspension.

If these two engine choices don't tickle the imagination, try door number three. Camry returns in 2021 with its fuel-extending, self-charging, gas-electric hybrid (no plug-in required) delivering an estimated 52 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel. Toyota's sold more gas-electric hybrids in America than any other manufacturer, thanks to lessons learned from its iconic Prius with more than two decades of hybrid hauling under its belt.

Regular, 87-octane fuel powers both IC engines with all-wheel drive variants holding 14.4 gallons, about a gallon less than front-drive choices.

Several years ago, Toyota introduced Safety Sense, a bundle of popular radar-enhanced features the company made standard in all its vehicles. The bundle now upgrades to Safety Sense 2.5 + adding on and enhancing existing goodies; a great peace of mind perk. A 'rear seat reminder' now comes with every Camry sold.

Camry pricing for a four-cylinder entry LE starts at 24,970. Our XLE four banger with all-wheel drive starts at $31,270. Subtract $1,400 for a front-drive XLE.  With a cadre of packages and a $995 destination fee, the bottom line reached $37,224.

Extras included $1,430 driver assist package with head's up front windshield display and sonar-enhanced rear cross traffic braking, $150 cold weather package, $1,760 navigation upgrade, $1,360 power moon roof and $259 carpeted floor mats.

The top-self XLE adds to standard content leather interior (three color choices), black metallic front grille, enhanced radar cruise control (allowing a complete stop before speeding up again depending upon traffic situations) and lane departure alert controls.

Once settled behind the wheel with the electronic, dashboard push-start button engaged, the instrument panel's center digital window flashes 'Camry' animation. This multi-panel window also helps visualize and fine tune optional head's up dashboard projections in tandem with steering wheel button's found at 9 o'clock on the three-spoke steering wheel face. The IP window gets flanked by two traditional, easily interpreted analog gauges.

Return buyers will note a change from past generations.  Cruise control no longer monitor's from a 5 o'clock steering wheel appendage; replaced with a more traditional location at the steering wheel's 3 o'clock wing.

The center dash supports a flat nine-inch touch-sensitive screen that jets up from horizontal mid-section air vents. The sound system smartly includes two convenient twist dials while the screen gets flanked by columns of four well-marked narrow buttons.  Apple Car Play and Android Auto Smartphone compatibility are now both standard.

The vertically sliding eight-speed transmission shifter locates between front buckets with three well-marketed drive mode buttons (Eco, Normal, Sport) aft. Our XLE trim included new-for-2021 herringbone seat pattern.

The lower dash sports the HVAC with two large dials controlling dual inside temperature settings, one button for fan direction and two buttons selecting fan speed. Row two accommodates a pair of adult riders in ultimate comfort; three for short jaunts.

Japan's largest automaker includes 'ToyotaCare' standard with every 2021 Camry sold in America.  It's a no-cost maintenance program covering normal factory-scheduled service for two years or 25,000 miles including oil and filter changes, fluid level adjustment and tire rotation.  A Roadside Assistance package is also included (with unlimited miles for two years) in case unforeseen jump starts, towing or emergency fuel delivery events spring up unexpectedly, say when vacationing.

2021 Toyota Camry XLE AWD

Price as tested: $37,224

Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder

Horsepower:  205

Wheelbase: 111.2 inches

Overall Length: 192.7 inches

Overall Width: 72.4 inches

Overall Height: 57.1 inches

Curb Weight: 3,540 pounds

Fuel Economy:  25 mpg city/34 mpg highway

Powertrain warranty: Five year/60,000 miles

Assembly:  Georgetown, Kentucky  

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.