Toyota Camry XLE is a Cut-Price Lexus

Sleeping kittens make more noise than this

OK, name me the top-selling sedan in the U.S. right now. If you said Toyota’s Camry, go to the top of the class.

I know, I know. When most people think of a Camry they somehow picture a Maytag fridge-freezer on wheels with all the emotional excitement of tofu.

A decade ago, my 83-year-old mother-in-law used to pilot – rather slowly – a beige-gold Camry LE with beige velour upholstery. While it was utterly reliable and utterly faultless in its execution, to drive it was about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Old perceptions die hard. So when this 2021 Camry XLE turned-up in my driveway for a week’s review, I yawned as if I’d just watched Meet Joe Black for the third time in a row.

But then I drove it.

As regular readers may know, I’m a sucker for automotive smoothness, refinement, and general peace and quiet. My favorite ride isn’t some raucous, loud-mouthed Ferrari or Lamborghini, it’s a Bentley. Big, smooth V12 power, suspension filled with molasses, a cabin as hushed as a bank vault.

The beauty of this Camry XLE is that it’s one of the last mid-size sedans these days to offer a V6 engine, rather than a turbo 4-cylinder. And it is, without doubt, one of the smoothest engines on the planet today.

Even when revved to the max, it sounds as vocal as kittens purring, or Diana Krall singing Gershwin. Cruising around town, it makes a Tesla sound like a Mack truck.

In my notes, I scribbled down every Thesaurus similarity to “smooth”. As in fluid, calm, tranquil, placid, serene, unruffled, polished. I think I even wrote down “debonair”.

Had a lousy day Zooming on the computer? Slide into the XLE’s perforated leather seat, bring to life that silken 3.5-liter V6, and b-r-e-a-t-h-e.

And this refinement also spills over into the Camry’s lively performance. This thing packs an outstanding 301-horsepower and muscley 267 lb-ft of torque, which it delivers with the smoothness of hot butter on a Teflon pan.

Complementing it is an 8-speed automatic, which surely uses witchcraft to disguise its shifts. Accelerate hard – it does scoot off the line – and only the dips in the tachometer needle reveal when a shift was made.

Of course the tradeoff is cornering and handling that nudges towards the safe and steady, rather than the athletic and agile. Want fun handling in this class? Buy yourself a Mazda6. Or the sportier Camry TRD.

But the steering is nicely-weighted, precise and good at telegraphing what’s going on at the front. And like most other things about this car, the ride is smooth and oh-so comfy.

Climb aboard and you forget just how big and roomy these latest Camrys are inside. The back seat is stretch-out huge; I’m six-feet tall and could sit in the rear without my kneecaps coming anywhere close to the seat in front.

What also surprised me was the sound quality of the latest JBL sound system the Camry gets as standard. With a JBL amp, sub-woofer and nine JBL speakers, it feels like you’re sitting center row at Carnegie Hall.

To keep the Camry line-up fresh and smelling of roses, Toyota give it a nip, tuck and jab of Botox for 2021. The XLE we’re driving got a redesigned face with a honeycomb-style grille and bolder side vents. New-look 18-inch alloys too.

Thankfully, this section of the marketplace isn’t really known for standout designs, so the Camry’s slightly forgettable shape is unlikely to be a deal breaker.

And, talking of deals, you can forgive this new XLE pretty much anything after a quick look at the sticker. Our tester had a base price of just $34,995, or $37,079 fully loaded.

You have to ask the question whether it’s worth the extra investment to step up to a Lexus? No wonder Camry is America’s top-selling sedan.

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