I love it when Toyota sends me a lower-trim version of one of their vehicles. Luxury is nice from a selfish perspective, and Toyota/Lexus in my opinion is nailing the luxury segment, but most of us out here with our heads on straight are going to have to at least consider the less expensive options when buying a new car, because those nonessential options (an oxymoron?) can lift the price considerably into the thousands of extra dollars and even an extra hundred a month or so on the payment side.
When I was e-mailed the Monroney ahead of the delivery of the 2019 Camry, I was please to see it was a four-cylinder SE coming my way. That’s the seventh down the line of 10 trim levels, with the XSE V-6 topping the list, and the L 4-cylinder hanging out on the bottom rung. (Yes, that was an “L” and not “LE”, which is the second rung.) Last year, we spent a week in the top-trim Camry, which rivals its own cousin the Lexus ES 350 with its 300-plus horsepower V-6. This year, just a few weeks ago, we spent a week in a mid-trim copy that still managed to deliver more than 200 horses, which is impressive for a four-banger.
I think back to my 1998 Grand Prix days, and I remember that 3.8-liter V-6 only churning out 195 horsepower, and I thought that thing was lightning-fast. What they’re doing these days with dual injection and variable valve timing is amazing.
What’s really impressive as well on the performance side of the SE is the fact that this four-cylinder Camry is giving you plenty of pep while treating you to significant savings at the fuel pump. The copy we tested boasted 28 mpg/city and 39 mpg/highway, the latter being twice the mileage per gallon I’m getting presently with my 2007 minivan.
So that’s the kind of thing that gets me thinking it may be time to consider a newer vehicle (still not a brand-new one, mind you). That for me would probably be a $50-60 savings monthly in fuel costs, not to mention the repair costs I’m incurring over the last couple of years. The numbers aren’t lining up yet, but they might in the next year or two.
Back to this Camry, when you see the styling, you may be disappointed that it only provides 200+ horses, because it looks much sleeker and faster than that, which was not the way with Camrys only a few years ago. On the other hand, you may be exceptionally pleased that you’re getting pretty much the same sporty look in the $25K model as you’d have gotten in the one that costs $10K more. Toyota in recent years has really taken the prize, in my opinion, when it comes to styling. Where I think Toyota/Lexus tried to copy Mercedes-Benz years ago, it seems that the other car makers are now trying to copy Toyota/Lexus.
Let’s keep talking about the styling for a minute. Seeing the Camry finally get the sporty good looks that it deserves is kind of like seeing that otherwise cool classmate back in high school finally get that much-needed new hairstyle that gives them a sense of distinction. And in the Camry’s case, it’s not overbaked like so many car makers have done with their dullards over the years, the Pontiac Grand Am being one of the worst offenders. The Camry performs like a good-looking, fun car, so it’s nice that the designers spruced up the exterior aesthetics a bit more to suit it.
Now, let’s think like old men for a minute. The Camry is still super-duper practical. It has your good gas mileage options, it is comfortable and spacious, and as the best-selling car in the United States for most of the last two decades, it historically has a good resale value. This is the car you keep and then hand down to your children or grandchildren when they start driving.
As much as I enjoyed the 2019 Camry, I’d much sooner put my money toward a 2017 model right now, because you can find loads (in the Atlanta area, at least) for around $15K with 25K or fewer miles. They do tend to be four-cylinder models, but you’re getting a great price for a car still under a year’s worth of bumper-to-bumper warranty and three years’ worth of drivetrain coverage.
The Camry SE we tested had a $25K base price but was kitted out to sell for around $30K. I’ll look forward to seeing it on the used lot at the dealership in few years.
[Danny Harrison is a veteran journalist who cut his teeth in the newspaper industry in 1995. He is the public relations specialist for a bustling municipality just south of Atlanta, but he still enjoys writing news features and reviews in his personal time. He is an active member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association. He and his wife have five children, all of whom fancy themselves to be automobile critics.]