Long-time top dog of the mid-size sedans, the Toyota Camry undergoes a mild refresh for 2021. We review it and all the updates.
The 2021 Toyota Camry sees a minor refresh for the new model year while sticking to what has made it the best-selling sedan for the better part of the last two decades. Sterling reliability, a comfortable ride, and excellent build quality have, in this current generation, been combined with more aggressive styling and a slightly sportier driving experience to keep the Camry competitive against strong rivals like the Honda Accord, Mazda6, and Hyundai Sonata
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Last year saw the introduction of the spicy TRD (Toyota Racing Development) trim and all-wheel drive, and both of those additions were arguably more significant than what we’re getting in this official “refresh” for 2021. Updates to the front facia, dash configuration, additions to Toyota’s Safety Suite, and a larger infotainment screen are among the welcomed improvements. These all fall within the long-established approach of steady, incremental improvement from Toyota.
The latest evolution of the Toyota Camry in the 2021 demonstrates the wisdom of this approach. The Camry continues to expand its appeal with practical improvements, in safety and utility with things like AWD, and in excitement with improved performance and bolder styling. Casting their net ever wider seems to be working for Toyota and their brand-pillar Camry.
For 2021, the Camry comes with three different powertrains that cover your bases for both efficiency and power. The first might not come as a surprise, though the second is still taking some getting used to with the Camry. But for a car that’s made its reputation on mass appeal, it can only help.
The base engine is a 2.5L I4 making a decent 202hp and 182lb.-ft. of torque and paired with an eight-speed automatic. This is where the Camry’s all-wheel drive is available instead of the standard front-wheel drive. The I4 isn’t lightning fast with a 0-60 time of roughly 7.8 seconds. In exchange for that modest power output, you get impressive fuel efficiency with the FWD version netting 28 city and 39 highway mpg while the AWD dips to 25/34 mpg.
If the 4-cylinder isn’t swift enough, there’s the optional 3.5L V6 which bumps up the horsepower to 301 and the torque to 267lb.-ft. The V6 also comes mated to the same eight-speed automatic, this time with paddle shifters for a little extra “sportiness”. You will feel the difference between the V6 and the I4, with the former getting a healthy 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds. Sadly, the V6 only comes in FWD but this keeps the fuel economy to 22 city and 33 highway mpg.
The new Toyota Camry Hybrid powertrain combines the 2.5L four-cylinder with an electric motor for 208hp and 163lb.-ft. (combined with an electronic CVT). Fuel economy depends on the trim, and the batteries they use. The LE trim runs lithium-ion batteries and gets an excellent 51/53 mpg. The rest of the trims get nickel-based batteries and 44/47 mpg. New for 2021, the hybrid powertrain is available on the higher XSE trim level.
Though they are a significant minority of all Camry’s sold, something like six percent of 2020 sales, the V6 ameliorates a long-standing weakness for Toyota’s mid-size champion, that is, a lack of power. Combined with steady improvements in the suspension and you can get a decently fun drive out of the historically humdrum Camry.
The new (as of last year) TRD goes a step further by lowering the ride height slightly (.6-unches), tightening the suspension tuning, stiffening the body bracing, and tacking on a rear spoiler. Though this all means the TRD is the stiffest riding Camry of 2021, it’s also the most athletic and the sharpest handling Camry ever.
As we noted above, the four-cylinder is on the poky side, producing just adequate acceleration. For most Camry buyers this result is perfectly fine and the added benefit of optional AWD will likely keep the vast majority of buyers with the smaller engine. Power delivery from the hybrid and it’s CVT is smooth and on par with the base engine. Sadly, the hybrid lacks the option for AWD.
Luckily, Toyota has steadily improved the Camry’s driving dynamics overall. Steering is accurate and pleasantly weighty without being overly so. And if you are actually in need of more power, the V6 delivers a clear upgrade in acceleration, enough to squeak the front tires if you want to, and makes highway passing a breeze. Unless AWD is a deal breaker for you, we recommend.
The updates inside the Camry for 2021 are minor. The infotainment screen has been moved up and morphed into a floating tablet design, that screen has also gotten slightly larger (now it’s up to nine inches), and the seats have been given a redesign. The swooping lines of the dash, high-quality finish, and ample passenger room remain from last year’s model.
And the Camry continues to deliver when it comes to practical considerations. Storage is generous, with a truly cavernous center console and an extra cubby underneath the wireless charging area. Head and leg room are also excellent, though still slightly behind the Accord. The trunk offers 15.1 cu. ft. of cargo space, and the rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split in all but the TRD trim, which can’t due to the additional bracing in back.
The upgraded seats perform well on longer hauls, and the additional bolstering keeps riders snugly in place through corners without feeling constricting. We also liked that Toyota saw fit to grant all trim levels with the eight-way power driver’s seat.
All-in-all the Camry delivers a pleasant and modern interior that comes in just slightly behind segment leading interiors from Honda and Mazda. But then, despite the renewed emphasis on compelling design, Toyota has long erred on function first, form second.
Most significant of the 2021 updates for the Camry include the latest version of Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5 which reportedly now better recognizes pedestrians and cyclist and scans for oncoming traffic when making left turns. The upgradeable infotainment screen also grows from a maximum of eight inches to nine.
Standard safety technology includes adaptive cruise control, rearview camera, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, land trace assist, automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights, pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, and a rearview camera. Optional safety features include blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, reverse automatic emergency braking.
LED headlights, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hotspot, 2 USB ports, six-speaker stereo, satellite radio.
Leather steering wheel, SoftTex faux leather seats, automatic climate control, heated steering wheel, optional Nightshade Edition appearance package.
Optional V6 engine (ups price tag to $34,995), eight-way power front passenger seat, leather seats, wood interior trim, ambient lighting, electronic parking brake, optional JBL premium stereo, panoramic moonroof, HD radio, heated steering wheel. An HUD, surround view camera, and reverse emergency braking make up the Driver Assistance Package.
With V6 ($35,545), sport tuned suspension, updated facia matching those of the SE and TRD trims, and all features and options of the XLE trim.
Track-tuned suspension, bigger brakes, aluminum pedals, rear spoiler, unique styling elements, fixed rear seats. (Note: The TRD actually down grades a few features from the other upper trims, including a seven-inch touchscreen, SoftTex seats, and automatic climate control.)
Though their share of the market has shrunk in recent decades thanks to the ever-rising popularity of SUVs, the mid-size sedan remains a vital and competitive automotive segment. The 2021 Toyota Camry does well in keeping up with the likes of the excellent Honda Accord and eye-catching Kia K5 (formerly the Optima) with its bold, if polarizing, front end, energetic V6, and generous safety suite. The small but steady improvements year-over-year add up over time to produce a great car that offers enticements to a broad array of potential customers.
2021 Toyota Camry – toyota.com | Shop new Toyota Camry on Carsforsale.com
And yet … we can’t help pining for a little bit more out of the Camry. Though we love the availability of a hybrid powertrain, we’d like to see the addition of a plug-in hybrid option. Though we love the new AWD, we’d love to see it expanded beyond just the four-cylinder. And though we enjoyed the V6’s added punch off the line, we also recall that the RAV4 Prime is faster (at 5.4 seconds zero to 60mph). Combine all these elements, say in a Camry Prime plug-in hybrid, and you’d have an efficient, sure-footed, and swift sedan. Plus, consider the fact that the RAV4 Prime has been so popular that Toyota can’t make them fast enough to fill orders. It only makes sense then to make a Prime version of the sales champion Camry. And Toyota, it’s only a few small tweaks away.