The Toyota Camry will likely come in again as the country's best-selling car of the year SUBMITTED PHOTO/Courtesy of Toyota.

The Toyota Camry will likely come in again as the country’s best-selling car of the year SUBMITTED PHOTO/Courtesy of Toyota.

Barring the possibility of an upset even bigger than the one that took place at the polls on Tuesday, Toyota’s Camry will end this year as America’s favorite car … again. Pickup trucks may reign as the most popular vehicles in the land, but Toyota’s midsize sedan has been the country’s best-selling car model for nearly the entire century.

Spending a week recently driving a 2017 Camry XSE eliminated any mystery about why it will be No. 1 for the 15th straight year. The Camry is the complete package; a car that delivers comfort and roominess along with reasonably good fuel economy and respectable performance.

And it does all of that while wearing a brand label that stands for quality and reliability.

In many ways, the current Camry is the kind of car Adolph Hitler envisioned in 1932 when he discussed building Germany a “people’s car” with Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche). Hitler was a mass-murdering lunatic whose plans for a well-performing and versatile car that was affordable to the average worker got sidetracked by his plans for world domination.

But when Volkswagen’s “beetle” finally went into production following the war, it eventually became the world’s best-selling car and had a production run that lasted 65 years.

The Camry, which was first offered in the U.S. in 1983, has been around for half as long. But given the vast array of makes, models and vehicle types available in today’s automotive world, the Camry’s 33-year run is pretty amazing. 

And it’s not the least bit difficult to understand. At various times over the years, the automotive press has criticized the Camry for bland styling and tepid performance. But that’s like criticizing Tom Brady because he’s not a great runner. Like Brady, the Camry is a winner because it does what it needs to do to succeed. 

Snazzy styling has never been one of its standout qualities, but that has been by design. Edgy auto styling tends to polarize consumers – some will like it and some won’t – so it isn’t appropriate for a vehicle made for the masses. 

Given those sensibilities, Toyota’s stylists deserve high praise for the 2017 Camry design. During my time with the test car, its styling drew plenty of compliments and not a single complaint. The sporty XSE trim is particularly appealing. One of four Camry models, the XSE has a distinctive front fascia with piano-black mesh grille, tinted headlights and its own 18-inch graphite-finish wheels with black accents.

There are other sporty features on the inside. These include a leather-trimmed, three-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters and bolstered front bucket seats with faux-suede surfaces.

Mechanically, the XSE’s six-speed transmission has a Sport mode that delivers faster shift times, along with low-profile, high-performance P225/45R18 tires and a sport-tuned suspension.

The test car seemed to benefit from these upgrades, handling as well as any Camry I’ve driven and better than most. The XSE reacted quickly and predictably to steering wheel input and exhibited very little body lean even when pushed hard through tight turns. The tires provided plenty of grip and were up to the challenge of spirited driving even on twisty back roads.

The Camry XSE’s brakes also felt strong, although the driver doesn’t get a lot of feedback from the pedal. The same is true for the steering, which is nicely weighted but not particularly communicative. In other words, the Camry’s steering system will need to deliver more road feel and feedback for Toyota to declare the XSE a sport touring sedan.

It’s a somewhat similar story under the hood … at least as far as our test car was concerned. The XSE can be ordered with Toyota’s 3.5-liter V6 engine, which delivers 268 horsepower and 248 pounds-feet of torque. That’s good enough for zero-to-60 times of around six seconds, along with the kind of passing power and refinement expected in a sport touring sedan.

My XSE test vehicle, however, was equipped with Toyota’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is rated at 178 horsepower and 170 pounds-feet of torque, and accelerated from zero to 60 in around 7.6 seconds, according to my stopwatch.

That’s not the kind of acceleration that’s going to set you back in your seat, but the four-cylinder feels quicker than the stopwatch suggests and is pleasantly smooth and quiet. It also helps provide impressive fuel economy in a roomy midsize sedan, delivering over 33 highway miles per gallon during my evaluation. The Camry XSE also did better in the real world than its 24 city/27 combined EPA mileage ratings.

With that kind of fuel economy, enough room and comfort to transport five people comfortably for hours, and a spacious 15.4-cubic foot trunk (that can be expanded, thanks to folding rear seatbacks), the Camry’s versatility is unsurpassed in a sedan. Factor in the long list of standard features and sporty flair of the XSE model, and the Camry’s popularity really comes into focus.

 Given the 2017 Camry XSE’s starting price of $26,310 – 2017 models cost the same as last year despite additional standard features – it’s no wonder Camry is going to be America’s best-selling car again this year. And unless Toyota changes its successful formula, Camry seems destined to remain No. 1 for years to come.

— Scott Wasser writes an automotive column for the Journal Tribune.

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