Get Comfortable, Stay Safe: Behind the Wheel of the 2017 Toyota Camry

May 30th, 2017 by

The drive to Street Toyota was a pleasant one — we visited on a sunny day, with surprisingly cool temperatures for a Texas spring.  But the drive to Street Toyota was decidedly less pleasant than the one I would take shortly after; the one behind the wheel of a brand new 2017 Toyota Camry.

Street team members enthusiastically greeted us — enthusiasm that we arrived, enthusiasm about the cars we’d soon test drive, enthusiasm about Toyota in general. It’s clear that this was more than just hospitality. The energy at this dealership is the result of true passion.

As our sales consultant walked us over to the silver 2017 Camry and handed over the keys, he pointed out some details we should notice about this Camry trim: the 2017 Camry SE. The biggest differences between the base trim of the Camry (the Camry LE) and the Camry SE are in design and function: the Camry SE features sporty exterior elements like an aggressive honeycomb grille, black sport trim bezels, and a color-keyed rear spoiler.

On a more technical level, this trim has a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, and Sport Mode Select that lets drivers opt for a more fun ride. In action, the Sport Mode Select works like this:

Behind the steering wheel are two “paddle shifters.” One is labeled with a plus sign, and one with a minus. When you shift the Camry out of Park, move one past Drive to the “S.” Now you can use the paddles, located behind the steering wheel, to control the car. Comparing this Sport Mode to driving a manual car is an accurate one — and goes without dispute from our sales consultant.

Once seated behind the wheel of the Camry …

I assessed comfort level. I was comfortable — probably a little more comfortable than I should (or would) be, ordinarily. Part of this comes from one of the few dealer-added features: Katzkin Custom Leather seats. These seats are black leather with red stitching, a fitting look for a sport trim, though I imagine they’d be just as comfortable in any color.

The driver’s seat is power adjustable. The steering wheel is telescopic. So finding my sweet spot behind the wheel wasn’t a tall task. The front seats are heated — another of the dealer-added items — with two modes: semi-warm and pretty warm, by my assessment. Neither is startlingly warm, but that might be desirable for a feature designed to literally just warm your seat.

Interior of the 2017 Toyota Camry

As far as space goes, I had plenty, and it would seem the sales consultant in the passenger seat did, too. I also had a backseat passenger with me who didn’t feel like he had as much headroom as he needed, but he is north of 6 feet tall, so that may be a “him” problem. The smallest amenity with the most surprising impact was the extending center console: you can adjust it forward (or leave it where it is) for an elbow rest that does not discriminate based on arm length.

Now, time to officially drive …

All 2017 Camry models are equipped with a backup camera, and in this trim the picture was viewable on a 6.1-inch touch-screen display. It was helpful, especially in a dealership parking lot where I was surrounded by hundreds of brand new cars. Other infotainment features accessible on the touchscreen display include AM/FM radio, CD player, bluetooth control for audio and phone, and auxiliary audio jack control. Navigation is an option in the 2017 Camry SE, but it’s not added to the car I drove.

The other digital display in this Camry was right in front of my face, sandwiched between my speedometer and RPM dial. It had three tiny screens I could toggle among using the controls on the right-hand side of the steering wheel. These three screens showed me useful information like the exact speed I was going, the number of miles I can drive before the gas tank hits empty, and the number of miles already on the car (in this case, 72).

My first, and seemingly only, bone to pick with the 2017 Camry SE was the positioning of the steering-wheel controls. As mentioned, the controls for the multi-information display were laced on the right-side of the steering wheel; controls for the center touchscreen sat on the left side. It’s a minor inconvenience that I could quickly get used to, but my left-to-right trained brain struggled to make the connection with the choice to set up controls this way. Positioning aside, the controls were intuitive and easy to use — and probably a better option than trying press buttons on a digital touchscreen while barrelling down the road.

Now, let me tell you a little about the driving experience …

Steering wheel: easy to access, comfortable to turn.

Noise level: pleasant — this was my first time in a “quiet” cabin, and I could not have predicted how much I enjoyed the effects of the sound dampening system…it’s a yes from me.

Brakes: responsive.

Acceleration: acceptable, if not slightly above.

This is a Toyota Camry, so the real selling points are not necessarily power and acceleration.

Speaking of selling points, our sales consultant was helpful and totally non-pushy, but warm and open to any questions we had. He emphasized the safety features, in particular the Toyota Star Safety System. In this Camry, I tested a couple of the Star Safety elements: Traction Control (which you can easily switch on and off) and the Smart Stop Technology.

Traction Control is exactly what it sounds like — it makes stopping and turning safer and more controlled, particularly in inclement weather. Turning it off made little difference for me, but I drove on a dry, sunny day.

Smart Stop Technology is a strategic system: Smart Stop Technology solves any problems like stuck accelerators that could or would reoccur because it ensures that the brake function will override the acceleration function any time both of the pedals are depressed. When I tested it, the car had a very slight delay before coming to a complete stop.

The Toyota Star Safety system is polished off with some additional technical safety systems and a suite of 10 strategically placed airbags. In the Camry I am drove, airbags can be found:

  • In front of the driver and passenger at a lower angle (knee-bags)
  • To the side of the seat of driver and passenger (side bags)
  • In front of the driver and passenger at a higher angle (steering wheel and dashboard bags).

This means four airbags each, for both driver and passenger — the sales consultant explained that the positioning of the airbags is designed to “cradle” the front riders in the event of an accident. The last two airbags can be found to the side of the rear seats.

We drove in a large loop, down some quiet roads, and for a quick stretch on the highway. The Camry operates smoothly in all conditions. I would have liked the chance to see some of Toyota’s Safety Sense technologies in action (like Lane Keeping Assist, or Dynamic Cruise Control), but this car is not yet equipped with those systems. I was told that Toyota Safety Sense will be a standard component in the 2018 Toyota Camry, and it is already standard in some Toyota vehicles — like the 2017 Corolla.

Some final convenience touches I noticed as we finished up the test drive and headed back to the dealership include the following: a 60/40 split rear seats with a super easy release located in the trunk; a hydraulic lift for the hood that gives the new Camry a touch of sophistication above its competitors with manual hood lift supports; a boatload of cupholders — there are 10+ cupholders in this car. All ye with toddlers and teenagers, bring on the sippy cups and water bottles.

Our day concluded at Street Toyota shortly after the test drive, and I was glad to have the experience both at the dealership and behind the wheel of the 2017 Camry SE. I’d like to thank Street for the hospitality, and for choosing to have me test drive the Camry with the custom leather seat option. I’ll be back to get behind the wheel of more new Toyota models just as soon as you’ll have me.

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