Proffit at the Wheel: 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE

A trip to Las Vegas requires a vehicle that can navigate steep hills and unobservant fellow drivers with equal aplomb. It’s a tough ask but one the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE is exquisitely capable of achieving. 

Traveling I-15 between Los Angeles and Sin City isn’t a long trip – less than five hours under “normal” circumstances – but means dealing with big commercial trucks, impatient revelers in a massive hurry to spend money, and the anti-destination league—drivers who remain in the left lane whether traveling the same speed as traffic (80mph or above) or maintaining whatever native speed the driver desires.

It’s enough to bring out road rage or, perhaps it’s enough to invoke driving skills easily forgotten in daily commutes. The 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE, dressed in Blueprint with a business black interior, proved its worth and value as it dutifully responded to all inputs by this driver with the kind of results we expect from a more sporting sedan, not a front-wheel-drive family sedan that’s—gasp!—a hybrid. 

This latest generation of Camry models could be its sportiest in a long time—if ever. Toyota has morphed from a company making less-than-enticing modes of transportation, to producing stylish, capable and, yes, sporting vehicles. This one is definitely the best yet—and looks the part, with its jutting front end and black, sport mesh grille, flanked by matte brightwork and excellent LED lighting. Aggressive shoulders carry through to the rear of this four-door sedan, sporting a mini-winglet and double-tipped single exhaust.

Toyota’s XSE models are meant to be more sporting than other designations and this one certainly fills the bill. With peak horsepower of 208 from its dual injection 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the gasoline-fed partition injects 176 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 163 lb-ft of torque at 5,200. Sans tachometer, there isn’t a redline but the electric motor contributes 88kW that computes out fo 118 horsepower, according to Toyota. A temperature gauge is included in the gauge cluster.

A continuously variable transmission with paddles on the steering wheel does the shifting calmly and without hesitation; ventilated front and solid brake discs stop the Camry hybrid without any form of excitement. Toyota fits MacPherson struts and multiple links as suspension for this Camry hybrid and adds sport-tuned adaptive dampers and springs. Electric rack and pinion power steering (EPS) is very direct at center, a very pleasant surprise. Michelin 235/45 rubber is mounted on 14-spoke black 19-inch alloy wheels. 

The result of Toyota’s re-engineering the Camry and in particular the Camry Hybrid XSE, is a machine with taut handling without the equally taut ride qualities, making this ecologically sound vehicle a machine that accelerates well, brakes well and handles well. And this 3580-pound machine does so with a sporting nature that would have been an anomaly in previous Camry hybrid sedans.

Toyota fits several drive modes for the 2021 Camry Hybrid: full EV, eco, normal and sport. Around town the hybrid runs on electricity unless engaged in sport setting – and even at highway speeds (70mph) it is able to run on electricity and recharges both during braking and when one lifts from the loud pedal. This Camry’s brake pedal is rather firm at first but it’s easy to get accustomed to; the immediacy of braking activity adds to the Camry hybrid’s active safety as does its superb handling qualities.

The interior of the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE is elegant with its business-first acumen. The large, nine-inch screen at the center of the forward cabin allows access to all infotainment activities and does not fade in direct sunlight. Of course the driver gets full power for the captain’s chair but in this car, the front passenger also has power settings less lumbar support. The heated and cooled front seats are superb for a long drive and the energy-absorbing glass kept the interior cool in Nevada’s sun.

There are soft touch plastics throughout the cabin on this Camry and the leather-covered steering wheel offers the ability to adjust information, phone and audio volume on the left, while the right side is dedicated to cruise control, together with following distance and lane departure controls. Odometer adjustments are at the lower left of the dash below gauges, along with auto high beams, traction control, trunk and fuel releases.

The base of the central stack contains a 12-volt plug, a USB and a flat surface to contain products needing a charge. There are also two USB plugs inside the small, closed central storage area. While rear seat passengers have air flow, there are no outlets provided for them. The 15.1-cubic-foot trunk space can be opened with the remove or through the touchpad at the opening. There’s plenty of space for gear and the space is nicely laid out. Below the floor is an actual spare tire and appropriate tools.

This 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE is rated at 44/47/46 mpg from its13.2-gallon tank and those figures are viable, using regular unleaded fuel. For the seven days – I always return vehicles with at least half a tank – I spent just over $50 and traveled almost 800 miles. Obviously mileage isn’t great on uphills but can be retrieved on the way back down.

Base price for the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE is $33,715 including destination fees. Toyota fit several options on this car: the driver assist package of a 10-inch color head-up display, a bird’s eye-view camera, intelligent clearance sonar with rear cross-traffic braking and multi-stage ventilated front seats for $1,430. The navigation package ($1,760) includes the 9-inch dynamic touchscreen with a 3-year trial, nine JBL speakers including a subwoofer and amplifier, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM with 3-month all access trial, along with Wi-Fi connect (with up to 2GB), destination assist and drop-ship indicator. Toyota charges $259 for the carpet/trunk mat set, leading to a total of $37,164.

Over the years we’ve driven many hybrid vehicles (and own one from another manufacturer). Most have been very nice but never a vehicle that brought a smile on approach every day. This one is an honest machine, has all the values of Camry with its great build quality and astute handling, along with easy-to-live-with infotainment inside. Like me, if you appreciate honesty in an automobile you, too, will be enchanted by this Toyota Camry Hybrid XSE sedan.

story and photos by Anne Proffit