2021 Toyota Camry XSE: A Comfortable, Capable, and Extremely Slow Sedan

While the mid-size sedan segment isn’t exactly burgeoning with new and exciting entries, it’s at least filled with the tried-and-true stalwarts that we have come to know and love. There’s the Honda Accord, which seems to be getting better with age, the all-new Hyundai Sonata, and we can’t forget about the Toyota Camry, which was updated a couple of years back. I had a chance to test the 2021 Camry XSE and while it was comfortable and capable, it was also very slow.

2021 Toyota Camry XSE

For the 2021 model year, the Toyota Camry remains largely the same save for some minor front and rear aesthetic changes and some rearranging of the trim level lineup. The entry-level Camry L has been axed in favor of the LE trim to anchor the rest of them while the second-to-the-top XSE trim level is now available with a hybrid powertrain. However, I didn’t get the Camry XSE with the hybrid setup, I got the one with the four-cylinder engine and it was slower than I expected.

2021 Toyota Camry XSE | Joe Santos

Great traction, needs more power

To be clear, I didn’t expect a Camry with a four-cylinder engine to be a rocket ship, but I at least expected it to perform well in regards to the last Camry that I had, which was a TRD trim equipped with the 3.5-liter V6. That Camry got off the line quickly and operated smoothly, especially considering I’m at a mile-high elevation. However, barring the hybrid option, the Camry XSE is only available with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 205 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque and is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The setup is actually really smooth and I especially liked the fact that my tester was equipped with an all-wheel drivetrain, but I didn’t think it would feel that slow. And when I mean “slow,” I mean that it feels like someone piled a wagon full of bricks and attached it to the rear bumper so that when the car accelerates, it feels like you have to floor it everywhere. Of course, it could be the elevation and the all-wheel-drive system probably plays a part but, if anything, I’d recommend getting a Camry with the V6.

2021 Toyota Camry XSE rear
2021 Toyota Camry XSE | Joe Santos

The Camry still has a lot to offer

Slowness aside, the Toyota Camry XSE still has a lot to offer. It’s the trim level that you should get if you don’t want the “racer” TRD trim level, but want something sportier than what the base trims have to offer. The XSE trim comes standard with a sport suspension that’s more comfortable than you think, a set of gloss-black 19-inch wheels, and a choice of black-contrasting roofs for maximum sportiness.

2020 Toyota Camry Interior
2020 Toyota Camry Interior | Toyota

On the inside, the Camry XSE comes with leather seating surfaces with heated front seats and an 8-inch infotainment display. My tester came better equipped, though, as it also had ventilated front seats, a head-up display, and a 360-degree monitor all thanks to the available “Driver Assist” package.

There were also a lot of other high-end features like a panoramic moonroof, a navigation system, a heated steering wheel, and a premium JBL sound system. All of those features added a lot to the overall comfort of the vehicle as I had no doubt it would be great for a really long road trip.

2021 Toyota Camry XSE
2021 Toyota Camry XSE | Joe Santos

Does the 2020 Toyota Camry TRD Have a Soul?

The four-cylinder engine does have its charms, though

That all being said, the four-cylinder engine is still a little bit of a drawback, however, most people that are dead set on buying a Camry would probably pay more attention to it’s EPA-estimated 25 mpg city rating along with its ability to achieve up to 34 mpg on the highway. So ultimately, it doesn’t really matter if the Camry is slow, it just matters that it does what you need it to do on a daily basis. And it definitely does, just at a much slower rate than you might expect.