The sedan isn’t quite dead yet. It’s been on an arduous, strained march for the last decade but has held onto its spot in the market firmly. SUVs are the new go-to family vehicle, which leaves the classic family four-door sedan in a tricky situation. Of all the sedans there are precious few with a future, and the 2023 Toyota Camry Nightshade Hybrid is the totemic normal family sedan.
We’ve lost a few great sedans over the years. I still need to be consoled whenever someone mentions the death of the excellent Mazda 6, Ford killed the Fusion in 2020, the quite decent Chevrolet Malibu is a dead car walking, and the Volkswagen Passat mentally checked out about a decade ago. The last $20,000 to $30,000 sedans standing are the outgoing Honda Accord, Kia K5, Hyundai Sonata, Subaru Legacy, and Toyota Camry. Of that group, very few do something to further the segment, but the new Accord is coming later this year.
Here’s the truth: the leaders of this segment are the Hyundai and Kia platform-mates. Everything else has something to prove, even this 2023 Camry Hybrid. It’s aging, and the car feels it. Its objectively aggressive styling may have delivered shock and awe when it first debuted back in 2017, but seemingly millions of rideshare-spec examples later, its design is no longer the statement it briefly once was. What makes the Camry interesting even in a world that doesn’t want sedans, though, is just how decent it is at its job.
2023 Toyota Camry Hybrid Nightshade Review Specs
- Base price (SE Hybrid Nightshade as tested): $31,710 ($32,610)
- Powertrain: 2.5-liter four-cylinder | electronically controlled continuously variable automatic transmission | front-wheel-drive
- Horsepower: 208
- Torque: 163 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo Space: 15.1 cubic feet
- Curb weight: 3,480 pounds
- EPA Fuel Economy: 41 mpg city | 47 highway | 46 combined
- Quick take: No disappointments here. The Camry Hybrid delivers beautifully on its promise of a smooth ride, but not a step further than that.
- Score: 7.5/10
Debuting about a lifetime ago back in 2017, this XV70 generation of Camry had a light facelift in 2020 but has remained essentially unchanged since launch. My particular tester was a Nightshade, which means it has the Camry TRD wheels painted in bronze, a choice of three colors (mine was the gorgeous Reservoir Blue), a cloth and leatherette interior, black mirror caps, window trim and badging, and “sport-tuned suspension.” The Nightshade is only available with the mid-level SE trim, which means that all you can get is the Hybrid or the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder car. No V6 here.
Looks-wise, the Camry is no stunner. Aggressive would be one adjective to use, but the thesis of the Camry is obvious: take a normal family sedan proportions and add some aggressive surfacing to the details. Whether it lands depends entirely on the person, but it’s very clear that it has practical bones. The biggest giveaway is the tall greenhouse around the rear window. It’s busy, full of adornments like the fake vents on the rear bumper, but also has strong shoulders and character lines. I enjoy that there is no hybrid badging, just the hint of blue from the Toyota badges front and back. Overall, a little confused about its aggression but generally well-formed.
Inside, the Camry feels a generation behind. It’s quite ambitious, with swooping surfaces, varied textures, and an overall high standard of build quality. But there’s something lost in translation. It doesn’t quite have an X factor; nothing jumps out at me as impressive. The size of the buttons and the font that labels their function makes me feel like I’m interfacing with an easy-to-read nursing home telephone.
Another demerit goes to the screen and infotainment. The resolution is disappointingly low and looks quite fuzzy. This is a general Toyota problem, and the Camry is no exception. I also regret to inform you that the stereo does not bump. It gets the job done with crisp highs and decently taut mid-range. It does lack bass, but it utilizes its six speakers well enough. Apple CarPlay is wired-only but works well.
Driving the Toyota Camry Hybrid
The Camry has never been a vehicle focused on driving excitement. People who judge it for not being a sport sedan are being unfair. That being said, I was surprised at how well-sorted the car was.
No, genuinely, the car has an impressive breadth of ability with very few gaps in its armor. Judging it against its peers, it doesn’t have an outright edge over anything. But in practice, there are subtleties that show real effort from the suspension tuning team. The Nightshade is supposed to come with “sport-tuned” suspension. I’d call it perfectly tuned for a Camry.
Normal Camrys suffer from some floatiness from a general lack of damping. That manifests as the car having uncontrolled body motions over undulations, which is fine for most driving. The Nightshade has taut body control over all variations of bumps, extinguishing its mass in one motion. But it retains this wonderful blanket of isolation from the road that makes it such a great, low-blood-pressure cruiser.
Fling it at some corners, and you wouldn’t find a more surprised person than me: this car has some moves. It’s on similar Michelin Primacy tires to the base Toyota GR86, meaning grip is surprisingly acceptable. That same body control over bumps translates nicely into a car that communicates weight transfer and grip really well. The steering is dead but has a good effort curve and does imbibe confidence into my fingertips. I say this with the utmost sincerity: the Camry Nightshade is beautifully damped and genuinely decent on a twisty road. Not amazing, but admirable.
Drivetrain-wise, the classic Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive is still making a strong case for itself. Its calibration is really good, but there are still some lightly annoying flaws. The car does stop-and-go in full-EV mode, which is smooth and silent. I want it to be like that most of the time I’m driving the car. The issue is that the hybrid system isn’t strong enough to propel the car past 35 mph or more than approximately 40% throttle input, meaning that my heavy foot coughed the 2.5-liter gasoline engine into life more than I wanted. Paired with the CVT, it went from silent to a touch groany rather quickly.
Generally, the transition between EV and gasoline modes was seamless though it was easy to throw the Camry slightly off-balance and get a rough start. It also has an EV mode button that does nothing, because the gas engine kicks into life with the same parameters as normal mode. Something in my lizard brain urged me to remain in electric mode, but the car couldn’t manage it for long.
The other weakness was the brake pedal feel. This is a delicate act for hybrids and EVs because regeneration from the electric motor must be blended seamlessly with the normal hydraulic brakes. Some cars nail this, but the Camry does not. There is a transition from full regenerative braking to the very beginning of normal braking that isn’t quite resolved, meaning that confidence in the brake pedal isn’t absolute. Sometimes, it feels like the car isn’t stopping at quite the rate you want; other times it’s a touch grabby. Still needs work, Toyota.
Finally, the driver's assistance suite worked decently. Blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist work without much intrusion, except for one incredibly annoying issue where it slows down if too much steering input or lateral G-force is detected. On my normal highway route, a mountainous six-lane highway with gentle curves, I was constantly losing speed in the fast lane which is outright dangerous. And the fuel economy was in the mid-40 mpgs for my heavily highway-skewed time with the car. Overall, very decent marks for the Camry, with some minor flaws to iron out.
The Highs and Lows
Outside of its almost-excessively-sharp grille, there are zero jagged edges to the Camry. Nothing about it is truly exciting or interesting, but it does its job with admirable effort. It’s the straight-A student that has never been to the principal’s office. And that’s okay. Not every car needs to have spice. Sometimes, it can just be damn good transportation. With surprisingly great chassis tuning, there is some excellence here to be found.
The Camry does feel pretty basic in terms of equipment. It has the standard suite of driver's assistance tech with lane keep assist, adaptive cruise, and blind spot monitoring. There isn't much beyond that. The stereo is basic and sounds okay, the low-resolution infotainment screen is a bummer, and there's a general lack of tech in the Camry. Much as I'm an evangelist for classic analog gauges, the Camry's competitors have long switched to partial or full-LCD gauge clusters. It could use just a little more tech for the modern consumer, though there are certainly buyers that love a more basic car.
Toyota Camry Hybrid Nightshade Features, Options, and Competition
The $25,000 to $35,000 sedan market is definitely much cooler than it was in years past. But with that contraction comes some fairly stiff competition. The Hyundai and Kia sedans are much more striking and up-to-date, design-wise. They also provide deep feature sets for the money, making them a value. The Subaru Legacy is for folks who want all-wheel-drive. Its closest natural competitor is the Honda Accord, which—in its outgoing form, at least—is certainly much more sporty and spicy, at the expense of road noise and ride quality.
The Nightshade only comes in two trims: SE Hybrid and SE. No XSE, which means no V6 option, which is a big thumbs down from me. This suspension tuning would be stellar with a bit of horsepower, but I digress. If you like clicking option boxes on an order sheet, you’ll also be disappointed in the Camry Nightshade. The only optional extra is a $900 blind spot monitor package. It comes standard with most everything you need, but not much more. Apple CarPlay, Toyota’s safety suite including adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth streaming, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, and the sporty aesthetic stuff are all standard for the Nightshade.
The Camry Hybrid is a genuine fuel-sipper in all situations. The EPA economy figures of 44 mpg city and 47 highway were spot on for my time with the car, and I used just over half of the 13.2-gallon fuel tank in 400 miles of driving. Compared to the hybrid competition from Honda and Hyundai, however, it is a little bit weaker.
Toyota doesn’t make claims about the sustainability of the Camry Hybrid. It is a fairly normal car, with no vegan leather or 100% recycled plastic to be seen. The battery is lithium-ion. Its low fuel consumption and pollution make it cleaner than most.
Value and Verdict
The curtains on this generation of Camry are slowly drawing to a close. And frankly, the car feels it. It’s an old-fashioned sort of good where the basics are all correct. But the technology all feels quite last-generation, and I think the resolution and quality of the seven-inch infotainment screen are below acceptable. Design is subjective, but this isn’t one of the prettier or more ambitious sedans on the market. It’s conservative but a bit awkward.
As a commuter, though, you can’t do much better. It will be a faithful, safe companion for years. And it’ll save you serious scratch at the pump. But if you’re looking for a statement or a feeling, the Camry Nightshade left me searching.
But the skeleton of the car is still excellent, and still plenty competitive. The ride quality and handling are genuinely superb, overall refinement and road noise are impressively low, and build quality during my testing revealed no rattles or squeaks. It’s classic Toyota. The trope is beaten to death, but that’s why people buy Camrys. They know that it works.
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