Toyota Camry minds its manners

The ice cream mavens at Baskin-Robbins tell us that vanilla is their perennial top-seller. The cooks in Toyota's kitchen knew better than to stray far from its blockbuster – if bland – formula for its Camry sedan.

That means delivering a comfortable, reliable four-door that will blend seamlessly – some may say anonymously – into its suburban environs. But that doesn't mean the Camry did not have room for improvement.

For 2015 there are pleasing plastics, soft-touch materials in the cabin, thicker carpet padding for a quieter ride and a thoroughly revised body that carries over just the roof stamping from the outgoing model, a model that was not even three years old.

Additionally, Toyota improved the structural rigidity of their new confection with the use of additional weld points around the doorsill, creating a stiffer platform that lets the suspension and steering respond more accurately.

An emphasis on steering accuracy might not jibe with Camry's vanilla image, but in fact 45% of Camrys sold in 2014 were built to the sporty SE spec. And while the SE delivered a decidedly modest dose of sport, it succeeded in lowering the average age of its buyer by 12 years. That's a valuable contribution to Toyota's effort to recruit customers for the future, and to help revitalise the brand's image – an effort given recent voice by the Scion FR-S and Toyota FT-1 Concept.

With the popularity of the SE in mind, Toyota has expanded the availability of the package to the Hybrid model, so consumers can enjoy their sporty appointments along with their fuel efficiency. There's also now an XSE edition, which brings chocolate syrup and a cherry on top.

The XSE includes stiffer springs, shocks, bushings and sway bars in a bid to help the Camry keep up with more spirited competitors like the Ford Fusion and Mazda 6.

The base car includes LED daytime running lights, but LED low- and high-beam headlights are also available. Inside, the Optitron instrument panel seen on recent Lexus models appears on cars above the base trim level, helping deliver the Lexus prestige experience to the Camry. And the myriad safety electronic systems that were once the exclusive province of luxury brands have floated down to the family sedan segment, with the Camry receiving lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

Despite these developments, what doesn't change is the drivetrain lineup, where the 2.5-litre four-cylinder and 3.5-litre V6 engines soldier on, both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. And the Camry Hybrid continues with its hybrid electric powertrain and continuously variable transmission. The equipment group is certainly tested and trusted, but when relative outliers like the Chrysler 200 are toying with eight- and nine-speed transmissions in their makers’ effort to eke out fuel-economy gains, the Camry seems to be short a few sprinkles on its scoop.