The midsize Toyota Camry sedan is now in its third year -- and a half. We mention that half because Toyota has officially released a 2014.5 Toyota Camry ahead of its heavily updated 2015 model, and while the 2014.5 Camry certainly isn't a 2015 model, it is noticeably different from the 2014 Camry.

If you're a Camry fan, however, those technical details aren't too important. What's important is that the 2014.5 Camry still offers everything you've always expected from the sedan, such as a roomy interior, legendary reliability and a long list of standard and optional features. And even though there's a significantly revised Camry coming in a few months, we think the 2014.5 model has just about everything you're looking for if you're interested in an excellent midsize car. We also suspect it might be a good deal, as Toyota dealers will soon be interested in clearing out excess Camry stock to make way for the 2015 model.

What's New for 2014.5?

The 2014.5 Camry offers a few updates for the model half-year, most notably a standard backup camera. Other changes include enhanced audio options for upper trim levels, a slightly revised Entune system, and design changes aimed at improving the sedan's crash-test scores. For the Camry Hybrid, there's a new SE trim level in addition to the current LE and XLE offerings.

What We Like

Roomy interior; smooth and quiet ride; surprisingly capable handling; plentiful standard features; optional V6 is excellent

What We Don't

Polarizing styling; rival hybrids get better gas mileage; inconsistent interior quality

How Much?

$23,000-$31,500

Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive Camry starts with a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder rated at 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Optional on SE and XLE is a 3.5-liter V6 good for 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque.

A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines, and shift paddles (with rev-matched downshifts) are included in both 4- and 6-cylinder SE models. The Hybrid pairs a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine with a battery-powered electric drive system to produce an even 200 hp. The Camry's transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT).

Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy ratings for the regular 4-cylinder Camry are 25 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, while the V6 checks in at a respectable 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.

Predictably, the Hybrid blows them both away with ratings of up to 43 mpg city/39 mpg hwy, though the Hybrid XLE drops slightly to 40 mpg city/38 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014.5 Camry is offered in four basic trim levels: L, LE, SE and XLE.

The base ($23,000) is quite basic, from its manual cloth seats to its 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers. But it does provide a 6-speaker touch-screen stereo with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity -- and with the 2014.5 model year, a backup camera is now standard. That's good for an entry-level model.

The LE ($23,500) adds automatic headlights, variable intermittent wipers, keyless entry and steering-wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth controls.

Next up is the SE ($24,200), which also features sporty exterior styling cues, 17-in alloy wheels (18-in with the V6), sport-tuned suspension and steering, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with shift paddles, and Toyota's sport seats. SE models feature Toyota's Entune audio system, which now comes standard with navigation if you opt for the V6.

The top-of-the-line XLE ($25,500) drops the SE's sport-themed goodies but adds standard power front seats (optional on LE and SE), dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, and wood interior trim. For 2014.5, XLE models also add Toyota's Entune Audio Plus system -- though you have to upgrade to a V6 model for standard navigation.

The Camry Hybrid offers three basic trim levels -- an LE ($27,000), an XLE ($28,500) and, new for 2014.5, an SE ($28,900). As you might expect, Camry Hybrid equipment levels essentially mirror those of the gas-powered Camry.

Safety

The 2014.5 Toyota Camry has the usual assortment of safety equipment and then some, boasting stability control and no fewer than 10 airbags (front, side, side-curtain and knee). A blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is optional on SE and XLE.

In crash testing carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Camry earned five overall stars -- a rating consisting of four stars for frontal protection, four for rollover protection, and five for side protection.

In tests administered by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), things were a little different. Here, the 2014 Camry didn't receive excellent marks, largely because it scored Poor on IIHS's small-overlap frontal-crash test. For 2014.5, changes to the Camry have corrected that: The updated sedan now received an Acceptable rating in the test, though it's still not quite a perfect score of Good.

Behind the Wheel

The current Camry retains the smooth, quiet ride that Camry fans have come to expect. So that's no surprise. What is surprising, though, is the Camry's sure-footedness around corners. Even the non-sporty trim levels acquit themselves pretty well in the handling department, while the sport-tuned SE -- which benefits from sharper steering, wider tires and a firmer suspension -- brings the Camry's athleticism close to that of class leaders like the new Honda Accord. That Toyota has managed to add this sprightliness without compromising the Camry's ride quality is impressive indeed.

In our interior evaluation, we found that the Camry L and LE's standard manual front seats cover the basics, including a height adjustment for the driver. However, we think the power front seats -- optional on LE/SE and standard on XLE -- are a worthwhile upgrade. Unlike in previous models, the power driver seat has a bottom cushion that tilts independently, so drivers of all sizes can adjust to their ideal seating angles.

No matter which trim you choose, the back seat is palatial, providing ample leg and headroom along with excellent under-thigh support for taller passengers. You can certainly buy a bigger sedan than the Camry (Toyota's own Avalon comes to mind), but you probably won't need more rear passenger space than this.

The Camry's primary gauges remain among the simplest and most legible in the business. As usual, Toyota's got the ergonomics nailed, too, thanks to big knobs and clearly marked physical and virtual buttons. Build quality may be an issue, however, as the plastic trim pieces at the bottom of the center stack were loose and creaky in two of the Camry models we tested. Also, the array of shapes and patterns may be a bit much for folks who like to keep things simple.

Other Cars to Consider

Honda Accord -- It's back! After ballooning to full-size status in the previous generation, the 2014 Accord has been reinvented as a taut, sporty model that reminds us of Accords past. Interior quality has greatly improved as well.

Kia Optima -- Sharing many parts with the popular Hyundai Sonata, the sexy Optima is the supermodel of midsize sedans -- and it comes in regular, performance and hybrid models, just like the Camry. Take a look at the turbocharged EX as a cheaper, more fuel-efficient alternative to the Camry V6.

Volkswagen Passat -- The American-built Passat certainly has the size and softness to win the hearts of Toyota devotees. It also features an attractive interior, a turbo-diesel model that's nearly as frugal as the Camry Hybrid and an optional 3.6-liter V6 that gives the Camry's V6 a run for its money.

AutoTrader's Advice

It's hard to find a bad apple in this barrel. The 4-cylinder L and LE are certainly the value leaders, but if you want extra fuel economy or performance, you can't go wrong with the Hybrid or V6, respectively. The Camry lineup is exceptionally well-rounded -- and changes for 2014.5 only improve things.

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