Dark as Batman's cape, the 2021 Toyota Camry Nightshade Edition is blacked out from front grille to side rocker panels to rear badging, including 18-inch black alloy wheels.
Camry Nightshade Edition is a non-flashy way to be flashy
I had forgotten what a nuisance a car key can be.
As might be expected, nearly every car that graces our driveway comes fully loaded — best foot forward and all that. These days, that usually means proximity keys, wireless fobs that alert the car when the driver is near so it can turn on some welcoming lights. Tap the door handle and the car unlocks. Sit down, put foot on brake, tap start button, and off you go.
Later, open door, walk a few feet away, and the car locks itself and gives the driver confirmation: a chime, a honk, a flash of the lights, folding in the side mirrors, or some combination thereof.
So I was somewhat taken aback to find myself fumbling to insert and turn the key on a $29,580 (delivered) 2021 Toyota Camry Nightshade Edition. It was not a big deal, mind you, but it was a lesson in how quickly we become adapted to technology.
More than once, I found myself sitting in the driver's seat and wondering what to do next. I have grown accustomed to simply needing a key fob in my pocket, briefcase, or gym bag and had to remind myself to fumble through those things in search of a metal object to jam into a receptacle so I could turn it and commence burning hydrocarbons.
I expected to hear the Bee Gees on the radio.
None of which is to say that I do not like this car; indeed, it is a Camry: world-class safety, great fuel economy, pleasant to drive, unfalteringly comfortable and reliable, top-drawer residual values so it is easy to finance or lease.
What's not to like?
Target: Young buyers
The Nightshade Edition is aimed at Generation X, which finally — finally! — is settling down, having children, and buying cars. Blacked out from bow to stern, which seems to be a thing, and outfitted with a sportier suspension and steering rack, the four-cylinder Nightshade enters Camry's 17-trim-level lineup about $2,200 more than a base LE, $700 more than a basic SE, and $5,500 less than an XSE V6.
Equipment levels and materials used in the Nightshade are more typical of the XE and SE grades. Many of the niceties included on the more Bourgeois Camrys are either options or not available on the Nightshade. Goodies like a Bose sound system, leather seats, a moonroof, a head-up display, dual-zone heating and cooling, a bird's eye camera view, ambient interior light, a SatNav are not available for Nightshade.
Our tester included Toyota's dynamic torque-control all-wheel drive, which added $1,400 and is only needed here during a Snowmageddon. Still, when the median new vehicle transaction tops $38,000, the Nightshade Edition is a good value.
Plenty of good stuff
Wait? What? Didn't you just talk about all the things missing from this car?
Yes, but think about it. Do you need a moonroof? Don't you already have Google Maps, or Waze, or both? The Nightshade Edition does have a 7-inch infotainment screen with hands-free Bluetooth.
It has a lot of other great things, too. The upgraded suspension and steering, for example, make it quicker and nimbler than the average Camry, which is pretty darn good, thanks to Toyota's state-of-art chassis design. Lightweight and strong, the architecture gives Camrys admirable handling while earning five stars across the board in independent crash and rollover testing.
A 202-hp engine bolted to an 8-speed transmission makes the Camry surprisingly spirited. We battled our way through I-35W traffic, and the car had plenty of power to accelerate into the tiny openings Dallas drivers begrudgingly allow.
Once we escaped the freeway madness, we had the pleasure of cutting across North Texas on U.S. 82. Rolling hills covered in bluebonnets and clover were a lovely match for the serene and confident Camry, which averaged nearly 32 mpg on the journey.
I knew I was nearing home when other drivers allowed me to enter traffic.
As always with Toyota these days, confidence is inspired by ample applications of driver-assist technology. Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ represents several advances in a field where Toyota has established itself as a leader by providing as standard equipment things for which other manufacturers charge an arm and a leg if they have them at all.
Automatic high beams, lane-keep assist, dynamic cruise control, rear-seat reminder, road signs assist are all standard. A pre-collision system can detect not only a vehicle ahead but also a preceding bicyclist or pedestrian.
I particularly appreciated having the speed limit displayed next to my speed.
Still a smart buy
Between a global pandemic, semiconductor chip shortages and logistics nightmares, now is not a good time to buy a car. The pandemic drove up used car prices because people were afraid to buy new. Because the rental car companies dumped their fleets a year ago, the shortage of used vehicles continues.
In the meantime, American manufacturers are leasing vacant lots to park cars and trucks that have been built but are awaiting chips.
Toyota, on the other hand, learned from disruptions it suffered in the Fukushima disaster in 2011 and came up with a plan that forces suppliers to stockpile essential materials, so it is the only manufacturer with plenty of chips and plenty of new-car inventory.
Right now, Toyota is offering $1,250 cashback on most Camrys on top of whatever discount the dealer offers. Glancing through local inventories, it looks like area dealers are more than matching the corporate cash.
If you're in the market, that's one of the smartest plays around.