When Toyota sent me press materials ahead of the first drive of the 2018 Camry, I knew I was in for something big. Manufacturers don't send 14 press releases, one of which is a 47-page technical breakdown of the car, without having something serious to back the hype with. After spending a day behind the wheel of three different Camry models, I can confidently say that you may believe the hype. The new Camry rocks.
Now in its 8th generation, the Camry has been the best-selling car in America for the past 15 years. This midsize sedan has a reputation for being a reliable commuter car, but it also has a reputation for being, well, a bit boring. It's the car for those who don't care about cars. For the 2018 model year, the company adopted the Toyota New Global Architecture, giving the Camry a completely new platform along with updated engines, transmissions and technology. There are plenty of options to be had, from the base L and LE models to the luxury-focused XLE and the sporty SE and XSE.
Toyota's Entune system, which combines stereo, hands-free phone and, optionally, navigation, has always been simple, making it easy to use but not quite as feature-laden as other infotainment systems. It's disappointing that the new Entune system still doesn't have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but Toyota fills that void with its own App Suite, integrating useful third-party apps. Simply install the Entune app on your Android or iOS smartphone, connect your phone to Entune and you have access to real-time traffic and weather as well as apps like Pandora, Slacker and, new for this year, NPR One.
All Camry trims integrate with the Scout GPS app through App Suite for navigation. Previously Scout only offered turn-by-turn navigation, but this new version includes moving maps, so you can get a better sense of where you are in the world. Embedded navigation is available on upper trim lines, which gets over-the-air updates through a new Wi-Fi hotspot. That hotspot can support up to five devices, ensuring no tablet will go wanting for internet.
All of this information gets to your brain through an available 8-inch touchscreen, a 7-inch display within the gauge cluster and a 10-inch color head-up display. The 7-inch TFT screen in the gauge cluster is a huge improvement over the smaller 4.2-inch display from 2017 (and still available on the lower trim lines). It's got a more sophisticated design and it's easier to cycle through information about fuel economy, trip settings and navigation.
Only one USB port is available until you get up to the XSE trim, which gives you three. Wireless charging is also available for those of you with compatible phones.
There are a few subscription telematic services offered with the 2018 Camry. Remote Connect can lock and unlock your doors, as well as start the car, all from your phone. Service Connect sends up-to-date technical information to your phone and Destination Assist lets you call an actual person who can throw a navigation route to the Entune system. It's all pretty nifty, but it costs $8.00 per month for each service, or $16 for a bundle of all three, after a six-month free trial.
Toyota has not changed its commitment to safety and driver's aids, as the 2018 Camry will come standard with Toyota Safety Sense. That's right, even the base Camry has adaptive cruise control to follow a lead car at a predetermined distance. Lane departure alert and assist keeps the car in-lane by emitting an audible and visual alert and actuating a slight input to the steering. Blind-spot monitoring, which can detect an approaching car traveling above 10 miles per hour and issue a visual alert, and rear cross-traffic alert are standard only on upper trims, but Toyota would do well to include these in all trim lines. Upper trims also get ultrasonic sensors to detect objects directly in front or behind the car and rear cross-traffic braking to help mitigate any parking lot mishaps.
While many manufacturers are adding turbochargers to get more power out of smaller engines, Toyota is bucking the trend by offering two naturally aspirated power plants. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is standard, while there is an available 3.5-liter V6 for upper trims. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Praise goes to Toyota for not forcing a joy-killing continuously variable transmission, but it would be nice to have a manual option, especially in the sporty SE and XSE trims. After all, the 2018 Honda Accord will have an optional six-speed manual and Toyota would be well served to keep up.
The smaller engine delivers a respectable 206 horsepower, up from the 178 horses of 2017. Torque is up as well, to 186 pound-feet. On my Toyota-sponsored press drive outside of Portland, Oregon, I found the smaller engine did just fine in suburban driving. Even out on the country roads acceleration was more than adequate and I found myself easily cruising along without feeling like the engine was working at its maximum output.
EPA fuel ratings for the 2.5-liter engine are 29 miles per gallon in the city, 41 miles per gallon on the highway and 34 miles per gallon combined. Those numbers go down just a bit for the other trims.
However, I'm a speed demon at heart and the V6 is my kind of jam. Power and torque are both up for 2018, with 301 ponies under the hood and 267 pound-feet of torque. Even in Normal mode the transmission is a high revver, while a Sport mode ticks it up just a bit further. Paddle shifters are available for those who want to click their own, but keep in mind that it will shift for you if you try to hang out at the redline.
EPA numbers for the larger 3.5-liter engine are much lower than the four cylinder at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 33 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 miles per gallon combined.
And if hybrid is what you prefer, the Camry will still be offered in a hybrid in three trims. Combining a smaller-output 2.5-liter gas-powered engine with an electric motor brings the total power up to 208 horsepower. Heck, there's even a new Sport mode for better throttle response, but you'll still have to get used to the continuously variable transmission. The battery has been moved from the trunk area to under the rear seat, opening up that cargo space to the same amount as the traditionally powered Camry.
The hybrid is where it's at when it comes to fuel economy, with the base LE getting an EPA estimate of 51 miles per gallon in the city, 53 miles per gallon on the highway and 52 miles per gallon combined. However, those numbers suffer a bit in the SE and XLE trims, dropping to 44 city, 47 highway and 46 combined.
Increased power numbers mean nothing if the car can't actually handle the road, and here is where the Camry has seen the most improvement. The previous generation had a MacPherson strut suspension in the rear, which can limit the tires' contact patch while cornering, resulting in adequate but not stellar handling. This year Toyota went for a double wishbone suspension set up in the rear, increasing the stability of the car in corners and making it an all-around better time behind the wheel.
On a twisty mountain road the Camry willingly dug into corners, but exit speeds were hampered a bit by a confused transmission. Switching to manual shifting solved that problem and the Camry suddenly became nearly Mazda-like in its handling. Toyota didn't have competitor vehicles on hand for us to drive, but the folks behind the Mazda6, one of the best-handling sedans in this price range, should be very worried.
If looks are what you're after, you'll find the Camry has taken more than a few steps forward. The slight spindle-grille shows influence from the Lexus side of the brand, and there are four different insert designs and colors across the Camry line up. There are a myriad of wheel options from 16 to 19 inches, and even the chance to get a black floating roof. The lower and wider stance gives the Camry a more muscular look than previous generations, regardless of trim, but the XSE really tickled my fancy. Quad exhaust, a rear spoiler and an integrated rear diffuser all look great on the XSE. However, the corner lines off the taillights seem to come out of nowhere, and while designed to look like vents, they are decidedly form, not function.
Inside, the driver-focused cockpit is a step up from the 2017 Camry, with quality soft-touch materials and an asymmetrical dash. It's a risky choice that has paid off. Again, the XSE is my preferred model here with textured metal trim and a panoramic glass roof. Plus, it's available in red. Yes, you can get a Camry with a red leather interior. Is this a great time to be alive or what?
The 2018 Toyota Camry goes on sale in mid-July. The base L starts at $23,495 and goes up to $34,950 for and XSE V6. The hybrid is a bit more, starting at $27,800 for the base HV LE but topping out at $32,350 for the HV XLE. Even with my brief time in the car I was very impressed. Let's hope Toyota brings this new sporty drive to other models in the lineup, and soon.
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