For the last 15 years, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling passenger car in America, so it must have presented quite a challenge to designers and engineers when it came time to redesign this top seller. While most would stick with the mantra, “don’t mess with success,” Toyota has completely revamped the Camry with all-new styling inside and out, the latest in high-tech safety features and a new lineup of powerful, efficient powertrains including the most powerful ever offered in this family sedan. After spending time in the all-new 2018 Camry, we can confirm that success was not messed with.
The 2018 Camry is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture. which uses a new platform as well as a new strategy for designing and engineering vehicles. The Japanese manufacturer is confident this new Camry will improve on the current model’s position and reputation. “With an exhilarating design, refined interior, stirring driving performance, cutting-edge safety and technology, and class-leading fuel efficiency, the all-new Camry retains its excellent value while raising its level of fun and excitement to new heights,” said Bill Fay, Toyota senior vice president of automotive operations. “It is, quite simply, the best Camry ever and the benchmark in the mid-size sedan segment.”
A Little History
In 1983 Toyota began selling the Camry in America as a replacement for the Corona. Five years later, Toyota began building the Camry in America and by 1992 the family sedan had grown into a midsize car. In 1997 the fourth-generation Camry became the best-selling car in America. Earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show Toyota took the wraps off the all-new eighth-generation Camry, which goes on sale this summer as a 2018 model. One look at the new model confirms that Toyota has evolved Camry from basic transportation into something a bit more exciting.
This eighth-generation Camry will be easily differentiated from the previous version thanks to completely new styling inside and out. Lower and wider than the previous generation, the new Camry has an updated front grille, integrated headlights and sculpted lines to give the popular sedan a more engaging presence. Each Camry variant has a distinctive look — the L, LE and XLE feature a wide, more luxury-focused grille, while the SE and XSE take on a more aggressive look with a grille reminiscent of Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus.
The new Toyota Camry is available in a variety of trim levels with arguably something for every sedan buyer. For those wanting something more, this is the first time a Camry has more than 300 horsepower, 19-inch wheels and quad exhaust — typically very non-Camry features. All Camrys are now equipped with Toyota Safety Sense P, which showcases the latest in advanced safety systems.
The L is the entry-level Camry with a base price of $23,495. Camry L comes well equipped with cloth-trimmed front seats with 6-way adjustments, wood trim, adaptive cruise control, an integrated backup camera, a trip computer, a 4.2-inch multi-function display in the gauge cluster, lane departure alert, LED daytime running lights and 16-inch steel wheels. Also standard is a 7-inch touchscreen display with AM/FM/MP3 and Bluetooth connectivity. Toyota’s Entune 3.0 with connected navigation and app suite is also standard, including a 3-year complimentary subscription to Connected Navigation Scout, which uses the driver’s smartphone to access cloud-based navigation and project maps on the display screen.
Priced at $24,000, the Camry LE upgrades the L with an 8-way adjustable power driver’s seat, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and 17-inch alloy wheels. The LE can also be equipped with an available power moonroof, a smart key system and blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. The LE and SE are expected to be the most popular versions of the Camry, likely making up 70 percent of overall sales.
The Camry SE is a $1,200 step up from the LE and adds automatic climate control, upgraded seat materials, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, a color-keyed rear spoiler, dual exhaust outlets, a black grille with a sport mesh insert and 18-inch black machined-finish alloy wheels.
Considered the sporty version of the Camry, the XSE is priced at $29,000 and upgrades the SE with dual-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat vents, a rearview camera with dynamic grid lines, leather-trimmed heated front seats, 8-way power adjustable front seats, paddle shifters, full-speed range dynamic cruise control and smartkey system with pushbutton start. Also standard is Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert as well as Rear Cross Traffic Braking. The XSE is differentiated from other Camry trims via LED headlights and taillights with a smoke tint, a gloss-black grille with a sport-mesh insert, 19-inch black machined-finish alloy wheels and quad exhaust outlets.
Where the XSE gets designated as a sporty option, the XLE is more of a luxury offering. The XLE price comes in at $28,450 — slightly lower than the XSE — and carries most of the same equipment as the XSE, but features a distinct bright metallic grille, 18-inch chrome machined-finish alloy wheels, Tiger-Eye wood trim and no paddle shifters.
Camry XLE, XSE V6
The XLE and XSE V6 — priced at $34,400 and $34,950, respectively — are more than simply an engine upgrade. Added standard features include wireless phone charging, a 10-inch color head-up display and a panoramic glass sunroof. Toyota Safety Connect also is standard on V6 variants, which includes Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collision Notification. This subscription service is free for the first year.
The updates to the dashboard design are almost as dramatic as the exterior changes — both vast improvement over the previous-generation Camry. Rather than employing a common center stack with displays and controls, the new Camry sets itself apart with a much more interesting look, using intersecting lines to create space for the integrated display. Controls are easily accessed, and we are pleased to see volume and tuning knobs in addition to direct access buttons that eliminate digging through multiple menus.
Front seats are big and comfortable, and while we do prefer the soft leather on the higher-level trims, the cloth seats in the LE and SE are still supportive. There are a variety of interior color and style combinations, and as eye-catching as it is, we’re still not sure we can handle a Camry with red leather interior.
Space for Stuff
The new dashboard design creates a reasonable amount of space to store items such as keys and phones. The L, LE and SE trims only have one USB port, while the XLE gets two additional ports in the center storage box. Qi-compatible wireless charging for a smartphone is standard on V6 variants, and optional on other trims.
As a family sedan, the Camry works quite well, with a rear seat perfectly capable of carrying two adults comfortably, while the middle seat is best for someone of smaller stature. There’s plenty of rear-seat legroom even with the front seats set comfortably for front occupants. There are no USB ports in the rear seating area, but XLE and XSE trims add two ports into the center console that could be used by folks in the rear seats.
With a large opening and significant volume, the Camry’s trunk handles multiple pieces of luggage or other cargo items with ease. Hybrid buyers no longer must sacrifice trunk space to the batteries — for 2018 the cells now reside below the rear seat, so trunk space is the same as non-hybrids.
Under the Hood
Three different powertrains are available on the new Camry, the most popular of which is expected to be the new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Dynamic Force engine putting out 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Power is bumped slightly in the XSE to 206 horses and 186 lb-ft of torque. The 4-cylinder engine is available on all trim levels.
More Than 300 Horsepower
For a bit more power, Toyota also is offering the Camry with a 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine that gives this family sedan more motivation than ever before — 301 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. The V6 is only available in the XSE and XLE trims.
Both the 4-cylinder and V6 engines are teamed with a new 8-speed automatic transmission. The SE and XSE trims are also equipped with steering-column mounted paddle shifters, providing the driver with a bit more control. Transmission shift patterns can also be adjusted via drive-mode switch that can be set to Eco, Normal or Sport. Drive modes can only be selected on XLE and XSE trims.
The four cylinder delivers 28 mpg city / 39 mpg highway / 32 mpg combined; however, the L is slightly lighter and bumps the numbers to 29 / 41 / 34, respectively. The more powerful V6 still delivers respectable fuel economy numbers, rated at 22 mpg city / 32 mpg highway / 26 mpg combined. The highway fuel economy is improved by 1 mpg in the XLE V6 versus the XSE V6.
Perhaps the best combination of performance and fuel economy can be found in the Camry Hybrid. Power comes from the pairing of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with a permanent-magnet electric motor for a combined output of 208 horsepower. Available on the LE, SE and XLE, the hybrid system utilizes a continuously variable transmission instead of the 8-speed automatic found in standard Camrys. Fuel economy for the hybrid is rated at 51 mpg city / 53 mpg highway / 52 mpg combined in the LE, while the SE and XLE are rated slightly lower at 44 / 47 / 46, respectively.
On the Road
We had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the Camry with each of the three powertrains, starting out with the V6. There has never been a Camry with more than 300 horsepower, and the car is certainly quick. Full throttle easily breaks the wheels free from a standstill; however, the traction control quickly intervenes to avoid wheel slip. The ride is smooth and quiet with the V6, and while there are four exhaust ports out back, there really isn’t much of an exhaust note to go with the powerful engine. Handling and agility are much better than the outgoing model and certainly more than adequate for the Camry buyer. Even though this is a 300-plus horsepower sedan (okay, 301 horses), we wouldn’t call it a sport sedan.
The 4-cylinder engine still provides good power; although acceleration is clearly not as strong as the V6, most consumers will find it works just fine for most driving situations. The engine can be a bit buzzy at full throttle when its working hardest, but in most cases the ride is quiet. Toyota expects most Camry buyers will opt for an LE or SE with the 4-cylinder powerplant. The transmission works well for both V6 and 4-cylinder engines; shifts are smooth and seamless, even at full throttle.
The hybrid is a more interesting option, providing as much power as the 4-cylinder engine but with much better fuel economy. The system switches between gas and electric quite seamlessly, and it doesn’t take much change in driving habits to attain impressive fuel economy. Unfortunately, the hybrid doesn’t get the smooth 8-speed automatic but a CVT. The CVT is not terribly satisfying at full throttle, which results in a high-revving engine without any accompanying acceleration. Still, the hybrid provides good performance for everyday driving, so there’s little sacrificed to gain impressive fuel economy numbers.
Right for You?
There’s no denying that American buyers have been favoring crossover SUVs over sedans, so the Camry faces a tough road ahead. That said, the new Camry is better in just about every way with more power and improved fuel efficiency, attractive styling and an enviable interior. Given the range of trims with prices starting in the mid $20,000s, the new model should not only retain current Camry fans but also attract new customers to the brand. There may still be hope for the family sedan.
Pros: Beautiful interior design; fuel-efficient hybrid; safety tech standard.
Cons: More USB ports would be nice; 4-cylinder buzzy under hard acceleration.
Bottom Line: Better in every way, the new Camry should continue its reign as best-selling car in America.