2018 Toyota Camry First Drive

2018 Toyota Camry
2018 Toyota Camry

It’s a car beloved and loathed at the same time. Long Toyota’s bread and butter sedan there is no denying the Camry is a best seller, despite the fact it exists in a market awash with Sport- and Crossover Utility Vehicles. But recently, others have been stealing market share. That’s why the company that Goes Places really went places with their 2018 Toyota Camry.

Now into its eighth edition, it includes more crisp folds than an Origami swan. But is it enough to keep the buyers coming back for more?

More Than An Appliance.

The Toyota Camry has had a reputation for bulletproof transportation since originally appearing on these shores back in 1983. Eventually though, it fell into that slot where those who didn’t really care about cars as anything more than basic transportation began to take it for granted. They were the appliance buyers. The ones who treat cars as a necessity, much like a refrigerator, and were as passionate about them as they were of their side-by-side Frigidaire. (Extra points if it had water and crushed ice through the freezer door.)

Although sales of all those appliances represented positive cash flow to the company and helped to reinforce a strong bottom line, it troubled Toyota scion Akio Toyoda. The grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda found that the vehicles made by his namesake company had become bland, homogenized and passionless. Realizing this, he proclaimed a change was coming. “If it’s not fun to drive, it’s not a car,” he said.

The 2018 Toyota Camry is just one result of that change.

2018 Toyota Camry
2018 Toyota Camry

Perfect Imbalance.

There are many contenders in the market including such luminaries as the Hyundai Sonata and the Kia Optima. The company claims the 2018 Toyota Camry is inspired by the perfect imbalance of a ballet dancer. We suppose that means that while they stand on spindly legs, placing all their weight on pointed toe, they still appear balanced when viewed in toto. To a large degree, the same thing occurs with the new Camry.

Although continuing with a variation of the Camry’s winged grille appearance, it hits the market with not one, not two, not three, but four individual designs for greater grade differentiation. Starting with a basic black look in the lower L, LE, and Hybrid LE models, the Camry’s front-end graduates with the addition of sports mesh inserts, bright metallics, and a gloss black grill with mesh inserts on the highline XSE and XSE V6 versions.

The hood is now lowered 1.6-inches and features stamped-in character lines, that help to define the Camry’s new wider stance that now features a lower hip point, roofline and hood height for what Toyota claims is the appearance of a new, lower center of gravity. That’s probably true, as the new 2018 Camry rides 1-inch lower than the outgoing model.

Character lines run the length and width of the new Camry, adding a sense of complexity to the stamping process, as well as new points of interest from every view. The most distinctive of those would have to be the creases on the C-pillar, that in addition to drawing visual attention, help to taper airflow towards the rear spoiler, as well as being an accent point for the paint and roof of the new black XSE sport version. We understand the idea of differentiating a halo performance-style vehicle, but find the black accent a bit over done. It’s kind of like when painting a model car, you over-paint more than you intended, so you decide to continue further. In my experience, such model car paint jobs never ended well. While the lower trim levels continue with single exhaust pipes, the XSE four-cylinder, XLE and XSE V6 versions all utilize a dual exhaust system with quad chrome tips at the lower rear fascia.

2018 Toyota Camry
2018 Toyota Camry

If I was to put a tag on it, we’d say the new Camry has a European look that reminds me of the continental stylings found on the late Saab 9-3. Yes, that’s a compliment.

Motivating Forces.

Power for the 2018 Camry comes from a choice of three engines including the 2.5-liter Dynamic Force 4-cylinder engine with 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Second is the 3.5 liter V6 that manages 301 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. Both use dual fuel injection, which combines direct cylinder injection and port fuel injection depending on engine load for the most efficient fueling at any point.

The four and six-cylinder engines are both mated to a new Direct Shift 8AT (eight-speed) automatic transmission with paddle shifters. They feature direct lockup gearing from gears two through eight for what Toyota claims is the performance of an automated manual gearbox.

2018 Toyota Camry
2018 Toyota Camry

The Hybrid Camry features power from a detuned version of the 2.5-liter Dynamic Force 4-cylinder dual injection engine, that puts out 176 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. It combines with a Toyota Hybrid Electric motor for a combined net power rating of 208 horsepower. Gearbox duty is performed by a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a top fuel estimate of 51 city / 53 highway / 52 mpg combined for the HV LE model, which incidentally is in the range of the Hybrid Camry’s Prius little brother.

The petrol-powered versions ride on a new-for-Camry suspension that includes a standard MacPherson strut front end with gas-filled shocks, a stabilizer bar and tower strut bracing. An electric power assisted rack-and-pinion steering system keeps things pointed in the right direction. At the rear you’ll find a new double-wishbone kit with gas filled shocks and stabilizer bar for advanced handling and comfort.

All the bits are part of the new Toyota New Global Architecture platform (TNGA) which focuses on factors that improve, via a lower center of gravity, increased visibility, improved structure and reduced noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).

Interior Decorating.

The interior of the new Camry, while much more refined, still includes many of the same bits found in the previous generation. Most improvements occur in the area of the dashboard, which is bisected by a new character line that flow-controls downward to the center console.

Depending on trim level, both front seat passengers will take advantage of the eight-way power seat adjustments. Rear seating has been improved with more legroom and improved ergonomics. A new panoramic glass roof is standard on V6 models, and available on XLE and XSE four-cylinder models as an added cost option. Technology offerings are also new, featuring Toyota’s Entune 3.0 Audio, with Siri Eyes Free, and Scout GPS Navigation. Currently, Toyota is staying away from Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality because they are still in the negotiation stages as to how much data they want to allow Apple and Google to aggregate.

2018 Toyota Camry
2018 Toyota Camry

Our highline XSE tester included the upgraded Entune 3.0 premium audio system with dynamic navigation, nine JBL speakers and Harman’s Clari-Fi software to restore music that is typically lost in the digital compression process.

Drivetime.

While quiet and docile, the 2.5-liter Dynamic Force four-cylinder engine provided plenty of pulling power from start, even displaying a bit of a throaty growl when driven in anger. We found in most situations that the eight-speed automatic transmission did not hunt for any particular gear, instead settling for the most efficient of the eight cogs while underway. Handling was greatly improved over the outgoing ninth-generation model, even displaying (can we say it?) a bit of an enthusiastic inflection to its driving manners.

Power from the 3.5-liter V6 engine was even more so. While we found most of the grunt from the 2.5-liter came on at the top of the power band, the V6 seemed intent on delivering it in the low, and mid ranges of the engine’s power band. We know it is counter intuitive, but we did end up with better road feel and handling while behind the wheel of the decidedly heavier six-cylinder XSE version. In either case though, the rigidity found in the TNGA contributed to greatly improved chassis handling dynamics.

Here’s the pitch.

In this unrestrained battle for market share, Toyota needs to hit a grand slam. With the 2018 Toyota Camry, the bases are loaded, the bat has struck the ball, and it’s heading towards the fences.

2018 Toyota Camry

L $23,495

LE $24,000

SE $25,200

XLE $28,450

XSE $29,000

XLE V6 $34,400

XSE V6 $34,950

 

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid

HV LE $27,800

HV SE $29,500

HV XLE $32,250

 

Destination $     885

 

EPA Mileage Estimates

L 29 city /41 highway/34 combined

L, SE, XLE, XSE   28 city/39 highway /32 combined

XLE V6 22 city/33 highway /26 combined

XSE V6 22 city/32 highway /26 combined

 

HV LE (Hybrid) 51 city/53 highway /52 combined

 

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