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2018 Toyota Camry Test Drive Review
The Toyota Camry has always been about getting people from point A to point B reliably. So why does the world need a sporty Camry?
You know that parent trying to be the awkward “Cool Dad”? He tries to force the issue that he's still “hip” or “with it,” but really his primary job is to provide for his family. Toyota may be taking a similar approach in making the 2018 Camry sporty.
The Camry’s main job is to bring you to work, school, practice, etc. Most of its drivers are buying the Camry for reliable daily transportation. They don’t care about the “appliance” references that enthusiasts make about their car, because that means it’s reliably doing its job.
But crossovers and SUVs have become so popular that the sedans that once dominated the market are threatened by their high-riding wagon usurpers. As a result, automakers are left trying to keep their sedans relevant, so the new Camry goes for bold, aggressive styling choices, and depending on trim, an almost sports-car-like approach.
Look and Feel
Like its rival, the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry has to make waves to stay relevant in a market with a growing number of crossovers as default family vehicles.
Trims for the 2018 Camry are L, LE, SE, XSE, and XLE. The LE and XLE share a visual personality, and the SE and XSE share a different personality. On the LE and XLE trims, the grille looks like it could be part of a Kylo Ren mask, but thankfully things get better if you move to the SE or XSE. The massive vents and an upper grille that seems to float separately from the rest of the front end don’t really come together up close. But if you take a step back and observe things from a distance, the design of the Camry comes together, like a 4-wheel MagicEye.
But the result is that the car looks very sharp. On more than one occasion, I was walking away from the car and turned back to look at it. That’s one of those subliminal ticks typically reserved for sports cars.
The Camry is also available with a two-tone paint job that makes the roof and the top half of the C-pillar black. This is intended to make it look more like a sport coupe, but it's visually odd. Changing the paint scheme halfway up the C-pillar is strange enough, but the monochromatic paint scheme on the XSE looks quite sharp, so why mess with it?
Toyota has created a Camry that almost looks… sexy? Our test model features 19-inch wheels and the color Blue Streak, and all models feature a sculpted hood and flared fenders. But take a walk around to the rear of the XSE Camry and see the faux rear diffuser and quad exhaust tips. You almost have to laugh at how much overkill that is. That’s an exhaust tip for each cylinder, and it looks ridiculous in that context.
Inside, the Camry features a gorgeous cabin layout, but it seems to prioritize form over function. The right side of the center console comes down in a flowing arch, and while it looks pretty, folks have already been knocking their knees against it.
The L trim comes standard with remote keyless entry, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and a USB port. The LE trim adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver’s seat, an anti-theft system, and a 60/40 split-fold rear seat.
The SE adds the unique front-end design also found on the XSE, 18-inch black-finished wheels, a rear spoiler, automatic climate control, and SofTex sport front seats. The XSE also gets dual-zone climate control, a trio of USB ports, a head-up display, panoramic moonroof, and large 7-inch color information display between the gauges.
The XLE gets full LED headlights, a bright metallic front grille, 18-inch chrome-finished alloy wheels, leather-trimmed steering wheel, and upgraded Tiger Eye wood or textured metal interior trim.
A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder is the base engine in the 2018 Toyota Camry. It makes a rather impressive 203 horsepower. If you opt for the XSE trim, the output of this engine increases to 206 horsepower.
The XSE and XLE come standard with the I4, but are available with a 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. No matter the engine, power gets sent to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission featuring a manual shift mode.
Looking to Toyota’s biggest rival, Honda has ditched the V6 in its new Accord. It now uses a turbocharged 4-cylinder as its high-output engine. Some will prefer the ample power of the V6, but the 4-cylinder on our test car pulls surprisingly well.
The Camry also features a Drive Mode selector, with Normal, Sport, and Eco modes. The acceleration with the 4-cylinder is such that you need to click it into Sport only when you really need it.
For fuel economy, the 4-cylinder Camry returns an EPA-estimated 29 mpg city, 41 highway, 34 combined. The V6 returns 22 city, 32 highway, 26 combined. In our week driving the Camry, we found fuel economy of 30.9 mpg. It should be noted that this week was heavy on the city driving, and we had it in Sport mode a lot.
The biggest surprise about the new Camry is that it drives as sportily as it looks. When you make a list of things you want out of a sporty car, you want solid acceleration, responsive steering, and minimal body roll. So look at the Camry: It provides positive steering feedback and little body roll in cornering, and the acceleration with the 4-cylinder is surprisingly strong. I actually enjoyed driving this car, which was quite a surprise.
But Toyota may have gone almost too far in an effort to overcome the Camry's dull reputation. Our test model also featured performance tires, which resulted in more vibration in the cabin than some will want. The more comfort-oriented LE and XLE trims might be more ideal for those taking long trips.
Form and Function
The controls might look odd at first, with the flowing triangle pattern, but they actually follow a traditional layout. The stereo features volume and tuning knobs, both on the left side of the touchscreen. The climate controls feature a typical layout as well. Despite all its unique interior styling, the new Camry's controls are where they should be.
The front seats are spacious, and the seats themselves are both supportive and very soft. The rear seats are just as soft, and the best part is, they provide plenty of leg- and headroom. You can pay a lot more for a luxury sedan with no backseat space, and backseat space in a family sedan is not always a guarantee. But with the Camry, you could sit in the back for a long road trip.
The Camry comes with a 15.1-cubic-foot trunk, which is about average for the segment, but newcomers have added more space. The new Accord will have 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space. The Nissan Altima has 15.4 cubic feet of trunk space, while the Fusion has 16 cubic feet, and the Hyundai Sonata has 16.3 cubic feet of trunk space. The Dodge Charger, which is a bit different than the rest of this segment (it has rear-wheel drive and V6/V8 engine options), has 16.5 cubic feet of space. So in fact, the Camry falls a bit short in this segment.
The Camry comes standard with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It's part of Entune 3.0, which comes with a host of apps, including iHeartRadio, Pandora, Yelp, NPR One, and Slacker radio. You can also get real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, and sports scores, as well as stock updates.
The standard infotainment system also boasts Bluetooth connectivity, Siri EyesFree, and Google voice controls for Android users, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Most automakers offer these two features, and some that do not now plan to in future models. But Toyota has no future plans to include these very popular tech features, and that could be a deal-breaker for Apple or Android power users.
The XLE V6 and XSE come with a larger 8-inch touchscreen. It features easy-to-read fonts and icons and pinch-to-zoom for maps as well as buttons on the side of the screen to help navigate. This larger touchscreen also comes with a 9-speaker JBL premium audio system and RemoteConnect with Wi-Fi connectivity.
The Camry comes standard with 10 airbags, the LATCH child-seat anchoring system, a tire pressure monitoring system, and Toyota Safety Sense P.
Toyota Safety Sense P is a suite of high-tech safety features that Toyota provides as standard equipment. This includes forward-collision avoidance, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control as standard features. These standard features make the Camry a safety standout in its segment.
You can also get the Camry with a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and intelligent clearance sonar for detecting objects while parking at low speeds. The sonar engages the available 360-degree camera, so as you're pulling into a parking spot, the front camera turns on. This allows you to see how close you are getting to the car in front of you and makes parking in tight spaces much easier.
Base MSRP for the 2018 Toyota Camry is $23,495. That's for the base L trim, which won’t be available until this fall, so the lineup currently starts with the LE, which starts at $24,000. The SE trim starts at $25,200, and an XLE starts at $28,450. The range-topping XSE starts at $29,000.
Our test model was the XSE. It came with the Driver Assist Package, which includes a 360-degree camera, parking sensors, a JBL premium audio system, and more. This test model clocked in at more than $37,000 with all options selected.
If you are a true enthusiast, will you really go for a Camry over a base BMW 3 Series or Lexus IS? The average sedan buyer may appreciate the new Camry's driving dynamics and looks. But some might not even care or, more likely, notice. For all its performance, the 2018 Camry will always be in a segment of conveyances. Everything else is just window dressing.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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