2018 Toyota Camry Review: a Sharper, More Potent Reinvention for the World’s Top-Selling Sedan
The eighth-generation car looks sharp, and drives sharper than its predecessors.
Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whateverThe Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Toyota Camry.
Despite the Camry's sustained sales success, Toyota knows that sedans are in trouble these days. Although the stereotypical blah Camry is as difficult to kill as a cockroach, buyers are shifting to crossovers and SUVs in increasing numbers. Parents may have handed their Camrys down to their kids, but those kids want something different to replace it. To maintain its position atop the mid-size sedan podium, Toyota needed to make the new Camry something really special.
From the outside, especially the similar lights and body lines, it's easy to tell that the new Camry is an evolution of the current model. But while the L-, LE-, and XLE versions look similar to the previous model, the SE and XSE actually look rather sporty. The high-end models are available with a two-tone color scheme of blue, silver, or white with a black roof and other body accents in the same shade. The nose and tail are more aggressive, looking more like a sporty Lexus than a model formerly referred to as a "beigemobile"—in fact, beige is no longer a color option.
On the inside, controls are set up intelligently, exactly where you want them. Thank you, Toyota, for giving us physical buttons for vital functions, plus knobs for volume, tuning, and dual-zone temperature control. All displays and controls are easy and intuitive to use. Toyota made a big point about how driver-oriented the new Camry is. "Driver-oriented" is usually a term used for sports sedans and real sports cars, not an everyman's sedan like the Camry.
And make no mistake: the Camry is not a driver's car. It's a car for the masses, so steering feel and suspension response is tuned more for comfort than performance, even in the more sporty models. But it's still pleasant to drive, responds well to inputs, and gets out of its own way quite nicely, especially with the optional, 3.5-liter, 301-horsepower V6 engine. To an enthusiast like me, the Camry V6 XSE seems like what a non-enthusiast thinks an enthusiast car is. But there's nothing wrong with that. The average driver doesn't want to make the compromises in comfort and convenience that enthusiasts will often make in the name of better performance. The sporty trims of the Camry strike that balance perfectly for the average driver. The Camry, in other words, has nothing to fear from the racetrack, because of course it will not wind up there.
- Even in lower trims, the new Camry successfully sheds the image of being boring, basic transportation. The new styling makes it quite the looker, and the driving experience is more engaging than earlier models.
- Toyota Safety Sense P is standard equipment on every model. This means that even the most basic $23,495 Camry L includes automatic braking, lane-departure warning with steering assist, dynamic cruise control, and automatic high beams.
- The new eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and seamlessly. The XSE model I drove includes paddle shifters, but I found the transmission did a better job of choosing gears than I did. With this many speeds, the car has plenty of grunt off the line, yet is geared high enough on the highway for four-cylinder models to get 39 miles per gallon, with V6 models getting a respectable 32 mpg. (Hybrid models get a whopping 53 miles per gallon on the highway.)
- The vast majority of buyers will get the four-cylinder engine or hybrid, but the 3.5-liter V6 packs a 301-horsepower punch that gets the Camry out of its own way quickly. Though not a sports sedan, the V6 XSE arguably provide some of the benefits of one.
- The infotainment system does not support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. With these becoming increasingly common in modern cars, it's surprising that they are missing from the bread and butter of Toyota's passenger car lineup.
- The two-tone exterior with the black roof looks a bit odd to me. It's not just the roof that's black, but also the A-pillars, and half of the C-pillar. Why half? It looks unfinished. As a great Jedi car designer once said, "Do, or do not. There is no try."
- The XSE I drove had a wild red leather interior that would not look out of place in a Subaru WRX STI. I like it, but this may be too wild for the type of people who would buy a Camry in the first place. Fortunately, black leather is an option with any exterior color.
- If Toyota is going to make the Camry more exciting and sporty, I'd like to see a true sports model, a halo Camry, to back those claims up. I may have laughed at a Camry TRD concept in the past, but I wouldn't laugh at a TRD version of the latest model. Considering how good this new platform is, it wouldn't take much to tune up a genuine enthusiast's car.
The 2018 Toyota Camry XSE, Ranked:
Hauling people: 5/5
Hauling stuff: 4/5
Curb appeal: 3/5
“Wow” factor: 2/5
The Bottom Line:
As sedans decline in popularity, the Camry needed a reinvention to remain relevant in today's market. Fortunately, that's exactly what Toyota did, making it likely that the Camry will remain the most popular sedan in the world, as it has been for years. After the apocalypse wipes out almost everything on Earth, there will only be two survivors: the cockroach, and the Toyota Camry.
By the Numbers:
Price (as tested): $23,495 ($34,950)
Powertrain: 2.5-liter inline-four with 205 horsepower / 184 pound-feet; eight-speed automatic; front-wheel-drive
3.5-liter V6 with 301 horsepower / 267 pound-feet; eight-speed automatic; front-wheel-drive
2.5-liter inline-four hybrid with 208 horsepower / 163 pound-feet; continuously variable transmission; front-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 2.5-liter: 28 city, 39 highway
3.5-liter: 22 city, 32 highway
2.5-liter hybrid: 44 city, 47 highway