Toyota Camry — A dramatic departure

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Toyota Camry has been the most popular passenger vehicle in America for 18 of the past 20 years with a formula of unmatched reliability, excellent resale value and anonymous styling both inside and out, styling designed to offend no one. This has led the Camry to earn — whether deserved or not — the reputation of being an appliance, unflatteringly described as automotive wallpaper; with an unemotional feel, a car that takes you from point A to point B with no drama.

Thankfully, many things have changed for Camry for 2018. If you are looking for a new sedan, you might be wowed by the new, more aggressive styling of the Camry, the comfortable ride, the incredible fuel economy, the quiet interior, and the decent acceleration from the reworked 203-horsepower 4-cylinder engine or the lively 301-horsepower V-6.

After 16 years riding on Toyota's K platform, the new Camry moves to the scalable Toyota New Global Architecture that underpins the Prius hatchback and the new C-HR subcompact crossover and will serve as the basis for the next-generation Avalon, Corolla and Highlander.

The new Camry is slightly lower and wider than the outgoing car and boosts a 30 percent improvement in torsional rigidity giving it better handling traits while more effectively soaking up road imperfections.

Bottom line — the new Camry is the most attractive and technologically advanced model in the car’s 34-year history.

As with the previous Camry, it can be had in five trim levels including a new stripped down L model that starts at $24,380. Next is the LE at $24,885; the upgraded XLE, sporty SE and Upscale XSE starting at $34,950. Fuel economy is excellent with EPA estimates of 29/41 city/highway for the 2.5-liter four-cylinder to 22/33 city/highway for the 3.5-liter V6. Both engines are mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission.

If you are interested in even better mileage, but are not a fan of the hybrid Prius, the Camry might be your answer. The frugal Hybrid Camry will be available later this year in LE, SE and XLE trim levels starting at $27,800 an going up to $32,250 with an EPA estimate of 51/53 city/highway for the LE trim level.

Designers have differentiated the sporty SE and XSE from the other trims even more than last year. They feature aggressive bumpers and rocker panels, a mesh grille insert, a rear lip spoiler and rear diffuser. The XSE differs from the SE, being shod with 19-inch black machine-finish alloy wheels. Like our test car, it’s even available with a blacked-out roof, red-leather interior and a V-6 engine with first-ever-for-Camry quad-tipped dual exhausts.

We found the XSE V-6 a very satisfying drive with excellent cornering attributes, good on-center feel, and acceptable, but not overly enthusiastic, acceleration for a 300-horsepower engine. It's been measured at 5.8 seconds from 0-to-60. Most people will opt for the four-cylinder, and we found it — despite an increase of 25 horsepower over last year — to run about the same as the 2017 model, which has been measured at around 8.0 seconds from 0-to-60. With more ponies and two more forward speeds you might expect more, but Toyota has apparently opted to tune the engine for better gas mileage sacrificing some performance.

Inside, Camry sports an all-new and roomier interior that looks and feels more upscale with upgraded materials that improve the quality and tactility of the execution. Front seats have been completely redesigned to be more comfortable and better looking. Rear seat passengers benefit from more legroom room than the outgoing model, thanks to the new longer platform.

There’s also a new Entune 3.0 infotainment system that’s standard on all trim levels and includes an eight-inch touchscreen display designed to mimic the look of a smartphone or tablet computer. Options include a premium JBL audio system, 10-inch color head-up display, and 4G LTE WI-FI hotspot. Disappointingly, Toyota still doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as most competitors do to make it easier and smarter to use your phone while driving.

Toyota’s Safety Sense technology includes a long list of safety and driver assistance features designed to help protect drivers, passengers, and people in other vehicles on the road by helping to mitigate or prevent collisions. Features include a backup camera, 10 airbags, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure assist, and automatic high beam headlight operation, standard on all trim levels. Unfortunately, blind spot warning with cross-traffic alert is only available as a $600 option on lower trim models. It’s standard on upper trims.

Our XSE V-6 test vehicle with several options stickered out for a breath-taking $39,253.

Base price V-6: $34,950; as driven, $39,353
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 301 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 267 pound-feet @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.2 inches
Length: 192.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,571 pounds
Turning circle: 38 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 city, 32 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 5.8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Fusion V-6, Hyundai Sonata turbo 4, Honda Accord turbo 4

The Good
• Excellent fuel economy for V-6
• Comfortable ride
• Spacious cabin
• Best styling in Camry history

The Bad
• Missing some safety features on lower trims

The Ugly
• No Apple CarPlay, Android Auto