A top-to-bottom redesign improves on a winning formula without reinventing the Camry.

– Newberg, Oregon

Even in a world gone mad for SUVs, it’s hard to understate the importance of the Toyota Camry. Still the nation’s top-selling passenger car (as opposed to a truck or SUV), it’s pretty much guaranteed that you either own a Camry, know someone who owns one, or park next to one at work every day. In fact, including export models, Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, cranks out a new Camry every 60 seconds. There’s a lot of pressure, then, riding on the 2018 model.

The Camry truly is all-new, riding on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) modular platform also used in the Prius and C-HR. The four-cylinder engine is new, the V6 is heavily revised, there’s a new eight-speed automatic, and the rear suspension is now a fully independent double-wishbone suspension – to say nothing of the updated styling and equipment list.

The move to the new platform extends the Camry’s wheelbase by 1.9 inches and its length by 1.2 to 1.8 inches (depending on trim level). The car’s overall height is down by one inch, to drop the center of gravity, and occupants sit lower, too – the hip point is down one inch in front and 1.2 inches for rear-seat passengers. The goal is to make the car look lower, wider, and thus more athletic.

2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive
2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive

The Camry truly is all-new, riding on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) modular platform also used in the Prius and C-HR.

Athleticism informed much of the design for the new Toyota Camry. Called “Keen Look,” it’s far more expressive than the outgoing car, with sharper lines and creases, a shallower rear window angle, and far more distinction between trim levels. The SE and XSE, for instance, are deliberately sportier to behold; the XSE has 19-inch wheels, Camry-first quad exhaust tips, and can be optioned with a blacked-out roof panel and a red interior. The hood is 1.6 inches lower than before, and all five wheel choices (from 16 to 19 inches in diameter) have been restyled.

Regardless of trim, the 2018 Toyota Camry is a far more modern take on what it means to make a midsize sedan. The standard trim levels (L, LE, XLE) are still fairly conservative, with the nose dominated by a giant, wide-mouth lower grille; the SE and XSE adopt fake air intakes for a racier fascia design. Creases along the body sides are sharper than before, and there’s a little more definition to the sedan from behind, including a redesigned “CAMRY” badge with a new font.

The volume engine is a new 2.5-liter inline-four that uses both port and direct fuel injection to produce 201 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque (or 206 hp and 186 lb-ft in the XSE). That’s an increase of 25 hp and 14 lb-ft compared to the 2017 Camry’s 2.5-liter engine. It’s strong and smooth in action. As revs rise, the engine plays a coarse tune, but it mostly goes about its job without drawing too much attention. With this much power, the Camry is plenty quick for a midsize sedan, though fortunately there’s no torque steer to speak of.

2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive
2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive

With so much power – not to mention fuel efficiency – on offer from the Camry’s four-cylinder, it’s hard to recommend anyone buy the big engine.

An eight-speed automatic transmission replaces the six-speed unit. With pleasantly subtle gear changes, it soon settles on higher gears for steady-state cruising, keeping noise and fuel economy low. It’s happy to downshift, though, as soon as you demand some passing power. Peak torque doesn’t arrive until 5,000 rpm, so the Camry’s inline-four needs to rev more than some rival turbo engines to really wake up.

Switching into a V6-powered Camry is even more fun from behind the wheel. Newly upgraded, the 3.5-liter mill now produces 301 hp and 267 lb-ft, gains of 33 hp and 19 lb-ft. There’s more than enough power to light up the tires away from stop signs, with just a little torque steer tugging at the steering wheel. Overall, the V6’s character is muted and more refined than the four-cylinder. It needs to rev less to generate big passing power, and has a gentler, more hushed exhaust note while doing so.

Of course, with so much power – not to mention fuel efficiency – on offer from the Camry’s four-cylinder, it’s hard to recommend anyone buy the big engine. Only six percent of Camrys are currently sold with V6 engines. That’s roughly on par with rivals that still offer six-cylinder engines: The Honda Accord has a 14-percent V6 take rate, while Nissan says “less than 10 percent” of Altima sedans come with a V6.

2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive
2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive

Toyota originally considered developing a separate setup for the SE and XSE models, but decided against it because Camry buyers value ride comfort above fun.

Engines aside, the 2018 Camry feels very mature from behind the wheel. There’s gravitas and weight to all the controls, including the steering (though it still lacks any discernible feedback), and the ride-and-handling mix is far more deliberate and less floaty than before; the new rear suspension arrangement no doubt helps with composure over bumpy roads. While it’s far from the most exciting or most satisfying among its midsize sedan peers, there’s nothing off-putting or disappointing about driving the Camry.

The Camry is also quiet in all circumstances, with only moderate amounts of wind and engine noise disturbing the cabin. To keep noise and vibration to a minimum, the car is 30-percent stiffer than its predecessor, and engineers specifically made sure that any openings in the firewall or door panels were smaller, while also adding more sound deadening.

Getting behind the wheel of the sporty-looking XSE V6 returns only a little bit more fun for the driver. There’s a tiny bit more handling directness from the lower-profile tires on 19-inch wheels (235/40s compared to the 235/45/18 or 215/55/17 options on other trims), and a smidge more steering feedback, too. But despite the quad-tip exhaust and that excessively racy body kit, the XSE still drives essentially like any other Camry. That’s because the company did not retune the sedan’s suspension for XSE duty, aside from minor bushing/damper changes to compensate for the wheel-and-tire choice. Camry chief engineer Masato Katsumata says Toyota originally considered developing a separate setup for the SE and XSE models, but decided against it because Camry buyers value ride comfort above fun.

2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive
2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive

The overall dashboard design is smart and modern, though the meeting of dash and door panels has a disappointingly disjointed gap.

The 2018 Camry’s new interior looks and feels nice from all angles, though the driver’s seat begins to feel stiff and unforgiving after a few hours of driving. A freshly designed instrument cluster has either a back-to-basics 4.2-inch or a very pretty 7-inch color trip computer, the steering wheel buttons have been reshaped, and the center stack is refreshingly straightforward in its control arrangement. An unusual Y-shape character line to the dash, though, plus the fact that the stack is canted toward the driver, make it difficult for anyone riding shotgun to access the forward storage cubby or the physical radio controls. An interesting trim piece on the passenger-side dash can be finished in a variety of metallic-look designs, depending on the model. The overall dashboard design is smart and modern, though the meeting of dash and door panels has a disappointingly disjointed gap.

The forward storage compartment has optional wireless phone charging, and comes standard with one USB port and an auxiliary audio jack; all but the base L grade also get a pair of 2.1-amp USB charge points in the center storage cubby.

Back-seat space is commendable, with lots of leg- and headroom for adults to get comfy on long trips. There are no rear USB or 12-volt charging points, so you’ll want to bring long USB cables to keep kids’ tablets charged on road trips. And at 15.1 cubic feet of space before you fold the seats, the wide, deep trunk is hugely accommodating of suitcases and luggage. The seats fold easily, but not quite flat; there’s a notable slanted hump in the transition from trunk floor to lowered seat back.

2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive
2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive

Neither version of Toyota’s infotainment display offers Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support.

Newly available for the 2018 Camry are options like a 10-inch color head-up display, an 800-watt JBL sound system, LED head- and taillights, an eight-way power passenger seat, an electric parking brake, and a 360-degree camera system. Standard equipment on all models includes a seven-inch touchscreen, LED running and tail lights, air conditioning, power everything, and the Toyota Safety Sense-P active-safety suite. The latter comprises adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning and braking, lane-departure assist, and automatic high beams. On models with an electric parking brake instead of the standard foot-operated one, the cruise control will even bring the car down to a complete stop.

The base infotainment system works well enough, and has physical volume and tuning knobs, but its graphics aren’t particularly stand-out in the class. There is no built-in navigation, though it does have integration for the Scout GPS Link nav app on a connected smartphone. Other app integration includes NPR One, Pandora, Slacker, iHeartRadio, and various traffic and weather data. Navigation is standard on the eight-inch touchscreen in V6 models, and has pinch-to-zoom functionality. There’s also a 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot to which up to five devices can connect at once.

Unfortunately, neither version of Toyota’s infotainment display offers Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support. Though those features are quickly becoming standard across almost all automakers, a Toyota official says that data-privacy concerns prevented the company from developing either feature.

2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive
2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive

The V6 engine is offered only in the XLE and XSE trim levels; they cost $34,400 and $34,950, respectively.

Toyota says that the majority of Camry sales – 22 percent – are for four-cylinder XSE or XLE versions. Compared to the base L, they add equipment like full-LED headlights, 18- or 19-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, push-button start, power front seats, and a driving mode switch (Eco, Normal, Sport).

Pricing for the 2018 Toyota Camry is still in line with other midsize sedans, starting at $23,495 before destination for the base L trim level. The LE is an even $24,000, the SE costs $25,200, the XLE is 28,450, and the sporty-looking XSE is the priciest four-cylinder model at $29,000. The V6 engine is offered only in the XLE and XSE trim levels; they cost $34,400 and $34,950, respectively.

Even though weight and horsepower have increased across the board, the 2018 Camry is more fuel efficient than before thanks to its new powertrains. For the four-cylinder model, most trim levels will return 28 miles per gallon city, 39 highway, and 32 mpg combined. The base L model, which is lighter, gets an EPA sticker of 29/41/34 mpg. The XLE V6 will be rated at 22 city, 33 highway, and 26 combined; the XSE V6 differs only in highway mileage, at 22/32/26. Those figures are all better than last year’s Camry and even beat the Honda Accord.

2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive
2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive

The 2018 Toyota Camry still delivers the qualities that have made the sedan such a success.

Toyota will also continue to offer a Camry Hybrid. Priced from $27,800 to $32,250 depending on trim, it will return as much as 52 mpg combined.

The 2018 Toyota Camry still delivers the qualities that have made the sedan such a success. It’s easy to live with, spacious, affordable, and all-round inoffensive to drive. The newest version improves on every aspect of its predecessor, with sharper styling, better driving dynamics, and even more safety features. But there’s nothing here that elevates the game in the midsize-sedan class, nor are there any standout characteristics that make the Camry a must-buy over a Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, or any of its other rivals. Still, improving on a winning formula is a solid strategy, and makes for a successful revamp for the 2018 Camry.

 

Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com

2018 TOYOTA CAMRY XLE

Engine 2.5-Liter I4
Output 201 Horsepower / 184 Pound-Feet
Transmission 8-Speed Automatic
Fuel Economy 28 City / 39 Highway / 32 Combined (est.)
Drive Type Front-Wheel Drive
Weight 3,351 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 15.1 Cubic Feet
Base Price $23,495
As-Tested Price $31,000 (est.)

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2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive

Photo by: Jake Holmes