First Drive: 2018 Toyota Camry

Toyota knows how valuable the Camry is to their customers, brand and the future of the midsize segment. It’s known as one of the most reliable, efficient and safe vehicles on today’s roadways.

But times are changing, and many of today’s vehicles feature those hallmark Camry qualities that brought it to the top. Toyota wants to keep their customers happy and maintain their position as leaders in the class with emotional design, leading tech and an engaging (gasp) driving experience. Did they accomplish it? Well, first some background info.

Back in 2006 when I earned my license, I convinced my mother that the newest generation 2007 Camry was the way to go. I was more thrilled with the packaging efficiency, engine efficiency and safety of this new Camry than how it handled, since it was after all, a Camry.

I quickly realized though that the joy of driving was missing and the visual excitement wasn’t there. Toyota’s product planning team knew this.

Camry’s team was told by none other than their CEO, Akio Toyoda, that it’s time to shake things up. He wanted an engaging midsize car that was also beautiful to look at.

On the outside, we can definitely say they met that criteria. Sweeping lines, creases and multi-shaped sheet metal gives the Camry character and edginess. It’s beautiful and strong at the same time. Designers wanted each Camry trim to be distinguishable from 200 yards away, not an easy feat but one we admit they accomplished thanks to unique characteristics in the front end, wheels, side and rear. Trims include L, LE, XLE, SE, XSE and hybrid powertrain versions of LE, SE, and XLE.

The XSE stands out the most with sporty intentions thanks to an aggressive face, stylish 19″wheels, and accents at the corners of the rear bumpers. A two-tone color scheme with a black metallic roof is available and makes the Camry look sleeker and lower because of the blacked out greenhouse area. The two-tone treatment can be had with the Wind Chill Pearl, Blue Streak or Celestial Silver body colors.

LED headlights and taillights look sporty and modern, giving the Camry a unique look at night.

Open any of the doors and you’ll think you stepped inside a Lexus. Toyota has truly upped their game in the design and materials department. We started our drive in an LE trimmed Camry and were impressed with the dash layout, soft and padded touch points and attention to detail.  The two-tone dash color treatment with dimensional chrome trim brings an upscale feel to the cabin. The asymmetrical center dash flows down from the instrument cluster and is slightly angled toward the driver but still allows easy access for the passenger.

Volume and tuning knobs are stacked on top of one another on the left side of the Entune display, a huge help to drivers who don’t want to reach across the large screen. We like how the CD slot is cleanly integrated into the top of the dash. Below the display is the available Qi charging mat for wire-free smartphone charging.

The new steering wheel moves all critical controls to the driver’s thumbs, including the radar cruise control (no more stalk poking out of the lower right).

Entune 3.0 is all new and works better than ever. The system is responsive and fluid, as good as the latest smartphone or tablet. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available but we were able to quickly pair our phone and stream music in seconds. Various grades of Entune exist depending on trim, with Premium Audio with JBL Clari-Fi and Dynamic Navigation being the top option. The nav is “dynamic” in that it updates over the air, a first for Toyota. Complimentary trials of Destination Assist, Safety Connect, Service Connect, Remote Connect, and a Wi-Fi hotspot are all standard depending on trim.

A 10-inch head-up display is new and displays information in full color; it works very well.

Comfort during our day of driving was exceptional, with excellent support and various adjustments thanks to the 8-way power driver’s seat and available 8-way power passenger seat. Cloth or leather seating are available depending on trim, with our favorites being Macadamia (tan) fabric and Cockpit Red leather on XSE. The red is absolutely gorgeous and completely changes the ambiance of the cabin.

A quick test of the rear seat shows just as much room but better comfort than previous Camry generations.

The trunk offers 15.1 cubic feet on ALL trim levels, including hybrid models because the battery pack has been packaged under the rear seat. A temporary spare remains in the trunk, a smart move.

The 2018 Camry represents the first entirely new vehicle on Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). This translates into a quieter, smoother, and better handling car. It also means better visibility, with an A-pillar design that makes it easier to see around turns.

On the road, the LE model felt secure ascending and descending winding roads, almost sporty. In the XLE hybrid, body motions felt flatter thanks to the heft of the battery pack in the back.

XSE V6 was an entirely different animal, with tight handling and incredible acceleration. It cornered better and felt tighter to the ground, with no head tossing and nothing but the feeling of confidence behind the wheel. Braking felt secure and strong on all trims.

Four-cylinder models generate 203 HP (XSE: 206) while V6 produces 301 HP. Both are mated to a new 8-speed automatic. Hybrid models generate a net of 208 HP. Power delivery from both gas engines is strong and smooth, with the hybrid being the strongest off the line and the V6 managing its incredible power output well.

EPA fuel economy ratings register in at 29 mpg city, 41 highway and 34 combined making the 2018 Camry L the most fuel efficiency midsize gas engine car on the market. LE, SE, XLE and SXE four-cylinder models register in at 28 city, 39 highway, and 32 combined. V6 models earn 22 city, 33 highway, and 26 combined.

The hybrid LE trim produces Prius-like numbers of 51 mpg in the city, 53 on the highway and 52 combined thanks to a lithium-ion battery pack. SE and XLE trim levels make do with a 31-lb heavier nickel-metal hydride battery and earn 44 mpg city, 47 highway, and 46 combined.

Lastly and most importantly, the safety front. Toyota Safety Sense-P is standard and includes pre-collision protection with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beams and radar cruise control. Blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert is available on LE and SE, and standard on higher trims with sonar sensors and automatic rear braking. Tire pressure monitoring now provides direct numerical readouts on SE trims and higher. Ten airbags are standard and we expect Camry to ace IIHS and NHTSA crash testing.

The 2018 Camry arrives at dealers late this summer, and we can’t wait to get behind the wheel again to push it into corners and take it down winding roads. If you haven’t guessed it by now, yes, Toyota’s Camry team did a marvelous job on the newest generation of America’s best-selling midsize.

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