The 2018 Toyota Camry is a redesign of the midsize sedan, beginning the next generation of the Kentucky-built car that’s been a best seller for 15 years.
The looks are expressive and the suspension is sophisticated, enough of each to leave behind the Camry’s hum-ho past. Naturally it’s more fuel efficient than before.
The all-new Camry has to have something special to stay ahead of the pack, now including the popular crossovers. Its competitors are impressive, including its arch-rival Honda Accord and the new Hyundai Sonata, along with Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, and Nissan Altima.
The base Camry L comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder now making 206 horsepower, hasn’t changed. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the same transmission used with the bigger engine, a 3.5-liter V6 making a full 301 horsepower. Few competitors offer a V6. There’s also a Camry Hybrid with continuously variable transmission.
Camry SE and XSE each get sporty styling.
Camry L gets an EPA-rated 34 miles per gallon Combined city and highway, while Camry models with more equipment and the same four-cylinder engine rate 32 mpg. The V6 gets 26 mpg Combined. The Hybrid LE is EPA-rated at 52 miles per gallon, the first midsize sedan to break the 50-mpg barrier.
The Camry Hybrid uses Toyota’s latest system with two motors, which made its first appearance on the 2016 Prius. It’s a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter engine tuned for the two electric motors that power the car under light conditions. The battery pack is under the rear seat, like in the Prius, which allows the hybrid’s trunk to be as big as the sedan’s. There are two types of battery pack, depending on the model; the 52-mpg LE uses lithium-ion batteries, while the more costly SE and XLE hybrids use the older and heavier nickel-metal-hydride batteries to achieve 46 mpg.
So far we’ve only driven pre-production models of the new Camry. We’d rate its performance as average, even with a new chassis. But it looks better, and there are improvements in safety and other features. We can’t comment on comfort and quality until we drive the production models, but we expect the build quality to be high.
Five models are available with the standard 2.5-liter engine: Camry L ($23,495); Camry LE ($24,000); Camry XLE ($28,450); Camry SE ($25,200); Camry XSE ($29,000). Also available is the Camry XLE V6 ($34,400) and XSE V6 ($34,950). Camry Hybrid has three versions: LE ($27,800); SE ($29,500); and XLE ($32,250).
On its new chassis, the 2018 Camry is one inch lower, and a bit longer and wider. It’s sleeker and has a firm stance, but there might be differences of opinion about whether or not it looks more sporty and/or upscale than before. Toyota’s goal was to make it more expressive, and it is that. It’s crisp and racy. It makes the handsome Ford Fusion look a bit pudgy.
Many of the design elements aren’t new, having been introduced on the 2014 Camry when its styling was tweaked. The grille has thin wings that are spread like a gliding hawk, with a Toyota badge where the face of the hawk would be; it’s colored blue on Hybrid models. The sides and rear end have a lot more sculpting.
The sporty SE and XSE get a special nose and rear bumper, along with a small spoiler on the rear deck and shaped sills along the sides.
Like the exterior, the interior feels more stylish and premium, even on the lower models, thanks to a mix of soft materials and colors. The front seat bottoms have been redesigned, and the touchscreen on the dashboard is bigger.
The new Camry handles better than before, although it’s still average. We expected more, since the latest Prius improved its handing by so much.
The engine is no quicker than before, but it does get better fuel mileage. The 206-horsepower four-cylinder engine isn’t especially powerful. It pauses when you floor it, and sometimes takes two or three downshifts to get with the program, something that’s unfortunately not uncommon in cars with eight-speed transmissions and not much power. The Camry is far from the worst.
The speed of the 301-horsepower V6 with the same eight-speed, and even the Hybrid SE with its step-programmed CVT makes those powertrains more rewarding. The Hybrid SE sport model programs six simulated gears into the CVT to remove the big rubber band feeling of one-speed CVTs. The V6 gives the driver smooth speed at any time, without the need for the transmission to downshift so much.
The LE Hybrid offered as much enjoyment as the V6, if not the same kind of pleasure. It was quiet except when it was pinned, and in that situation it revs with a machinery-like noise. we drove proved as enjoyable as the V-6, in a different way. The strong lithium-iron batteries allow the car to run in electric-only mode quite frequently if the road is flat, even at medium speeds. When the gas engine comes on, its imperceptible; so too is the transition regenerative and friction braking subtle. The Hybrid isn’t fast and doesn’t inspire you to try, it’s just smooth, quiet, and comfortable.
The previous Camry was pretty soft, so this one is inevitably better, but even the firmer SE and XSE models don’t feel so sporty. Meanwhile the feel of the electric power steering is much improved over the previous numbness. The Camry grips the road as well as most midsize sedans, although the tall tires on the LE can squirm on winding rural roads if the pace moves up. The XLE’s bigger wheels and tires are better.
The fully loaded XSE V6 handled best of all the Camrys we drove. It had strong acceleration, looked sporty, and was tightest in the corners.
The redesigned Camry seems lacking. It’s clearly an improvement, but we expected to have our socks blown off. However it’s good enough, in an evolutionary and incremental way, to maintain its No. 1 position as best-selling midsize sedan. And it’s unquestionably more stylish. The Hybrid LE gets 52 mpg with its lithium-iron battery pack yet with an MSRP of just $27,800. That’s only about $3400 more than the original 2001 Prius that took 13 seconds to go from zero to sixty.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.