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Our Take: 2018 Toyota Camry

, Contributing Writer -

After years of wallowing in the backwaters of automotive design, the 2018 Toyota Camry has received a crisp new shape – the better to compete with rivals in the mid-size sedan class. It's also more fun to drive with excellent fuel economy, and comes with a plethora of active safety features. But the sportiest models are hardly sporty, the base engine isn't as refined as the hybrid model, and the lower seating position could be seen as a detriment to the shifting whims of buyers looking for taller, crossover-like vehicles.

Best Value

Starting at $24,565 (including destination) for the base L model, pricing for the 2018 Toyota Camry tops out at $38,405 for a fully-optioned XSE V6 finished in an optional color. Two engines are offered – a 203-horsepower (206 in the XSE), 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a 301-hp, 3.5-liter V6. Both are matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Standard are LED headlights, daytime running lights, and taillights, a wood interior trim, a seven-inch touchscreen with navigation, Siri Eyes Free, and Bluetooth, Google voice controls, a rearview camera, pre-collision warning, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.

Of the five trim levels (L, LE, SE, XLE, XSE), two are available with the V6 (XLE, XSE) We'd skip the bigger engine as well as the two lower trims and head for the SE model with its sportier look (18-inch black alloy wheels, rear spoiler, sport mesh grille, lower body kit), sport-tuned suspension, quicker steering, automatic climate control, TFT instrument display, faux leather and fabric seats, and leather-trimmed steering wheel. The SE also opens the door to a number of worthwhile option packages – particularly the "Audio Package with options."

  • Model: 2018 Toyota Camry SE
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 203 hp / 184 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 28 City / 39 Hwy
  • Options: Audio Package with options ($2,480, keyless push-button start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Entune audio with navigation, Qi wireless smartphone charging, dual-zone climate control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, power moonroof).
  • Base Price: $26,270 (including a $920 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $28,750

Performance

Toyota Camry

Toyota is one of the few manufacturers to offer a V6 in a mid-size sedan, and the 3.5-liter unit under the Camry's hood offers smooth, on-demand power in nearly any situation. It pairs nicely with the eight-speed automatic, and, in this application, seems to require fewer downshifts than when paired to the smaller four-cylinder.

Most of our time was spent with an XSE tester with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 206 hp – three more than on other Camry models and more than the base engines on the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, and Nissan Altima. Around town, the combination proved to be more than adequate with decent step-off and smooth upshifts. This engine/transmission combination features an EPA-estimated 28 miles per gallon city, 39 mpg highway, and 32 combined. We managed to better that combined figure with a vehicle-measured 33.9 mpg in driving equally split between highway and suburban roads. This is an exceptional number that would've been unheard of for a mid-size sedan a handful of years ago.

With a new, stiffer platform, the XSE cranks things up a bit further with larger wheels and tires, quicker steering, recalibrated dampers, and larger diameter front and rear sway bars. The somewhat firmer ride, however, remains smooth, easily soaking up potholes and other road imperfections and nearly perfect for long-distance cruising.

At the same time, when coupled to the four-cylinder engine, the eight-speed automatic downshifts frequently in a never-ending electronically-controlled search for optimum fuel economy. While the engine is relatively quiet and docile in around-town driving, it awakens rather harshly when you put your foot into it – with a distinctly un-Toyota-like lack of refinement that can not only be heard, but felt through the accelerator pedal, as well.

Finally, even though the Camry has come a long way in the past decade, the most performance-oriented model – the XSE – can still hardly be called "sporty." There's noticeable body lean in corners, while the steering system offers very little feedback to the driver.

Style

The latest version – especially in XSE trim – is the first Camry we've driven that's elicited more than a single glance and even some outright stares from passers-by. Certainly the new crisp shape, reminiscent of a hatchback, is no longer bland.

Compared to the outgoing model, the eighth-generation Camry sits an inch lower, is slightly longer, and slightly wider. Other than the huge lower maw of the grille, the overall design is both rakish and handsome. The body sides, in particular, are crisp and sculpted. Overall, it's one of Toyota's best design efforts for a sedan – and a far cry from over-the-top models like the Mirai sedan and Prius hatchback.

The sleek sheetmetal is wrapped around a cabin with plenty of head room front and rear. The redesigned front seats offer additional bolstering and day-long ride comfort. The quality of materials is class-appropriate, and the fit and finish is excellent. All Camrys come with a 4.2-inch display between the instruments, while our XSE tester came with a 7.2-inch color touchscreen and an infotainment system that was intuitive and easy to use with simple to follow menu functionality. All infotainment systems should be this easy to use. Leg room up front is 42.1 inches with a nearly-as-generous 38 inches in back. There's 15.1 cubic feet of cargo volume in the trunk, while the rear seat backs fold forward for additional hauling versatility.

At the same time, the small rear doors and lower ride height could make it more difficult for older adults to get in and out of the back seat. Despite its shape, the Camry isn't a hatchback and the narrow passage between the trunk and back seat meant that in order to carry a 52-cm road bike, we had to remove the front wheel. Finally, neither Android Auto nor Apple CarPlay is offered, even as an option, which is a significant drawback, in our opinion.

The Best and Worst Things

Toyota has long been a leader in fuel economy, but the Camry pushes it to new heights in the mid-size sedan class. At up to 34 mpg combined, the Camry firmly plants itself as one of the leaders in the mid-size non-hybrid class.

While its new looks are refreshing and sportier than ever, they write a check that its performance can't cash. Even our XSE tester – with its sport-tuned suspension and $35,333 MSRP – didn't go nearly far enough to match its new appearance.

Right For? Wrong For?


Toyota Camry

With plenty of interior room, trunk space, and a wide range of advanced safety features, the 2018 Toyota Camry sedan is perfect for safety-focused families with two children.

Empty nesters desiring something fun should look elsewhere. Despite its good looks, the latest Camry is still your run-of-the-mill sedan underneath it all.

The Bottom Line

Despite a lower ride height, mediocre handling, and an unrefined four-cylinder engine, the 2018 Toyota Camry is a solid choice in its class thanks to its crisp styling, excellent fuel economy, and outstanding safety features.

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Used Toyota Camry in 20149

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