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2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by James Riswick June 2017

The expectations list for a new Toyota Camry has been as predictable as the seasons. It would be reliable, spacious, safe and comfortable. It'd be easy to drive, figure out and climb into. It would also be dull to look at, duller to drive and be as common on the roads as asphalt.

Well, the 2018 Toyota Camry is for the most part exactly as you'd expect ... except for the last bit. It now looks sleek and distinctive, it's one of the more involving midsize sedans to drive, and although it'll certainly remain a best-seller, there'll be a lot more people who buy a new Camry because they really want one rather than because it's simply the smart thing to do.

Bigger, Sleeker, Quicker, Thriftier

The 2018 Camry has two extra inches of wheelbase and overall length, and is about an inch wider. That lends it greater interior space than before, but the new Camry has also been lowered by an inch, with the hood and seating positions lowered by about the same. That's a big reason for the new model's sleeker appearance as well as a driving position that imparts a greater feeling of control -- you feel like you're sitting in the Camry now rather than on it. The fact that the front window sill has been lowered by about 2.5 inches increases that sleekness even further and counteracts any visibility diminished by sitting a bit lower. Ditto the front A pillar, which is the thinnest found in any Toyota or Lexus.

The end result is not only the best-looking Camry of all time (we think that's a safe declaration), but also a well-proportioned and handsome sedan in general that does away with Toyota's recent spat of garish design flourishes.

Importantly, however, the 2018 model also does away with the Camry's long-serving 4- and 6-cylinder engines. In their place are engines of equal cylinder count and displacement, but with all of the latest tools at Toyota's disposal to improve power and efficiency. While the optional 301-horsepower V6 engine has been seen before in the 2017 Toyota Highlander and Sienna (albeit with less power), this is the first application of the innovative 4-cylinder that possesses both port and direct fuel injection, a high compression ratio and a variable valve timing system operated by an electric motor. It comes only with a new 8-speed automatic transmission.

All of that results in an engine that returns best-in-class fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon in the city, 39 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg combined driving (the base L model gets 2 mpg better) without resorting to turbocharging, automatic stop/start systems or continuously variable transmissions -- common fuel economy tricks that often negatively affect driveability and real-world efficiency. Total output is 203 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque -- an ample amount that also ranks as class best among entry level engines.

Yes, There's Still a Hybrid

Now, for even better fuel economy, the 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid makes just as strong a case for itself. Its LE trim returns 51 mpg city/53 mpg hwy/52 mpg combined, matching most versions of the Toyota Prius. That's right, you can now get Prius fuel economy in a Toyota that's bigger, quieter, more comfortable, more luxurious, better to drive and arguably, much better looking.

Now, the SE and XLE Camry Hybrid trim levels get worse fuel economy of 44 mpg city/47 mpg hwy/46 mpg combined due to their bigger wheels/tires and less advanced battery pack. Although that doesn't amount to that much of a difference in terms of actual money spent on gas, it's nevertheless a bit puzzling. Toyota's engineers insist the less advanced nickel-metal hydride battery (versus the LE's lithium-ion) was chosen to keep prices lower despite adding more equipment. Judging by those added features, however, we're not sure how that makes sense -- the Camry Hybrid SE costs more relative the Hybrid LE (about $1,700) than the regular gas-only version ($1,200), yet their added feature content is about the same.

Either battery pack, however, is now located under the back seat. This allows the Hybrid to have the same 15.1 cu ft. trunk as the non-hybrid and moves the car's center of gravity lower and toward the middle of the car. As a result, the Hybrid is actually the most balanced Camry to drive -- especially compared to the nose-heavy V6 -- and indeed Toyota's engineers say that they strove to accomplish more than just superior fuel economy. A 118-hp electric motor bolstering an even higher compression 4-cylinder would back that up, acting as much as a performance enhancer as an efficiency one.

Better to Drive

Regardless of which engine you choose, though, the 2018 Camry is better to drive. Actually, that applies regardless of trim level, too. You see, the LE and SE trim lines carry over for 2018, giving customers a choice of more comfort- and sport-oriented variations, respectively. However, although the two continue to provide clear distinctions visually, the line between them dynamically has been blurred. It can honestly be tough to tell them apart and it's for the better. Both get improved steering that is communicative and impressively consistent in its effort (though admittedly less-so with the V6), along with a suspension that remains impressively composed through corners. The ride remains comfortable in both, but the LE is now more controlled over bigger bumps and undulations.

Both quite simply feel like more sophisticated cars to drive, and although the SE has ever-so-slightly more steering weight and better grip courtesy its bigger, stickier tires, you could probably make your trim level decision now based on appearance, feature content and price tag.

More Luxurious, Feature-Packed Interior

A similar sentiment is shared about the interior. There's really not much of an aesthetic or quality gap between the volume-selling LE trim and the higher-lux XLE (ditto the SE/XSE pair). Sure, the X has more features and leather seats, but the LE still possesses the same genuinely attractive new look complete with soft-touch and nicely-textured surfaces, handsome stitched faux leather accents and a tasteful bank of wood-look trim (the SE's get metal look). The result is a cabin that, if not class-leading, is certainly in the top three.

Space remains excellent as well, although the lower roof might make it seem a tad squished for taller folks. If anything, Toyota could've lowered the seating position further, but then that might've been too much of a deviation from the norm for those used to successive Camry generations.

There'll be no complaints regarding the features list, which is bolstered for 2018 with standard forward collision warning and automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and LED headlights. That equipment is optional on other family sedans and was previously restricted to the uppermost Camry trim levels -- well, except the LED lights, they weren't available at all.

Also new is Toyota's latest touchscreen interface dubbed Entune 3. Available in standard 7-in and optional 8-in sizes, it responds better to inputs and features better graphics with more easily pressed icons. A decent Scout GPS navigation app that streams from your smartphone comes standard along with additional apps, but Toyota won't be offering Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. That's a shame because the new Camry is otherwise well-suited for smartphones thanks to its available three USB ports and wireless Qi charging pad built sleekly into the bin lid forward of the shifter.

Anything But Predictable

So, as you can see, the 2018 Camry goes above and beyond the predictable. It should still deliver the fundamental qualities that have kept loyal customers repeatedly returning every few years, while treating them to the sort of enhancements to the driving experience and design that other brands have been more likely to offer. At the same time, it stands a better chance of attracting those who have previously deemed the nation's best-selling car too conservative, ubiquitous, and well, boring. In other words, it's just better for everyone.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Toyota Camry: First Drive Review - Autotrader