I’m still mildly shocked by what I experienced a few days ago from behind the wheel of the new 2018 Camry. Toyota managed a metamorphosis that I never thought possible. Let’s agree on the fact that this flagship midsize sedan has never been destined for those looking for a driving experience. They instead seek out reliability, efficiency and comfort and this, despite the existence of past coupe and Solara versions.
This time around, Toyota’s decided to inject driving pleasure into the new car without ignoring what has made the Camry a highly sought-after purchase for the last 30+ years. Toyota has nearly limitless resources and one of the fruits of their labor is the TNGA or Toyota New Global Architecture. This new platform is how Toyota’s managed to transform the Camry.
The midsize sedan segment is shrinking, losing out to the very popular crossovers however sales numbers remain important. Being on top of this category certainly helps the bottom line.
The TGNA is responsible for the vastness of the improvements made to the new Camry. The platform, made of high strength steel, is 30% stiffer than the previous and serves as the base for a car that is not only better to drive, but that is more refined.
Overall, the 2018 Camry’s shell is 25mm lower, and 30mm longer. The most notable changes are the 45mm longer wheelbase and 40mm lower hood-line for improved forward visibility.
From near or far, the new Camry’s stance has nothing in common with any of the previous 7 generations. The car’s now equipped with standard LED headlight and optional rear LEDs and numerous wheel sizes. For the first time, “L” and “S” trim cars don different visual cues. The S (SE, SE Hybrid, XSE and XSE V6) get a deeper more aggressive front grille, a sport-tuned suspension, the larger wheels and a number of exterior highlights. As well, it is now possible to opt for a two-tone (black roof) paint job with the blue, silver or white shades for a small fee.
Toyota’s strategy is to use the S as bait into the Camry family. In other words, it is not for the traditional buyer. The latter will best be served by the far more elegant “L” trims (L, LE, LE Hybrid, XLE and XLE V6).
The cabin is upgraded and should please the majority of owners. The center-stack’s design isn’t ideal as the embedded controls surrounding the standard 7” screen are tiny and its shape limits the passenger’s access to the lower cubbyhole. The optional 8” touchscreen harbors the same issues.
Other standard features include heated front seats (heated rear seats and steering wheel are not yet available – an crucial shortcoming in my book) and Entune, Toyota’s app suite and connectivity system. Many apps are included and more still can be added however Apple CarPlay and AndroidAudio are not part of the package.
A Camry for drivers
No word of a lie! Once more, the new stiffer platform plays host to improvements involving a new double wishbone rear suspension that takes the car’s handling to the next level.
The new chassis’ tuning is noticeable the moment you leave with the car. When you take one for a test drive, you’ll understand my words. The new Camry responds immediately to driver inputs; this is unlike any other Camry. The lower center of gravity, coupled to the sharper steering system, improve on stability and create a car that is no longer dynamically challenged. It’s quite the opposite in fact. Best of all, there are no exceptions.
That’s right, even the formerly abysmal Hybrid is now fun to drive. I mean it! To be quite honest, it turns out to be my favorite of the lot.
All three powertrain options have been seriously revised but it’s the Atkinson-cycle 2.5-litre Hybrid that’s got me most excited. Not only is the new unit lighter but it’s more powerful at 208 horsepower.
Passing maneuvers are beyond stress-free. I’d go so far as to say the Hybrid feels quick! And that’s not all. Despite my heavy right foot while on the test drive, the posted fuel economy was of only 5.9 liters per 100 km. The CVT, with 6 pre-programmed gears, seems nearly sporty. At the other end of the engine option list is the 301-horsepower 3.5-litre V6. It certainly is smooth and powerful but ultimately useless.
The 2.5-litre 4-cylinder should account for roughly ¾ of all 2018 Camry sales. It is plenty powerful and could be considered a little noisier than expected. Its 203 horsepower (206 with the S) get the job done. Both it and the V6 sport an 8-speed automatic transmission which does wonders for both acceleration and fuel economy.
The very new Camry
The 2018 Toyota Camry is, in a word, transformed. The evolution is so great that one could be led to believe that this is no longer a Camry, but an all new model. This explains in part why there are now two distinct Camry trims.
In this segment, the Hyundai Sonata and Honda Accord are also severely revamped and as such, the war is far from won. The Camry may win the battle for your wallet if you take for a spin however.