About a year ago, Toyota rolled out a new Camry midsize sedan in front of journalists gathered for the big auto show in Detroit. I, like many of my colleagues I am sure, thought, “Here we go again, another Camry, probably as boring as the ones before it.” Boy, was I wrong.
This new 2018 Toyota Camry is the eight-generation of what has been the best-selling car in America for the past 15 years or so. And this time around, designers and engineers did more than just go back to the drawing board. Camry utilizes the new Toyota New Global Architecture that is more than just a platform on which they built this new car. TNGA translates to a new way of thinking, according to Toyota, in how the company designs, engineers, and packages its new vehicles. What this means for this new Camry is new engines, new transmission, and new GA-K platform, along with a boatload of other stuff.
In the past, new iterations of the Camry have always been safely played and predictable, but for 2018 all that has gone out the window. Designers have given the car a totally new look, one that might have been reserved for a Lexus sport sedan instead. And slip behind the wheel and you will never know you are driving a Camry. This new car just blew my mind how differently it drives from past generations. Now THIS is how a midsize sedan should drive. I still cannot understand how Camry did not win North American Car of the Year, but then, I have not been in the new Accord yet, either. Kudos to Toyota, they have knocked it out of the park with this new Camry.
Our recent tester arrived in the Hybrid variant and I was almost dreading it as in the past the driving experience of a Camry Hybrid has been less than enthusiastic, almost to the point where I would rather watch paint dry. Fire up the new Camry Hybrid and I bow to Toyota engineers who created this new powertrain. This is the next generation of the Toyota Hybrid System (THS II) and it is surprisingly good. It is still based on a four-cylinder engine but this all-new 2.5-liter I-4 Dynamic Force Engine develops plenty of power and does it so smoothly across a wide powerband. Couple this to the electric drive motor and Continuously Variable Transmission with sport mode and you will swear you are driving a car with the quietest turbo engine in town. Acceleration is outstanding and the noise, vibration, and harshness are at an absolute minimum.
The new Camry itself is longer, lower, and wider than the previous generation car. This allows for a lower center of gravity and more balanced feel on the road. The driver sits slightly lower as well for enhanced driving experience. Sure, this is no track car, but the new Camry rides and handles so much better than the outgoing model you would not even guess they carry the same corporate logo. Exterior styling is very modern with an athletic motif and flowing lines and utilizes Toyota’s “Keen Look” design philosophy.
Inside, the car is just as well styled and comfortable while still not falling back on timeworn design and craftsmanship pitfalls. The cockpit is well organized with all of the latest in technological elements. Toyota calls it a fusion of functionality, futuristic styling, and high degree of personal space and craftsmanship and I agree. There is adequate room for up to five adults while four will ride in complete style and comfort even on lengthy trips or commutes. Drivers enjoy not only a 7-inch multi-information display in the instrument cluster but a 10-inch head-up color display reflecting off the windshield in front of them. In the center stack is the new 8-inch color infotainment touchscreen to control the majority of audio, navigation, and climate control functions of the vehicle.
The new Camry is offered with choice of new 2.5-liter I-4 or 3.5-liter V-6 engines that are mated to a new 8-speed direct-shift automatic transmission or, as our tester arrived, with the next-generation Toyota Hybrid System. The sport setting in the CVT of the THS II setup offers a simulated six-speed automatic shift pattern for those not quite sold on the lack of gearshifts that is unique to the CVT technology. We spent the majority of our week operating in sport mode but found acceleration and response to be very good no matter which drive mode setting we chose – even Eco was okey-dokey.
Running the numbers on the new Camry Hybrid shows the base 2.5-liter I-4 generating 176hp. It is mated to the 88kW permanent magnet synchronous motor that is powered by either 259 V lithium-ion or 244.8 V nickel-metal hydride battery pack that has been relocated from the trunk to underneath the rear seat. Total THS II power output in the 2018 Camry Hybrid is 208 effective horsepower. Fuel economy is perhaps the best aspect of this new hybrid powertrain (other than the acceleration response) as it arrives at a greatly improved 44 mpg city and 47 mpg highway for SE and XLE models with the NiMH battery and up to 51 mpg city and 53 mpg highway for LE models outfitted with the Lithium-Ion battery. Obviously the LE model is the fuel economy champ here but those are Prius-like EPA ratings.
Pricing for the 2018 Toyota Camry midsize sedan begins at $23,495 with our Hybrid XLE tester arriving with a final window sticker of $37,640. This included the upgraded Entune 3.0 system with JBL audio, navigation, and wireless smart device charging as well as power moonroof, adaptive headlights, bird’s eye view camera, and driver assist package.
I swear that not long after I first took the wheel of the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry I could hear those famous words of Gomer Pyle – “Surprise, surprise, surprise.” This new Camry surprised me with every press of the accelerator pedal and every turn of the steering wheel. It handles wonderfully and brought the driving experience back to the model. This best seller is not taking any prisoners and should retain its crown for years to come.