Toyota’s staid Camry gets its swagger on
Words by: Adam Allen
Whoa…This is a Camry?
After selling millions of them, we have arrived at the newest and 8th iteration of Toyota’s venerable Camry. We expressed equal shock last week when we saw Toyota’s C-HR and its avant garde design that seems to be gaining traction throughout the lineup of the world’s largest automaker. If you needed evidence that Toyota is trying to shake off its reputation for building milquetoast cars, look no further than the Camry XSE you see here- heck, it’s got a two-tone roof and a lipstick red hued interior! If that doesn’t floor you, how about the addition of quad exhaust outlets out back and the addition of…wait for it…a Sport mode button! In a Camry! What an exciting time to be alive. Some of us even took to referring to it as the “Camborghini.”
Does this mean we can no longer make Camry jokes about it being the automotive equivalent of a convection oven? Or that even Grandma finds it too dull and uninspiring?
The days of the Camry being a whipping post for enthusiasts and motorists in general are over, friends. A few years ago, company president Akio Toyoda declared that Toyota was going to begin a slow march back to building cars that delivered fun and excitement, cars that people could get passionate about. We all kind of rolled our eyes as if to say “yeah, right” at that bit of news. Slowly but surely, his proclamation is coming to fruition- we have had the peerless Lexus LF-A, the lightweight funster GT86 and now this mold-breaking Camry which owe their existence to the directive issued by the boss. It takes a monumental effort to reverse the course of such an enormous company like Toyota, but as the old proverb states that every journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. We think its abundantly clear that Toyota’s quest is very much underway.
Does it suffer from the same label you gave the C-HR of ‘all show, no go’?
Our tester had the familiar 2.5 litre four cylinder in the engine bay which gave it respectable performance but nothing earth shattering; still, it’s no slouch. Horsepower junkies will be able to get their fix from the revamped 3.5 litre V6 which makes a hair over 300 horsepower. While you may not notice Toyoda-San’s performance mandate while driving in a straight line, show the Camry some corners and things become more interesting. When you turn the steering wheel a peculiar thing happens- the Camry will not only obediently change direction, it does so with enthusiasm. More than a few times we’d be sitting in the driver’s seat, mouths agape in shock- did we just attack that onramp in a Camry….and it stuck? Thanks to the new TNGA platform proliferating the entire Toyota lineup and a clean sheet redesign of the rear suspension the Camry has a zest for curves that defies imagination. The brakes are called upon by a pedal that exhibits great feel, and in fact all the controls have a sharpness to them that feels alien in a car bearing a Camry badge. Lest you think the Camry has traded in its comfort and compliance for a gritty ride that better suits an autocross course than a highway, think again. As much as the Camry has taken an enormous leap forward in the driving dynamics department, it still must cater to the vast legions of buyers who expect an everyday usability. The ride may be tauter, but it is still quite comfortable and highly refined. Only the new 8-speed gearbox spoils the fun somewhat- it’s laser focused on being in the highest gear possible in any situation, and the paddle shifters behind the leather wrapped steering wheel really don’t do too much. Let’s give Toyota some time to fine-tune the Camry recipe before we pass final judgment- but as the first year of production for a new generation goes, it’s hugely impressive.
Did they sweat the interior as much as the exterior?
A red interior…In a Camry! Forgive us if it seems like we’re belaboring a point, but the astonishment hasn’t worn off yet. The answer is yes, they have spent a good amount of time making sure the interior impresses as much as the rest of the package. There is one constant that clings steadfast throughout this torrent of change, and that is the ergonomics, build quality and general comfort you expect from a Camry interior have not disappeared whatsoever. In fact, they have gotten better in some areas. The doors shut with a satisfying thud, and switches move about as if they were individually lubricated at the factory. Our XSE tester’s cockpit looked a bit busy at first, but once you acclimatize to your surroundings you begin to appreciate what they’ve done. Special mention must go to the backup camera which offers a huge, almost 180 degree viewing area and the comprehensive suite of safety technologies found on the Toyota Safety Sense bundle that comes standard on every single Camry. The Dynamic Radar Cruise Control worked particularly well, suffering none of the uncertainly and lurchy driving behavior we’ve noted from other cars. The prevailing feeling is that Toyota wanted the interior’s wow factor to match the considerable rethink they bestowed on the chassis.
What might go wrong?
We believe we have made it clear that this vintage of Camry has come a long way from its predecessors. Despite the massive strides forward, there is still some work to be done. We’d train the microscope on the transmission first. An 8-speed ‘box that replaces the old 6-speed unit, it is extremely proficient in helping the Camry achieve stellar fuel economy numbers- in some cases we were able to achieve better mileage than even the hybrid version. Around town or when you want to get frisky is when the tranny’s issues become apparent. It’s far too eager to shift into 7th or 8th gear and experiences some hesitation in low speed driving, and the paddle shifters are best left alone as they don’t offer a meaningful connection between car and driver. Next on our list should be an easy fix, and that is making Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available for the Entune 3.0 infotainment system. We know that Toyota has worked hard on the Entune infrastructure, and it is impressive. We think, and we’re probably echoing the sentiments of many customers that they would rather have an interface as close to their smartphone as possible without learning a new system. Our last gripe is leveled at those who penned the Camry’s styling- you came up with a handsome design, why sully it with those fake vents that descend from the taillights? It looks as if our tester’s mascara is running.
Should I buy a Camry?
If you are thinking of patronizing the midsize sedan segment (and good for you for not being tempted by yet another crossover) at this point in time it boils down to a two-horse race between the Camry and the also new-for-2018 Honda Accord. Both are redolent with their own versions of excellence so it ultimately boils down to personal preference. If you’re a self-described Camry loyalist who buys the newest version when it comes out then you must not break tradition- this generation is by far the best yet. It’s also one of the only sedans left to offer a naturally aspirated V6 (for now, at least.) To put it another way, if the world’s motoring press offered a Most Improved Car award, the Camry would nail it. Whether you actually buy one or not, there will be a torrent of buyers who will…and this time around, it’s not hard to see why.
2018 Toyota Camry XSE– Specifications
- Price as tested: $37,528
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/Front-Wheel Drive
- Engine: 2.5 litre 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 206 @ 6,600 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 186 @ 5,000 rpm
- Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
- Curb weight: 2,029 kg. (4,473 lbs.)
- Fuel consumption: 11.2L/100km (21 mpg)