2018 Toyota Camry: Toyota is bringing sexy back [First Look]

2018 Toyota Camry 2.JPG
2018 Toyota Camry XSE (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

For a long time the Toyota Camry has lived in the hum-drum boring zone. But that’s about to change for the 2018 model year.

When Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda revealed the new Camry at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, he said it would come in two trims: Sexy and Very Sexy.

Finally. Toyota is starting to step up its design game.

While it’s really difficult for a family sedan to be “sexy,” the new Camry is definitely visually more appealing with interesting lines, bold new grille and available quad exhaust. Plus, for the first time, Camry will have a black roof option. Which does look kind of sexy with the Wind Chill Pearl paint and the red leather interior.

The interior of the 2018 Camry gets a serious upgrade as well with detailed stitching accents, soft-touch surfaces and an attractive center stack. I liked the cloth seats in terms of comfort and general attractiveness, but the LE model we tested had a suede stripe insert on the seatback that looked odd with cloth surfaces.

The really sexy thing about the Camry, however, has nothing to do with looks. It’s all under the hood. For 2018, there are two gasoline powertrains and a hybrid one – and they’re all pretty great.

The 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine was a complete surprise. It delivers 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, which actually works very well for the new Camry. It doesn’t feel underpowered at all, and does really well in both passing maneuvers and off-the-line starts.

The 3.5-liter, V-6, however, is pure joy. And when was the last time you could say that about a Camry? It delivers 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. This is the fast, fun and, yes, sexy engine. It has really nice acceleration, and when you use the paddle shifters, that Camry can move.

While I really enjoyed both engines, I found the 8-speed transmission in the gasoline models to be simply fine. My drive partner, who’s a bit of a racer, had other choice words to describe the transmission, and they weren’t anywhere near “fine.” But when you look at what the Camry is and what it’s supposed to do, I think “fine” is OK.

The hybrid model is also equipped with the 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine as well as an electric motor. Total system output is 208 horsepower.

Fuel economy for all three versions of Camry has improved with the 4-cylinder getting 32 mpg in combined driving (+5 mpg) and the V-6 getting 26 mpg (+2 mpg). We found we were really close to the 32 mpg for the former, but kind of missed the mark with the V-6 because, well, we just had too much fun punching it.

The hybrid model estimates that you should get 52 mpg in combined driving (+12 mpg over the 2017 model), which puts it in Prius territory. We managed to get around 44 mpg during our short loop in the hybrid, but to be fair, the terrain was hilly and the loop was only about an hour long. But still – 44 mpg ain’t bad. Plus it’s better than the combined estimate for the 2017 model by 4 mpg.

Toyota worked really hard to reduce noise, vibration and harshness in the new Camry, and it really paid off. The cabin is quiet with minimal road noise seeping in, and we really only noticed wind noise bouncing off the side mirrors once we went up over 55 mph. Even then, it wasn’t awful.

The 2018 Camry is the first vehicle in the Toyota lineup to employ the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) entirely. This means it is the first vehicle that has the global platform, engine, transmission and suspension.

There are also a number of Camry firsts, including:

  • Available birds-eye camera
  • Standard Toyota Safety Sense (TSS)
  • Quad exhaust on XSE
  • Wi-Fi hotspot powered by Verizon
  • Double wishbone rear suspension
  • Available 10-inch head-up display (also a Toyota first)
  • Intelligent clearance sonar

Lest we gloss over this very important bit, I’m going to say it again: TSS is standard. That includes features such as automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. Standard. For under $24K. That puts it on the path to receive an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick Plus Award, which the 2017 model currently holds.

Other available safety features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear cross-traffic braking and automatic high-beams.

The new Camry essentially comes in eight different trims, 10 if you include the V-6 engine option on the XLE and XSE as a separate trim. Pricing is as follows:

  • L: $23,495
  • LE: $24,000
  • SE: $25,200
  • XLE: $28,450
  • XLE V-6: $34,400
  • XSE: $29,000
  • XSE V-6: $34,950
  • LE Hybrid: $27,800
  • SE Hybrid: $29,500
  • XLE Hybrid: $32,250

These prices do not include the destination and handling fee of $885.

Interestingly, Toyota decided to give each trim level its own set of wheels, and that will be the primary way you can tell the difference between the models. The sporty SE and XSE models also have a more aggressive grille, and the XSE will get the chrome-tipped quad exhaust.

With the more aggressive styling, greater feature availability and affordable pricing, Toyota is definitely trying to draw in a younger crowd. The current average age of a Camry owner is 52, but the new target demographic is 25 to 49.

Rather than striving to hit the Millennial set (like every other automaker with every other vehicle), Toyota has zeroed in on a psychographic set called “Transcendents.” Yeah, they created a new word here. More than an age set, Toyota says the new Camry buyer doesn’t want products to define them, but they’re looking for technology, new experiences and the “cool factor.”

I feel like I’ve heard these descriptors before, and the word that went with it: Millennial.

The Camry has been the No. 1 selling car in America for 15 years running -- even when it was plain and boring. With this new sexy façade, I anticipate that Camry will keep its king-of-the-hill status. It maintains all the unsexy features families love – like standard high-end safety tech – while adding in a bit of the fun factor.

Overall first impressions of the Camry lineup are favorable, and I’ll look forward to spending more time with it soon.

The 2018 Camry will go on sale with a soft rollout sometime in the middle of July.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Toyota covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.