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DETROIT — The redo of the Toyota Camry is a big deal. This car has been the best-selling midsize sedan in the U.S. for 15 straight years. It has attained benchmark status and now it begins a new life cycle with the introduction of the 8th generation.
Toyota’s product development cycle demanded that its best-selling car, a midsized sedan, be restyled in the middle of the hottest truck market in the history of the auto industry. Two-thirds of the vehicles sold are trucks of one sort or another and only one third are cars.
Thus, in order to maintain the Camry’s sales volume in a shrinking car market, Toyota must increase its overall share of the midsize car segment. That is a tall order, even for a premier automaker because all the entrees are good cars.
For 2018, Toyota started with a clean sheet of paper. In other words, they changed everything. The only carry over part on the new Camry which goes on sale this summer is the badge. The bottom line is that the new Camry has to be a lot better than the old Camry and that’s tough since the old Camry was the best midsize sedan on the market. But they may have pulled it off.
Let’s start with propulsion. There were three either new or enhanced engines that provided more power and better gas mileage. The first was a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that made 203 or 206 horsepower and 184 or 186 pound-feet of torque, depending on the trim package.
This engine got 29 mpg in the city, 41 mpg highway on the highway and 34 mpg combined. That is a 26 percent improvement for combined mpg over the previous model. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic.
The same four-cylinder was configured for 176 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque for the LE hybrid. It had a fuel rating of 51 mpg in the city, 53 mpg on the highway and 52 mpg combined, a 30 percent increase for combined mileage. The other two trim lines of the hybrid had a rating of 44 mpg on the highway, 47 mpg in the city and 46 mpg combined; a 21 percent improvement.
We tested all three engines during the course of the day on the streets and local highways here like Mountainview Drive, 99W, 219 and 240.
The four-cylinder gasoline engine was steady, quiet and really didn’t work all that hard to get up and over the hills here though they weren’t that elevated. It was a really easy driving car.
The six-cylinder was peppy, it lent a fun to drive element which we never associated with the old Camry. But the four-cylinder hybrid made us raise our eyebrow a bit because we found that engine a little loud; that’s definitely not a hallmark of Toyota. However, it may have been because the engine was cold.
We never tried the manual shift aspect of the hybrid’s CVT. As for the eight-speed automatic, it was smooth, we never heard it shift and it never hunted for the right gear.
The 3.5-liter V6 made 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It had a fuel efficiency rating of 22 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined. Toyota said that was an eight percent improved for combined mpg. It too was mated an eight-speed transmission.
The sightlines were very good. Toyota did some work on the A pillars of the new Camry and its sideview mirrors and it showed. When you think of handling, the front end comes to mind. But Toyota went with a double wishbone rear suspension and that really improved the overall handling.
Body rigidity was improved 30 percent and that gave the new Camry a stable ride. They used high strength sheet steel and hot stamping to lessen the car’s weight. They went with an aluminum hood and thinner body panels for the roof, trunk lid, front and rear doors and front fenders. Laser screw welding was also a part of the car’s weight reducing program.
Engineers used adhesives, sound absorbing insulation material, a thicker dash silencer across the entire firewall and other techniques to reduce noise, vibration and harshness.
There were the usual creature comforts: Bluetooth, satellite radio, a navigation system, voice controls, USB jacks, overhead view camera, 12V plug and an auxiliary jack. But what really caught our attention was the rearview camera with cross traffic alert. After an alert has sounded, if you don’t apply the brakes, the 2018 Toyota Camry will stop itself.
We’ve heard colleagues refer to the Camry as a breadbox: awfully reliable but no style, no character, no fun. But that has definitely changed. The 2018 all new Toyota Camry felt good. Handling was sharp and no matter the engine the car had some pep.
Toyota designers and engineers left nothing untouched. The Camry had a far more angular exterior design than the model it replaces. There was a two-piece grille. The car was lower and it seemed wider at the wheels but narrower at the beltline.
The sheet metal was tighter, creases were sharply creased, the car was shorter by an inch, the beltline was lower, and the roof and hood were also lower. The rear was “athletic” as Toyota put it. The fender was aggressive; it had slim taillights, a rear bumper with distinctive corner lines and smoke-tinted rear combination lamps highlighted the changes in the rear.
The interior was almost revolutionary and it started with the waterfall console. It looked like one piece with silver pushbuttons and three dials coming out of a flush faced infotainment screen. We didn’t have the presence of mind to try it, but Toyota said the 8-inch touch screen can be swiped, scrolled up and down and pinched like a smart phone.
The front seats were comfortable and the rear seats were roomy. Inside, the car had soft touchpoints everywhere. There was stitching, a 10-inch heads up display, a sizable circular odometer and speedometer. Separating them was a TFT driver information screen.
Toyota used a two-track philosophy when it developed the new Camry: standard and sporty. If you toss in the hybrid, it’s a three-track philosophy with the third being green. There are five trim lines of the gasoline-engine powered Camry and three trim lines for the hybrid.
The L starts at $23,495, for the LE the base price is $24,000, the SE starts at $25,200, the XLE is $28,450 and the XSE is $29,000. The V6 XLE is $34,400 and the V6 XSE is $34,950. The Hybrid LE is $27,800, the Hybrid SE is $29,500 and the hybrid XLE is $32,250. There is an $885 freight charge that can vary depending on which distributor handles the 2018 Toyota Camry.
In a phrase, the 2018 Toyota Camry ups the ante in the midsize sedan market.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.