2018 Toyota Camry: America’s family sedan now checks the mojo, agile boxes

One of the biggest debuts at the 2017 Detroit auto show was the redesigned and re-engineered 2018 Toyota Camry. Looking to inject some excitement into the venerable nameplate, and overall midsize sedan segment, Toyota’s latest iteration is perhaps the sportiest yet. Now that it is closer to reaching dealership lots, the automotive press just got their hands on the sedan. Here’s a look at early reviews of various Camry trim levels.

“The driving characteristics of this new car’s performance-minded SE and XSE models are a big departure from the previous SE and XSE, which crashed over bumps and drove sloppily. That wouldn’t cut it against competitors with highly refined ride qualities like the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion and Mazda6. For 2018, a Camry SE and XSE are genuinely enjoyable driving vehicles that are, dare I say, fun? Even the LE and XLE trim levels drive differently to a degree that was immediately noticeable as soon as I hit the road.

“I’ll start with the fun stuff. (It’s still weird typing ‘fun’ in a Camry review.) The SE and XSE trims have a sport-tuned suspension with shock absorbers and springs designed for more responsiveness. These cars have less body roll, they dart through corners quicker and they’re eager to dig in until the economy-minded Michelin tires start to bark — still, it takes a lot more than a casual Sunday drive to get there. The steering wheel has a pleasant weight resulting in quick action from the tightly tuned chassis. Here’s the best part: Everyday ride quality remains perfectly livable on the SE and XSE, almost as docile as the normal suspension but with more tenacity and control once you pick up the speed. These characteristics were completely foreign to the outgoing Camry.”

“Now, the SE does seem to have a bit more steering weight, and definitely has superior grip from its bigger, stickier tires, but we can’t say you’ll be missing out on much if you prefer the LE’s look and price tag. In any case, the 2018 Camry is legitimately good to drive — rewarding even.

“And then there are the new engines, with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder in particular being all-new to the Camry, and to Toyota as a whole. Here is where another Mazda comparison can be made, as Toyota chose to maximize the possibilities of the naturally aspirated engine rather than resorting to the usual fuel-saving tricks of auto stop/start, a CVT, or turbocharging a smaller-displacement engine. Instead, Toyota utilized a high compression ratio of 13.1 (the Hybrid’s version is 14.1) along with both port and direct injection, an increased stroke, a cooled exhaust gas recirculation system, a variable cooling system and oil pump, and a variable valve timing system that utilizes an electric motor instead of oil pressure. Altogether, it results in 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and estimated fuel economy of 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined in most trims.

“That’s class-leading, and in practice, the new four-cylinder powertrain is impressive, doling out smooth, energetic power without eco throttle mush, turbo lag, or CVT rubber-bandyness. In fact, the four-cylinder is so good that it makes the 3.5-liter V6 seem unnecessary (maybe Mazda was onto something with the 6). Sure, this modified version of what’s in the 2017 Highlander and Sienna produces massive power for a family sedan — 301 hp and 267 lb-ft — but it seems like overkill, results in some torque steer, and its added weight over the nose hampers the car’s balance and seems to result in added electric steering assist. In back-to-back test drives, the V6’s steering felt less consistent and linear — actually, it felt more Camry-like.

“The best balance, however, is actually found in the 2018 Camry Hybrid thanks to its battery pack being relocated from the trunk to underneath the back seat. It also lowers the center of gravity.”

“If Broadway were to remake the classic ‘Pygmalion,’ they might consider casting Akio Toyoda as Professor Henry Higgins. The charismatic Toyota CEO has transformed his Eliza Doolittle — the common Camry — into an elegant, mainstream sedan.

“Toyoda wowed the Detroit Auto Show in January with Miss Camry’s new face and upscale dress. Showing off his star pupil’s new wardrobe options, Toyoda said: “our customers have a choice: sexy or really sexy.” Give him Higgins’ top hat and cane.

“But Eliza — er, Camry — is more than just a pretty figure. This gal can dance.

“You might figure that out by the company the 2018 Camry keeps. My last Camry media drive was in Florida on roads as flat as a senior-center ballroom. With Eliza we went to the twisted roads of Newburg, Oregon, where you can’t get from point A to B without negotiating at least two ess curves and a plunging hairpin. NASCAR superstar Kyle Busch — whose Toyota racer has advertised Camry’s new face all year — showed up to wax eloquent about Toyoda’s pride and joy.

“Duly inspired, your humble scribe and his media peers then whipped Camry around Oregon like a rag doll.”

“Engines aside, the 2018 Camry feels very mature from behind the wheel. There’s gravitas and weight to all the controls, including the steering (though it still lacks any discernible feedback), and the ride-and-handling mix is far more deliberate and less floaty than before; the new rear suspension arrangement no doubt helps with composure over bumpy roads. While it’s far from the most exciting or most satisfying among its midsize sedan peers, there’s nothing off-putting or disappointing about driving the Camry.

“The Camry is also quiet in all circumstances, with only moderate amounts of wind and engine noise disturbing the cabin. To keep noise and vibration to a minimum, the car is 30-percent stiffer than its predecessor, and engineers specifically made sure that any openings in the firewall or door panels were smaller, while also adding more sound deadening.”

— Jake Holmes, Motor1.com

“As in virtually every hybrid from Toyota these days, the transitions between regenerative and friction braking were imperceptible.

“The new hybrid Camry isn’t a particularly sporty vehicle, nor one that made us want to drive fast, but it’s smoother, quieter, and more pleasant to drive than the last generation. In fact, the Camry Hybrid was actually nicer to drive than the conventional 4-cylinder model.

“On the road, that car’s 2.5-liter engine and 8-speed automatic didn’t prove all that responsive or feel particularly fast. Like most new conventional cars with more than six gears in their transmissions, a demand for greater acceleration produced a pause followed by two and sometimes three downshifts before the car surged ahead.

“The hybrid, on the other hand, uses the immediate torque of its electric motors to produce strong acceleration off the line if you ask for it — enough to chirp an inside tire accelerating out of a corner, in fact.

“With five separate 2018 Camry models to drive, we had only limited time with the hybrid version, but we came away favorably impressed.”

— John Voelcker, Green Car Reports

“Then we got into an XSE V6. From a driver’s standpoint, this is the best of the bunch — the most power (301 hp) and that livelier S suspension. Second best is the four-cylinder SE. The SE and XSE feel almost fun, certainly manageable. Almost tossable, though the tires on all the Camrys feel a little slippy, a little hard, as if they were made for mileage, not grip. The SE and XSE tires hold on better, of course.

“Autoweek readers who are buying Camrys (how many of you are out there?) will want the SE or the XSE. They’re more fun than you ever thought you’d have in a Camry. Everyone else will want to pick from the rest of the lineup based on how much money you have and how many mpgs you need.”

— Mark Vaughn, Autoweek

“A smooth and comfortable ride has always been a Camry strength, and this remains true even with the car’s improved agility. The suspension of the LE model we rented from Toyota soaked up bumps easily, even when the going got rough, delivering a smooth and refined ride.

“We also sampled an SE model, with bigger wheels, heavier steering, and firmer suspension tuning. While it’s still quite livable, you sacrifice a little in ride quality with this sporty variation. Road and wind noise are kept to quiet levels inside the Camry cabin, although, again, the SE’s bigger tires give off more hum.

“Under the hood is a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It produces a healthy 203 hp and moves the car pretty well. Perhaps in part because the interior is so quiet, the engine’s raspy response when it reaches above 4,000 rpm seems excessive. The new eight-speed automatic transmission exacerbates this, occasionally revving higher than expected before upshifting. The shifts in these pre-production examples could have been a bit smoother, too.”

— Mike Monticello, Consumer Reports

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2018 Toyota Camry: America’s family sedan now checks the mojo, agile boxes