Toyota’s Camry is the best-selling car in the USA and has held that distinction for the past 15 years. This four-door, front-wheel-drive sedan icon has made its reputation through having a good-sized cabin, agreeable fuel economy, an enviable reliability record and, unfortunately, the blandness that makes it more an appliance than an automobile.
That changed last year with the introduction of the 2018, eighth-generation model of the Camry, which shed its staid face and gained a lot more character. It is almost as though Toyota wants its buyers to believe the new Camry is in near-Lexus territory. As that high-end product moves ever sportier, so too has Toyota’s Camry, with its new, tight platform, aggressive styling and greatly improved driving dynamics.
The exterior lines of this sedan are definitely upscale: the hood is assertive, particularly with regard to the huge, horizontally-platted grille opening and the squinty LED headlamps above it. As one buddy quipped: “Really glad I don’t have to wax that grille.” A single strake at the upper area of the body streams its way front to rear to add cohesiveness to the looks. A short rear deck adds to the cohesive styling and aerodynamics of the car.
Dressed in Blue Crush metallic with parchment leather interior, this 2018 Toyota Camry has an elegant look to it. Because the car driven here is the XLE hybrid Camry, it’s also hugely fuel efficient compared to the Camry’s sportier models (SE, XSE). The XLE model in Toyota’s Camry lineup has always had higher levels of refinement and this one is no different.
Power comes from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that emits 176 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 163 lb-ft of torque at 5,200. Coupled to an electric motor of 118 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque, together with a NiMH battery, the hybrid Camry has net power of 208 horsepower. It’s stirred by an an electronic CVT transmission with not-terribly-vague shift points; the shifter is mounted traditionally floor-mounted in the central tunnel.
MacPherson struts together with double wishbone multi-links provide compliant but not wallowy suspension at both ends of this sedan, giving the newest Camry a more purposeful feel, especially on country roads. Electric rack and pinion power steering doesn’t have vagueness on-center. While it’s light at low speeds (and should be), steering has surprising heft at higher speeds. Brakes are firm at all but the lowest of speeds, when they feel a bit grabby.
In XLE hybrid guise, the 2018 Toyota Camry hybrid weighs 3572 pounds, which makes its 44/47/46-mpg ratings from the 13-gallon tank more than adequate for a long drive. Toyota fits 235/45R all-season tires on 18-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels.
From the moment we met in Indianapolis, the 2018 Toyota Camry XLE exuded an air of elegance that was unlike any Camry driven before now. With its longer wheelbase and eye-pleasing proportions, it’s almost glamorous and, yes, Lexus-like. Never garish, the new Camry XLE hybrid makes the driver (and four passengers) feel like they’re in a far more luxurious conveyance.
Inside the cabin that feeling of luxury persists as soft-touch plastics are prevalent throughout; hard plastics are well disguised. With its supportive driver’s seat that has full power including lumbar, Toyota addresses the needs of the driver and passengers with comfort, use of open space, sufficient window light and airiness inside.
Toyota’s business-like gauge cluster puts driving information directly in front of the Camry’s operator, allowing the driver to note economic operation of the vehicle on the left, together with a temperature gauge; the speedometer and fuel gauge are on the right. Between those white-rimmed gauges the driver can access economy info, driver aids, audio, setup information and setup screens, together with outside temp, gear in use and odometer. There’s also a head-up display so that the driver’s eyes never need to leave the road.
The central infotainment area contains a large, well-lit double-screen that shows audio information and use of the battery and engine. It’s surrounded by buttons on the left allowing changing for home, menu, audio and info, while to the right are the audio, phone and app controls, and below that are the wide range of climate controls. It’s all very simple to use and elegant to look at. Above the screen is a nearly-hidden CD player, bathed in a soft-metallic-look plastic that’s extremely elegant.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has trip info, audio volume and phone operation on the left while cruise control with distance setting and balance of audio controls are to the right. At the lower left of the dash lie controls for automatic lights, the ability to turn off traction control, the optional 360-degree view, trunk ad fuel releases.
The base of the central stack has an open storage area with a 12-volt, auxiliary and USB plug-in, together with a pull-out phone charging pad that covers a grippy pad below. There are two USBs in the center, covered bilevel console and Toyota fits this Camry with three-position seat heaters, part of the $33,145 entry fee that includes freight.
There are options for this 2018 Toyota Camry XLE hybrid: a driver assist package that includes the birds-eye (360) camera for $1,050; a dual-control tilt/slide sunroof ($845) and the excellent audio package that includes the Entire 3.0 Audio Plus with JBL Clari-Fi™, connected navigation scout GPS link app ad app suite, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging for $1,800 and illuminated door sill enhancements for $299, bringing the total to $37,139. Alas there was no navigation on this car even though the federal sticker said there was.
Romping through the Indiana countryside, I was able to make full use of the wonderful JBL audio’s satellite radio – and the wonderful wireless phone charger – as I raced between Indianapolis Motor Speedway and my friends’ house in the middle of farm country. The Camry XLE hybrid handled beautifully over the dips and sweeps of the back roads, stopped quickly as farm tractors claimed the road, its lights perfectly illuminating the dark of night. It performed best when I moved the driving mode to sport but, alas, efficiency suffered, so I kept the car in eco or norm and saved myself some fuel money and gain efficiency, giving up my need for fun, fun, fun.
The huge, 15.1 cubic-foot trunk swallowed all the gear I needed to use this Camry as a motel the night before the Indianapolis 500; I slept almost comfortably in the back seat before walking across the street to the media center in dawn hours, re-stashing blanket and pillow back in the trunk and getting ready for the big, long day ahead.
One of the best parts about driving this 2018 Toyota Camry XLE hybrid throughout the midwest area of the USA was being invisible. It was easy to slither through traffic as we made our way back to Chicago for the flight home to Los Angeles – despite the rich color of this car it’s pretty well invisible. Built to the highest grade of any Camry yet produced by the Japanese automobile and truck manufacturer, this year’s Camry, in particular in hybrid guise, is arguably the best yet.
Words and Photos By Anne Proffit