BOLDER
2018 Camry XSE Spices up the Sedan Market

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by Glenn Oyoung

Akio Toyoda, by all accounts, is not only the scion* one of the world’s most successful companies but also a die-hard racer and all-around car guy (see exhibit A: Toyota Gazoo Racing.) He is the man behind such hits as the GT86 née FR-S and the upcoming reincarnation of the Supra. He is also the driving force* behind Toyota’s concerted effort in recent years embrace its inner mojo by producing vehicles that are dynamic and engaging to drive.

The last generation Camry was certainly designed along these lines, and heralded by the BOLD NEW CAMRY” tagline plastered on every billboard, TV ad, and digital banner within eyesight. Camry maintained its position as the best-selling car in America for 19 of the 20 years up to 2016.

What do you do when you’ve got that kind of success behind you? For model year 2018, Toyota’s engineers and designers must have received a new memo with subject line: “Make it even BOLDER. Sincerely, the Boss.” One look at the latest Camry and it is abundantly clear the message was received.

EXTERIOR DESIGN

Growing up I’ve had family members who owned three different generations of Camry’s. Of the many trims and variants available, I was excited to give the sporty XSE trim a try. Not long after the Ruby Flare Pearl Camry XSE off at my house it was apparent my neighbors were too as I immediately received two different texts inquiring about the Camry. Approval came from total strangers too — this is the only Camry I’ve driven where I received a thumbs-up from onlookers, which is really saying something.

How did Toyota make these surreal moments appear? Per Toyota, the Camry designers were aiming for a “sensual athletic image” which has to be a first for this staid sedan. They took advantage of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform to create a significantly sportier profile than its predecessor. Hip points were lowered (0.8-inches in the front and 1.2-inches at the rear) to reduce the overall vehicle height and roofline by one inch, without sacrificing interior space.

Up front the bolder Camry means business. With a little bit of FT-1 and a smattering of F1 design elements, the Camry has a two-piece grill that begs for attention. The hood sits a full 1.6 inches lower and is accented by a multitude of creases and curves which scream Camaro more than Camry. Stare at the aggressive side profile long enough and you’d swear you were looking at the Camry’s cousin, the Lexus IS. The rear ¾ view is just as sporty, featuring a muscular shoulder line, slim taillights, and quad-tip exhaust with a mild diffuser-like treatment. About the only thing I could nit-pick is the faux-vents near the taillights since they serve no functional purpose. If they were mini-afterburners, well that’d be a different story.

Manufacturer photo

INTERIOR

Drop into the Camry and the first thing you’ll notice is that you really did drop – you are in fact sitting lower than ever which may make some traditional Camry buyers uncomfortable. For others, the drop and accompanying lower center of gravity telegraph the Camry’s sporting aspirations.

Bolstered seats and large gauges rimmed in red further set the tone that this isn’t the grocery-getter Camry you’re used to piloting. Besides feeling sporty, the interior is logical which in and of itself is an accomplishment with all the various entertainment and driver assist functions OEMs are forced to offer consumers nowadays.  Buttons and controls are where you would expect them to be. Ample use of soft-touch materials, contrast stitching, and metallic-colored accents impart a modern upscale feel.

Manufacturer photo

JBL’s sound engineers had early access to the Camry to truly optimize their system (including utilizing the air in the door cavities, for example) for maximum listening pleasure. The JBL premium audio system sounded fantastic, and one stand-out feature was its Clari-Fi technology which makes streaming audio (e.g. Pandora) sound almost as rich as a CD would.

Manufacturer photo

The new Camry is loaded with active and passive measures to keep you alive while you’re singing along to old Bon Jovi songs full blast (what can I say, I’m a child of the 80s.) The XSE came equipped with the higher-end Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) – P safety suite which includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, and a host of other features. With all this advanced tech, I’m pretty sure we’re not too far off from the days where I’ll be able to say “make it so number one” to my sentient Camry, and of course it will make it so.

If there’s any constructive criticism I’d share on the interior it’s that an 8” screen seems a bit small (or maybe the interior is that big) and as many others have pointed out, it would be nice if Toyota and Apple could play nice and get Apple CarPlay incorporated sometime in the near future.

PERFORMANCE

We’ve established the latest Camry is a head-turner, especially in red. The makeover is complete in terms of not only outward appearances, but also the cockpit. What about performance? Does the eighth generation Camry have the goods to back up its looks?

From a handling perspective, the TNGA architecture’s longer wheelbase and lower center of gravity give the Camry some serious handling skills not present in my either of mom’s Champagne Mica Camry’s. I can’t believe I’m typing this — but I actually looked forward to curves in my time with the Camry XSE. Power was also more than sufficient thanks to the 4-cylinder’s D-4S with Dual VVT-i 206-hp powerplant. 186 lb.-ft. of torque was also good enough for freeway on-ramps.

Despite offering a Sport mode, the Camry’s transmission just wasn’t up to the task of providing a truly thrilling driving experience. The Camry’s 8-speed direct-shift transmission is smooth, maybe too smooth. I am old-school and prefer to feel when upshifts and downshifts occur, even in an automatic transmission.

For daily driving smoothness is great. But when you’re sitting in the sporty XSE trim and you dial in Sport mode, you want something spicy enough to register in the yellow range of the Scoville scale. Instead you get a little paprika firmly in the green range. While that is easily remedied by switching into sequential shifting mode, I think some calibration is called for.

I suspect within a year or two the engineers will program the transmissions in the XSE trims to hold the gears longer and rev higher and to downshift when you stab the gas. With those relatively easy changes I believe the new Camry will be as sporty as even the most aggressive Camry buyer will want on a daily basis. Those hot shoes looking for more they need only to walk over to the Lexus side of the lot and plop down $10k more for a IS.

*puns totally intended

SUMMING IT UP

It’s a great time to be a car buyer. Never before has a dollar gone so far. Of course, that’s what the highly competitive mid-size sedan space is all about: providing the most bang for your buck. The new Camry provides plenty of bang — arresting looks, upscale interior, fleet of foot handling.

We haven’t had the chance to get behind the wheel of the much-vaunted new Honda Accord yet, but even so we can say based on our time at the wheel of the Camry that the best-selling car of the last two decades is not going to give up its title without a serious fight.

For more information about Toyota’s products visit Toyota.com

2018 Camry XSE (4-cylinder)

Price:

Base $29,000; As tested $34,247

Options Include:

Driver’s Assist Package ($1,675)

Special Color ($395)

Audio Package: Entune 3.0 Audio Plus with JBL with Clari-Fi ($1,800)

Door Sill Enhancements ($199)

Engine:

2.5-liter 4-cylinder DOHC 16V D-4S Dual Injection with Dual VVT-i

Horsepower

206 hp @ 6600 rpm

Torque:

186 lb.-ft @ 5000 rpm

Performance:

0-60 mph: 5.8 seconds

Drive configuration:

Front Wheel Drive

Transmission type:

Direct Shift 8-Speed Automatic with Sequential Shift Mode.

Suspension:

Independent MacPherson strut front suspension with stabilizer bar

Double-wishbone style multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar

Sport-tuned shock absorbers and springs, and front strut tower bracing

Wheels and tires:

19″ Black Machined-Finish alloy wheels

P235/40R19 tires

Brakes:

Power-assisted ventilated 12-in. front disc brakes

Solid 11.06-in. rear disc brakes with hydraulic brake booster

Electronically Controlled Braking (ECB) system and Star Safety System

Overall length/wheelbase:

192.7 inches/111.2 inches

Overall width:

72.4 inches

Overall height:

56.9 inches

Weight:

3395 pounds

Mileage estimates (mpg city/highway/combined)

28/39/32

EPA Size Classification:

Midsize

Warranty:

Basic Coverage – 36 months/36,000 miles

Powertrain Coverage – 60 months/60,000 miles

* Passenger car classes are designated by the EPA based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except the ones classified as special vehicle. A two-seater is classified as a car with no more than two designated seating positions.


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