You have to applaud Toyota’s derring-do. The company CEO, whose name just happens to be on the headquarters building, has ordered his lieutenants to shake up the franchise midsize sedan. Leaden with a (deserved) sand-beige image, the Camry needed some invigoration and sex appeal, especially as more families were seen migrating from sedans to SUVs.
For 15 years, Toyota engineers have taken incremental, calculated risks while maintaining the core values that have kept the Camry atop the sales heap. Why change when the best-selling flavor of ice cream is vanilla, executives would parrot.
But for 2018, those risk-averse days are gone. Example one is the Camry’s daring new sheetmetal. Well, Toyota thinks it’s daring; buyers will judge for themselves how much you can spice up a family sedan. Toyota also is hanging on to an optional V-6 while most competitors commit to inline-fours. On top of that, Toyota lowered the Camry roof and seats by an inch, impairing a driver’s view over or through traffic and making it harder for gran and gramps to fall into and climb out of their new ride.
Who are these guys, and what other crazy risks have they taken? Have they forgotten the core competencies that everyone has affixed to the Camry nameplate? Curl up with a bowl of raspberry fudge gelato, friend, and you’ll find out.
Here’s what most Camry buyers need to know about the engines: The all-new “Dynamic Force” 2.5-liter makes 25 more horses and 14 more lb-ft of torque than the old one while boosting EPA econ by 4/6 mpg city/highway. (Four-cylinder XSEs get an extra 3 hp and 2 lb-ft on top of these increases, and the lightly contented base L model gets an additional 1/2 mpg city/highway.)
Ride & Handling
Camrys have been known for comfortable rides, but nimble handling typically has been way down the engineers’ kaizen wish list. Yet it’s the eighth-gen Camry’s biggest improvement. This might be the best-riding and -handling Camry to date, thanks to itslower body, 1.9-inch wheelbase stretch, almost inch-broader rear track, and new control-arm and toe-link rear suspension. (Those who cut and paste the press kit will call them “double wishbones,” but technically they are not.)
Cornering is flat and unflappable with good neutral balance in all variants. Mild efforts at hooning the rear loose with late braking and steering wheel flicks are stonewalled, and careful steering into turns evinces no plowing understeer. I occasionally had to remind myself that I was, indeed, driving a Toyota product.
Safety and Value
Toyota expects to ace all crash tests and safety ratings with 10 airbags and the Safety Sense P system standard on all models. The latter brings precollision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure assist, hill-start assist, auto high-beams, and dynamic radar cruise control to every Camry. Trim levels beginning with an X get sonar parking assist, rear cross-traffic braking, blind-spot monitoring, auto-hold brakes, and an electric parking brake. Drive Start Control prevents the car from jumping forward or backward if the shifter is moved while the accelerator is accidentally depressed.