It doesn’t use exotic, lightweight materials. It doesn’t have a clever electric powertrain. But the Toyota Camry is undoubtedly one of the most important cars we’ll ever review, if only because Toyota sells so damn many of them.
The Camry is now in its eighth generation, and Toyota says this one is sportier and more upscale than Camrys of old. However, after a week with one—the $32,250 V6 XSE—I’m left with one conclusion: there are evidently an awful lot of car buyers out there who just don’t care much about their cars.
These days, platforms are out, and architectures—which are more adaptable and less prescriptive—are the hotness. The Kentucky-built Camry is no exception, using Toyota’s New Global Architecture, which also makes up the bones of the most recent Prius. The system specifies how different components are positioned; a specific height seat dictates where the steering wheel and pedals and shifter all go. But it also makes for a lighter and stiffer Camry than before, one with a lower center of gravity that ought to be more enjoyable to drive.
As mentioned, our test Camry was a top-of-the-line model. It’s one of the cars under consideration for World Car of the Year (for which I am now a juror), and Toyota evidently felt that the top-spec car would make the best impression. The engine is a new 3.5L naturally aspirated V6, with variable valve timing and direct injection, and it has the ability to run under the Atkinson cycle for better efficiency. It packs a decent punch—301hp (224kW) and 267ft-lbs (362Nm) and is more efficient the previous V6 Camry, with an EPA rating of 26mpg combined (22mpg city, 33mpg highway). However, both the 2.5L inline four-cylinder (which starts at $23,495) and the hybrid (from $27,800) are both considerably more economical to run in that regard. All Camrys send their power to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox designed in-house by Toyota.
We’ve established in plenty of previous car reviews that my driving style in town is not conducive to good fuel economy, and in this case, the car didn’t want to give me an easy-to-read mpg figure. Suffice it to say that I doubt I managed to match the EPA’s 22mpg driving in town.
Not everyone will love the way it looks
We first saw the new Camry just over a year ago in Detroit, at which time I wrote that it “does look sportier and more exciting than what may well have been the last taxi you rode in.” While I still stand by that statement, I can’t say I’m a big fan of the styling—particularly the XSE version, which gets an aggressive front bumper and a rear with a (fake) diffuser, plus rocker panel extensions and a rear spoiler on the trunk lid. Perhaps it’s a color-sensitive thing? The white car in Toyota’s images looks much less objectionable to me than the silver car I spent my week with.
There’s something about the Camry’s styling that calls to mind the cars of the early jet age, cars from the late 1950s with wings and vents on them. Then again, the Camry’s deadliest rival right now is the new Honda Accord, and that car looks like it left the factory with a huge piece missing from the front bumper, so one’s mileage may vary.
On the inside, things probably weren’t helped by the Camry’s bright red leather interior. It looks like the office of what Terry Pratchett memorably called a lady of negotiable affection. Again, my opinion here is a factor of the press car because things look a lot less objectionable when a more restrained palette is employed. Ignoring the scarlet hide, everything else is quite good. The ergonomics are sound, with the most widely used controls close at hand, and there’s plenty of storage space in the doors and various other cubbies in the center console. The cabin is bright and airy, particularly thanks to our test car’s twin sunroofs.
The inside is also very roomy, both in the front and back (although the driver’s seat is rather hard and doesn’t offer much in the way of lateral support). And the trunk is voluminous, at 15.1 cubic feet (427.5L).
It’s a MY2018 car, so it has plenty of technology
Toyota has packed plenty of advanced driver assists and safety systems into the new Camry, and I’m happy to report that most of the features are included as standard equipment rather than being locked up in thousand-dollar option packages. Toyota’s system—called “Safety Sense”—comprises forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic high-beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure alert with steering assist.
Additionally, the XLE and XSE cars get some extra features: blind spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, and intelligent clearance sonar, which uses the car’s ultrasonic sensors to detect possible obstructions when moving at low speeds.
Most of these work well, with the exception of the “steering assist” part of the lane departure system. Although it would warn me if I drifted out of my lane, I never felt any steering assist helping me out. After the third or fourth attempt at letting the Camry try to steer itself for a couple of seconds ended with me intervening, I gave up trying to test the system or figure out if it used the industry-standard interval of 15 seconds before nagging you.
The infotainment system, called Entune 3.0, is Toyota’s latest. It’s built on Automotive Grade Linux; Toyota is a big (and long-time) fan of open-source software. In V6 models, you also get some added features like Siri and Google voice controls (but no Android Auto or CarPlay), dynamic navigation (which updates the map regularly over-the-air with POIs and recently added roads), HD and Sirius XM radio, and 4G LTE with Wi-Fi. Everything is controlled from an eight-inch touchscreen (seven inches for lower-spec cars). You also get Qi wireless charging in the V6 as standard.
While I’m sure the underlying code in Entune 3.0 is fine, the UI can be confusing at times (even after a week, I had no idea how to cancel a navigation route), and the way it renders the map on the infotainment screen can be a little hard to read at times. There’s also a remote connect function for checking your car’s status, guest driver monitoring, and even remote starting, the thought of which I am sure is setting some readers’ hair alight.
The UI of the 4.2-inch display on the main instrument cluster is also less than ideal, with some confusing layouts that (for instance) make it very difficult to tell how much fuel you’re actually using. Instead of a constantly moving bar graph, how about just giving me a numerical value?
Sorry, still a bit boring to drive
Despite Toyota’s press materials claiming this is the sportiest and best-driving Camry to date, and despite the wide stance, aggressive bumpers, and that diffuser at the rear, there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s still a Camry. That means it’s been designed to be as appealing as possible to the largest number of people; the result is a safe-if-unexciting time behind the wheel. The ride is good and isolates you from poor road surfaces, but it’s not a car that encourages you to grab it by the scruff of the neck or demands to be taken out for an early morning drive on a twisty road.
Then again, if excitement is what you’re looking for, you’re not going to shop for a Camry. But the sales numbers don’t lie. Last year, more than 387,000 Americans bought a new Camry, and there’s every reason to believe that in 2018 it’s going to be the bestselling car (as opposed to truck) yet again.
Listing image by Toyota