By Bill Schaffer
Newberg, Ore. – Toyota has been a relatively conservative car company, never straying from the norm or pushing the envelope too far, but always striving to build excellent cars. However, the last five years, the changes have become bolder and more revolutionary, I think mostly due to the influence of their new leader. Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda and the current CEO of Toyota, is a car guy — he loves cars, races cars and lives cars and I think he has made a large impact on Toyota’s direction.
The most recent example of the change has been with the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry. It’s been America’s best-selling car for the last 15 years, but as good as the Camry was, it never thrilled me.
That all changed on June 14, 2017 when I drove the 2018 Toyota Camry for the first time. This all-new (8th generation) Camry has a bold new look and it is fun to drive offering new levels of performance and efficiency.
New from the ground up the 2018 Camry is the first Toyota to use the Toyota New Global Architecture which is referred to as the GA-K platform. It’s a completely new strategy that will be used by engineers and designers to package future vehicles. The new platform won’t compromise the precision build quality or the legendary dependability, rather the changes will provide the driver with a new level of confidence, driving enjoyment and from a design prospective, it’s going to be a car that will likely put a smile on the faces of owners every time they see it.
As a driver walks away after an exhilarating drive, she or he will be looking back at long, low athletic lines expressing a lower center of gravity, wide stance, and emotionally-style cabin profile. The new adaption of the Toyota Family grille is striking with its large air intakes and bold grille patterns. It’s a new sporty look which has moved well beyond the less than exciting elements of past designs.
The all-new roomy interior emulates an aircraft cockpit with controls and instruments tailored for easy driver accessibility. Large well-marked switchgear and Multi-Information Displays providing quick easy access information and customize layouts. There is even a new 10-inch color Head-Up display standard on some models.
Impressing me especially is the unique new seat design which uses a pointed fabric design in face and bottom of the cushions rather than the traditional horizonal lines. The seats look great and I give them high marks for comfort after spending several hours driving through wine country near Newberg, Ore. I even spent time riding in the rear seat and found it comfortable enough that I didn’t mind someone else driving – normally I always prefer to drive.
Three all-new drive trains tucked nicely under the aluminum hood are a 203-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a 301-hp V6 and a 208-hp hybrid (gas and electric).
The standard naturally aspirated four-cylinder 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine will be the choice of most Camry buyers. The engine is smooth, powerful, and very economical, boasting an EPA rating of 29 mpg city, 41 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined. Buff magazine testing has the four-cylinder making a 0 to 60 mph acceleration run in 7.8 seconds.
While many of the popular mid-size sedans have dropped V6 options in favor of turbocharged four-cylinder engines, Toyota is offering a new 3.5-liter direct injection V6. It has an EPA fuel economy rating of 22/33/26-mpg, and a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of only 5.5 seconds.
Both engines are paired with Toyota’s new Direct Shift eight-speed automatic transmission which helps improve economy, performance, and smoothness. The transmission shifts quickly and features a new control logic system which produces seamless downshifts. The transmission has a sequential shift mode, and the V6 comes with paddle shifters.
The hybrid powerplant marries a 176-hp version of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a 118-hp (88kW) electric motor and a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). While I am not a fan of CVTs, I admit this one is smooth and quiet, and doesn’t feel as mushy as some I’ve driven. In addition, the CVT mimics a six-speed automatic in the sportier SE version even has paddle shifters. The combination gets an amazing EPA rating of 51/53/52-mpg in the economical LE model and 44/47/46-mpg in the upper level SE and XLE trims. Fuel economy numbers like these should certainly help sales.
The hybrid battery, which is mounted under the rear passenger seat, contributes to a lower center of gravity, and improves handling stability. The hybrid has the same 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space as the gasoline powered versions of the Camry. The LE grade uses a Lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery pack while the SE and XLE models use a Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack. The Hybrid has driver selectable NORMAL, ECO and EV, a new SPORT drive mode setting that allows the driver to increase power from the hybrid system for improved acceleration response relative to pedal input.
The Camry is available in 10 models from the lowest price to the highest: L, LE, XLE, SE, XSE, Hybrid LE, Hybrid SE, Hybrid XLE, XSE V6 and XLE V6. Base prices range from $24,390, including the destination charge, for the L version and go as high as $35,845 for the XSE V6. With all the available packages, the XSE tops out at near $38,000.
One of the Toyota Camry’s best attribute is the standard Toyota Safety Sense™ suite of safety systems and technologies. Toyota has a goal of “zero casualties from accidents”, and this system drives hard toward that goal. It includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist; and Automatic High Beams. Select models will also come with standard Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. The available Intelligent Clearance Sonar also includes a new Rear Cross Traffic Braking system. All 2018 Camrys have 10 standard airbags and Toyota’s Star Safety System™, which includes Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, Anti-lock Braking System, and Smart Stop Technology®. All Camrys also come equipped with a standard backup camera.
I never thought I’d be raving about the looks and driving dynamics of a Toyota Camry, but that all changed, June 14, 2017.