G. Chambers Williams

Stylishly redesigned Toyota Camry has lots of new technology, features

The redesigned 2018 Toyota Camry provides a high-quality comfortable and stable ride manner with superior handling characteristics using a lightweight, high-rigidity body/platform structure with a 30-percent increase in torsional rigidity.
The redesigned 2018 Toyota Camry provides a high-quality comfortable and stable ride manner with superior handling characteristics using a lightweight, high-rigidity body/platform structure with a 30-percent increase in torsional rigidity.

America’s best-selling passenger car has just gotten a whole lot better.

The eighth generation of Toyota’s iconic Camry sedan is now available for 2018, with a dramatic new exterior, an all-new chassis and plenty of new and improved safety and connectivity technology.

It’s clear that Toyota went all out to create what it says is the best Camry ever built, with the striking new exterior styling as the biggest surprise. This new, lower, sleeker Camry is bolder and more daring than ever, and finally puts to rest any argument that this is a plain, boring car.

The team of designers at Toyota’s California studio gave the Camry a crisp, sculpted look that eliminates the smooth-flowing contours of Camrys of the past. The goal was to give the Camry an edgy new look to help it retain its leadership in the midsize sedan class, and its position as the best-selling car overall in America for the past 15 years.

But the close runner-up – the Camry’s main competitor, the Honda Accord -- also got a complete makeover for 2018 with compelling new styling, so the battle is really heating up.

While reliability and convenience have long been the best assets of family sedans such as the Camry and Accord, consumers are now looking for compelling designs, and that’s what the creators of both of these cars have set out to achieve.

With the new Camry, just as before, there are gasoline-only and gasoline-electric hybrid versions. Gasoline models are available with the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or the optional 3.5-liter V-6.

Prices for the 2018 Camry gasoline models begin at $23,495 (plus $895 freight) for the base L four-cylinder, and range as high as $34,950 for the Premium XSE V-6. Hybrid models start at $27,800 for the LE model, and top out at $32,250 for the XLE. In between is the SE hybrid ($29,500).

The rest of the gasoline trim levels are the LE four-cylinder ($24,000); SE four-cylinder ($25,200); XLE four-cylinder ($28,450); XSE four-cylinder ($29,000); and XLE V-6 ($34,400).

Our test vehicle for this report was the XLE four-cylinder, in a pleasant Blue Crush Metallic exterior finish, with leather-trimmed, heated front seats.

This generation of the Camry is built on Toyota’s so-called “New Global Architecture.” At the front is a new two-piece grille, built into the slightly lower aluminum hood.

Toyota was able to reduce the Camry’s overall height one inch from the 2017 model and incorporate a lower roofline without losing any interior space.

The sporty-looking SE and XSE trim levels have slightly different body styling from that of the entry level L and LE, and the premium XLE grades. That includes sculpted rocker panels; new 19-inch black machined-finish alloy wheels (standard on XSE and optional on SE); a rear spoiler; a different, more-aggressive front bumper; and a rear bumper with a lower diffuser.

Three new exterior colors are offered: Wind Chill Pearl, Brownstone and Galactic Aqua Mica. Carrying over from the 2017 model are Super White, Celestial Silver Metallic, Predawn Gray Mica, Midnight Black Metallic, Ruby Flare Pearl, Blue Streak Metallic, and our Blue Crush Metallic.

XSE models also offer a Midnight Black Metallic roof option with a choice of the Blue Streak Metallic, Celestial Silver, or Wind Chill Pearl body color.

Interior choices include Ash, Macadamia and Black, along with Cockpit Red available only on the XSE. Our tester had the Macadamia interior.

The cabin has been redesigned for comfort and functionality, including an all-new dashboard, and all interior surfaces use high-grade soft-touch premium materials. There is a mix of tones and hues throughout the cockpit to help avoid a monotone look.

Five people can ride in comfort, and all seats have improved ergonomics. For aesthetics, there is stitching on the front and rear seats.

The new 2.5-liter Dynamic Force four-cylinder engine is connected to a new direct-shift eight-speed automatic transmission. This engine is rated at 203 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque in all but the XSE model, which is 206 horsepower and 186 foot-pounds of torque. .

EPA fuel-economy ratings on our tester were 28 mpg city/39 highway/32 combined.

The optional 3.5-liter V-6 also comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Ratings are 301 horsepower and 267 foot-pounds of torque. EPA mileage estimates are 22 city/33 highway/26 combined.

Hybrid versions of the Camry come with the new Toyota Hybrid System, including a continuously variable automatic transmission, 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors (only one used in the actual drive system). It has a total 208 horsepower combined.

EPA estimates for the hybrid are 51 city/53 highway/52 combined on the LE model, a 30 percent increase for combined mpg; and 44/47/46 on the SE and XLE models, up 21 percent in combined mpg.

Opening up more cargo space, the hybrid battery pack has been moved from the trunk area to beneath the rear seat, giving it a lower center of gravity. There is a lithium-ion battery pack on the LE grade, and a nickel-metal-hydride battery on SE and XLE versions.

Drive modes for the hybrid include Normal, Eco, EV and a new Sport setting that allows for increased acceleration.

All Camry models have the standard Toyota Safety Sense suite of systems and technologies helping to make progress towards Toyota’s ultimate goal of “zero casualties from accidents,” the automaker said.

Included on every model are a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Automatic High Beams.

One surprise is that Toyota has finally moved beyond its little cruise control stalk that sticks out from the lower right side of the steering column on most Toyota and Lexus vehicles for the past decade or longer. On the new Camry, the controls for the radar cruise system are on the lower right front of the steering wheel, where they are easier to see and operate.

Also included on some models is a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Optional is Intelligent Clearance Sonar with a new Rear Cross Traffic Braking system.

Our tester had the Driver Assist Package ($1,675), which brought a 10-inch head-up display, a rearview camera and a bird’s-eye view camera system that showed side by side with the rear view on the center dash audio screen.

We also had the Panoramic Glass Roof ($1,045), which included front power tilt/slide moon roof; and the Entune Audio Package ($1,800), which added the Entune 3.0 Audio Plus with JBL sound, Clari-Fi, connected navigation and App Suite, and Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging.

Camry four-cylinder and hybrid models come with the Connected Navigation Scout GPS Link with Moving Maps.

V-6 models offer the new Dynamic Navigation system with improved map accuracy. Wireless map updates provide over-the-air map downloads of recently added roads and points of interest not included in the existing head unit.

Available is a JBL premium audio system that features Sound Staging, which positions speakers directly in front of the listener to produce sound similar to that of a live concert.

The trunk is a roomy 15.1 cubic feet in all but the entry L model, which has 14.1 cubic feet. There is plenty of space for luggage, groceries and gear, and the trunk opening is large and unobstructed.

The ride was comfortable and relatively quiet at highway speeds, although not as quiet as some competing sedans I’ve tested recently.

Our four-cylinder engine provided plenty of power, but was noisier than I expected, especially at higher RPM. Shifting of the eight-speed automatic was smooth and mostly unnoticeable.

The dual-zone automatic climate control held the cabin temperature right where we set it, and it heated up quickly on some very cold mornings.

Overall, I’m sure Camry fans will love this newest version of their favorite sedan.

Total sticker price for our Camry XLE four-cylinder with the three options packages was $33,865, including freight.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.

2018 Toyota Camry

The package: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder or V-6 gasoline-only or four-cylinder/electric motor (hybrid) powered sedan.

Highlights: The Camry has been completely redesigned for 2018, with both the gasoline-only and hybrid models available. This complete makeover gives the Camry a stylish, compelling new exterior appearance. There is also lots of new standard technology in the Camry, including radar cruise control on all models.

Negatives: Cabin is noisier than expected.

Engine: 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder (gasoline); 3.5-liter V-6 (gasoline); 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline with electric motor (hybrid).

Transmission: 8-speed automatic (gasoline models); continuously variable automatic (hybrid).

Power/torque: 203 HP./184 foot-pounds (LE, SE, XLE 2.5 gas); 206 HP./186 foot-pounds (XSE 2.5); 301 HP./267 foot-pounds (V-6); 176 HP./163 foot-pounds (gasoline engine), plus electric motor, for total 208 HP. (hybrid)..

Length: 192.1 inches (L, LE, XLE); 192.7 inches (SE, XSE).

Curb weight range: 3,241-3,571 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain for both rows.

Trunk capacity: 15.1 cubic feet all models; except 14.1 cubic feet (L).

EPA fuel economy: 29 mpg city/41 highway/34 combined (L 2.5/gasoline); 28/39/32 (LE, SE, XLE, XSE 2.5/gasoline); 22/33/26 (XLE V-6); 22/32/26 (XSE V-6); 51/53/52 (LE hybrid); 44/47/46 (SE, XLE hybrid).

Fuel capacity/type: 16 gallons/regular unleaded (all gasoline models but L); 14.5 gallons/regular unleaded (L); 13 gallons/regular unleaded (hybrid).

Major competitors: Honda Accord, Mazda6, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, Volkswagen Passat.

Base price range: $23,495-$34,950, plus $895 freight (gasoline models); $27,800-$32,250 (hybrids).

Price as tested: $33,865, including freight and options (XLE gasoline four-cylinder).

On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.