Charlottetown, PEI – Quick confession: the last Toyota Camry I drove was in 2010, and let’s just say it didn’t leave a favourable impression.
If memory serves, it perfectly fit the cliched notion of Toyota’s ubiquitous mid-sized family sedan: low-level LE trim with a noisy 2.5L 4-cylinder engine mated to a mushy automatic and trimmed in the dullest beige on beige colour scheme one could imagine.
From the cheap, washed-out looking interior to the steel wheels capped with plastic wheel covers, this Camry was an emotional flatline.
And it drove like it: a soulless transportation appliance, albeit a reliable one.
Seven years on, I find myself in beautiful late-summer Prince Edward Island behind the wheel of a 2018 Camry XSE V6 and my feelings could not be more different – this is a Camry I didn’t want to stop driving. It was as if Toyota has given the car a desperately-needed soul transplant.
For the purposes of this preview I’m focusing on the XSE V6, but there are nine other models available, three of which are hybrids.
The 2018 XSE V6 is powered by 3.5L V6 (301 hp / 267 lb-ft.), mated to an eight-speed automatic that drives the front wheels. Of note, the V6 receives rather significant gains in horsepower and torque output (33 and 19, respectively) for improved performance. More on that shortly.
The big news for the 2018 Camry (arriving in Canadian dealerships in early September) is that it is the first Toyota to receive the full implementation of TNGA, which stands for Toyota New Global Architecture. The 2018 C-HR compact CUV also has some TNGA elements.
At any rate, without getting too much into the technical weeds, for the Camry TNGA means a higher level of body rigidity (30 percent increase), a low centre of gravity, a more rigid steering system and a double wishbone rear suspension.
This translates into a car that is longer (30 mm), wider (20 mm) and shorter (25 mm) than its predecessor and rides on a longer wheelbase (45 mm).
Among the benefits of TNGA are better driving dynamics, lower fuel consumption and a stiffer, lighter body that also reduces NVH (noise, vibration and harshness). Of note, the Camry now uses a four-point liquid-filled engine mount system to further reduce noise and improve rigidity.
Working hand-in-glove with the new structure is a more emotional and evocative design language that has a more upmarket and performance-oriented ethic than the rather staid looks of the previous Camry.
The cabin also receives a design refresh, with tasteful lines and plenty of soft-touch finishes. In terms of content, Toyota product planners are also loading the ’18 Camry with more stuff for base MSRP.
For the XSE V6, this means standard 19-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, 7-inch multi-information display, panoramic glass roof, LED headlights, tail lights and DRLs. A quad-tip exhaust, embedded navigation, a 10-inch head-up display, Bird’s Eye View monitor and a nine-speaker JBL audio system are also standard kit.
The ’18 Camry also receives a few other firsts. Entune 3.0, an infotainment system which offers connectivity, navigation and entertainment via smartphone connection in a similar fashion to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is available in Canada for the first time across the Camry model range. Entune works with Android and iOS devices and features built-in and third-party apps that deliver weather, traffic, sports scores and gas station locations, among other information.
Toyota Safety Sense P – a suite of collision mitigation tech that includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beam and dynamic radar cruise control – is also standard on all '18 Camrys.
In addition, the 2018 Camry also receives intelligent clearance sonar (Camry first), a feature designed to reduce throttle and apply the brakes at low speeds to help avoid or reduce the impact of collisions, such as those that could occur while parking.
Rear cross traffic automatic braking (Toyota first) helps avoid collisions while backing out of a parking space, and back guide monitor alert (Camry first) provides audible and visual warnings to drivers while backing up. Both of these are also standard.
I don’t usually make mention of new colour options, but the ones available on the Camry XSE (4-cyl. and V6) are more than a little out of the ordinary for a family sedan.
Blue streak metallic, platinum white pearl, and celestial silver metallic are two-tone schemes that combine with a black roof and pillars (hence two-tone) to create a very striking visual appearance.
The platinum white pearl looks especially sharp when combined with optional black wheels and an available red leather interior (also a Camry first) – and this is saying something for someone who doesn’t like white cars. In this instance, it works.
On the road, the Camry XSE V6 offers a very quiet and comfortable ride. Sound insulation has been improved and it shows, and the car’s lower centre of gravity, more rigid structure and a longer and wider stance has improved its handling significantly.
Toyota brought a similarly equipped ’17 Camry to PEI for comparison purposes on an autocross course, and the difference was noticeable in terms of body roll, turn-in response and acceleration / braking. Bottom line, the benefits of TNGA are readily apparent in the 2018 model.
In terms of aesthetics, I am really impressed with Toyota’s willingness to take a big swing at the Camry’s design, both inside and out. The old car (introduced in 2011 and updated in 2015) had grown stale, and reeked of a rigidly conservative design philosophy.
I’m pleased to see company brass chuck conventional Camry wisdom into the recycle bin in favour of a much more exciting and emotional ethic. The car simply looks great, something I never thought I’d say about a Camry.
I know what you’re thinking – Toyota isn’t emotional. Or exciting. They make reliable transportation boxes for the masses.
Yes, that’s true – Toyotas are very reliable and they tend to be quite popular, and being a sales juggernaut (as the Camry has been in the U.S. for years) can become a bit confining.
But when was the last time you saw a Camry with 19-inch wheels, quad exhaust outlets and a two-tone paint scheme?
Exactly. Fortune favours the bold, a lesson Toyota finally appears to have absorbed.
SPECIFICATIONS – 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6
BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $40,690 / $42,945 (incl. $1,715 destination)
FINAL ASSEMBLY: Georgetown, Kentucky
ENGINE: 3.5L V6
HORSEPOWER: 301 hp @ 6,600 rpm
TORQUE: 267 lb-ft. @ 4,700 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 1,620 kg
CONFIGURATION: front-engine, front-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 km city / highway / combined): 10.7 / 7.4 / 9.2
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36 / 60,000
ALTERNATIVES: Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima
Two-tone paint (blue streak metallic w/ black) ($540)
Total – $540
Photography by Lee Bailie