Has Toyota Finally Turned the Camry Into a Sporty Sedan?
Like the surprisingly sporty Sienna SE minivan, the eighth-generation Toyota Camry has developed an interest in performance. Utilizing what the automaker calls a “fun driving experience that plays on all the senses,” the overhauled 2018 Camry features many updates to take it from tired to hardwired.
Masato Katsumata, Chief Engineer of the new Camry says that his primary focus was to “create a true driver’s car,” and he encouraged his team to design a car that could balance refinement with athleticism. Ultimately, this transformed into a fresh design language for the brand that focused on a low center of gravity, a practical and emotionally inspiring cabin, and an image that is both sporty and upscale.
While LE, XLE, SE, and XSE nameplates will remain the norm for the Camry going forward, it is the sportier SE and XSE that get the most notable physical updates. These two models have received re-sculpted rocker panels, a rear spoiler lip, more aggressive bumpers, an integrated rear diffuser, and 19-inch black machined alloy wheels on XSE versions.
In the front, deeply sculpted side intakes sit on either side of the lower bumper’s sharp “Catamaran” accents and black mesh grille, with a tightly formed upper intake sitting atop it all. Out back, you will find a set of stylishly sculpted multicolor taillights, wider haunches, and a new logo that gives the Camry a passing lane presence similar to that of a premium sports sedan. The revised rear bumper on sport models also features more aggressive corner lines, smoke-tinted rear combination lamps, and a quad-tipped exhaust.
All of these updates are part of Toyota’s unique “Keen Look” design philosophy, which creates a far sleeker profile thanks to lower hip points, shoulder lines, roof lines, and hood heights. By lowering seating positions by about an inch, the design team was also able to reduce the car’s overall height without sacrificing interior space. Finished with a blackened roof that houses not one, but two sunroofs, the all-new Camry aims to be one of the most well-stocked sedans in the mid-size segment.
Internally, the Camry features more functionality, futurism, and passenger room than ever before. A focus on the driver means that gauge clusters and instrument panels angle toward the wheel cockpit-style, which in turn feeds into a dashboard that cascades downward. Toyota claims that all of the surfaces throughout the cabin now employ “the highest grade of soft touch and premium materials.” By utilizing techniques typically reserved for home furnishings, designers have been able to forge a premium feel that is unique to the Camry.
Front seats feature improved ergonomics for easier entry and emergence, while the rear bench gets a notable boost in roominess along with Lexus-grade soft touch materials and contrasting colors. The cabin also has better seating positions for the driver than before thanks to a boost in foot room and in the range of steering column adjustments. From mood lighting and tightly bound stitching, to contrasting trim pieces and clever storage solutions, this cabin makes the 2018 Camry look like a million bucks.
The latest in Human Machine Interface (HMI) layouts offers uniquely designed integrated information displays that Toyota claims offer minimal distractions. This system showcases a wide range of useful statistics via a 10-inch color Head-Up Display (HUD), 7-inch driver display, and 8-inch center stack screen. All of this aims to inspire more intuitive operations, customizable features, and smartphone-like touchscreen accents than the old version.
A trio of new powertrains are also slated to adorn the new Camry, including a new 3.5-liter V6, an all-new 2.5-liter four-cylinder that piggybacks on a new eight-speed automatic gearbox, and the latest Toyota Hybrid System. While the 2.5-liter four-cylinder motor will reportedly make more torque, boast higher horsepower figures, and is anticipated to achieve best-in-class fuel economy, it’s the Direct Shift transmission that has our attention.
Toyota says that by eliminating power loss within the torque converter, shifts now feel like they are coming from a high-performance automated manual gearbox, which is emphasized in sport models by a duo of paddle shifters. Even though hybrid models will still come with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), all 2018 models will feature a new Sport Mode setting for simulated shifts to make it feel as if one were using a snappy six-speed sequential gearbox.
Perhaps the biggest challenge Katsumata’s engineering team faced when building the 2018 Camry was finding a way to instill the driving dynamics of a “soul-stirring sedan” into a car that has long been referred to as unexciting. This means driving dynamics remained a priority, and by focusing on handling and driving performance, Toyota was able to transform the Camry from snoozer to corner-carving bruiser.
Toyota’s latest generation hybrid propulsion takes the new 2.5-liter motor and adds additional energy efficiency and power to maximize both driving performance and enjoyment. Sport Mode improves both acceleration and handling feel now thanks to a boost in juice from the hybrid system and from the battery pack being moved out of the trunk and into the back of the cabin. On top of that, the hybrid model is expected to achieve best-in-class fuel economy ratings, with Prius-like efficiency numbers.
Performance handling gets turned up further by the addition of a new double wishbone rear suspension that balances handling improvements with a ride quality that borders on being Lexus-grade. Adding to the mix is a new four-point engine mount layout that significantly reduces noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) while keeping torque twisting to the front wheels where it belongs.
Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) will also come standard on the new Camry, adding pre-collision alerts, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, steering assistance, and automatic high beams to all models. Certain versions will also feature blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts as standard equipment, with all models receiving 10 airbags, Toyota’s Star Safety System, and a backup camera.
A new Entune 3.0 multimedia system will come standard in all models, and will feature navigation and App Suite Connect in both four-cylinder and hybrid models. This technological touch relies upon a Connected Navigation Scout GPS Link with Moving Maps to keep drivers informed and on course, and V6 versions will be made available with a revised Dynamic Navigation system that supports improved map accuracy. Another neat touch is how map updates can now wirelessly download updates so that roads not contained in the existing head unit may be uploaded on the fly.
Entune 3.0 also offers drivers the ability to remotely start and unlock doors, check vehicle status notifications, review a guest driver monitor, and engage a vehicle finder all from their smartphone. This system now grants passengers the ability to tap into Wi-Fi Connect as well, an optional upgrade that supports up to five mobile devices via 4G LTE speeds.
The final touch on the 2018 Camry is a JBL premium audio system that features many of the same amazing advancements in sound quality as the optional upgrade offered in the Prius Prime. This means audiophiles will get things like Sound Staging for a live concert feel, a 10.1-inch subwoofer, Clari-Fi technology for “un-compressing” streaming music, and nine custom speaker components.