The trend nowadays is that people are buying more SUVs and fewer sedans, making it increasingly less relevant which sedan is the best-selling one in America. For the record, it’s been the Toyota Camry for the last 15 years, which is one heck of a run. Last year, Toyota sold 388,618 Camrys, more than any other sedan in America.
But that figure is down 40,000 sales compared to the year before. All midsize sedan leaders are down: Fusion is off by 34,000, Altima by 26K, Sonata by 14K and Accord by 10,000. Only the Chevy Impala grew in sales, going from 194,854 in 2015 to 227,881 last year. What is growing? SUVs, which are up across the board, largely because they’re more practical and make you look like an adventure sports model featured in ads in Men’s Health.
So if sales are falling off, now's the perfect time to introduce new products into the midsize sedan segment. And in fact, all the major playahs are doing just that: A new Altima is due around February; a new Accord is due soon and the all-new Camry goes on sale in July. Now granted, midsize sedans follow the same model cycle as any other vehicle, so they were all due to change. It’s not like Akio Toyoda suddenly saw the sales charts and said, “What the …? Get me a new Camry pronto!” These things take time. Toyota has been working on the new Camry for about six years.
The key thing with the Camry is that it’s all-new. “Everything but the logo,” Toyota people like to say. The car sits on the TNGA -- Toyota New Global Architecture -- Toyota’s first full application of that platform (RAV4 and Prius have parts of it but not all). Toyota says the TNGA provides a “fun driving experience.” Yes, fun and Camry were just used in the same paragraph.
While the front is MacPherson strut, the rear has -- brace yerself, Bridgette -- double-wishbone suspension. Now, we crawled underneath a Camry or two and while we wouldn’t exactly say it was pure double wishbones like you have on your race car, it was at least fully independent, with upper and lower links. This alone is cause for rejoicing.
And as long as we’re talking about the suspension, here's another big thing about the new Camry: It has two separate and distinct setups for the suspension. The L, LE and more loaded XLE are aimed at the traditional (i.e., older) Camry buyer. They’re softer, more luxurious, comfortable, quiet and coddling. The SE and XSE are aimed at the younger buyer, the one all the marketing and product planning people think will be attracted to this new Camry. It is “sporty.” The two setups have their own springs, dampers, antiroll bars and tires.
The engine choices are the same regardless: a 203-hp (206 in the SXE) 2.5-liter direct-injected four and a 301-hp 3.5-liter DI V6. The direct injection in all cases is Toyota’s advanced D-4S, which injects air/fuel mix both into the cylinder and upstream of the valves as needed. Both engines are mated to a “Direct Shift” eight-speed automatic with paddle shifts, though the ratios are different. Curb weights range from 3,241 in the base L model (good luck finding one of those!) to 3,549 in the XLE.
The Camry Hybrid, meanwhile has a 176-hp 2.5-liter four mated to a 118-hp (88-kW) permanent magnet synchronous motor for a hybrid system net horsepower rating of 208 hp. It’s mated to a continuously variable transmission.
All new 2018 Camrys are lower and wider than the old: 1 inch lower, half an inch wider and with the center of gravity brought down by almost an inch. That sleek new exterior brought drag down by a tenth to 0.27. All of this bodes well for the driving experience.
First out of the parking lot we tried an SE 4-cylinder, the non-hybrid. The inside is perfectly comfortable and accommodating, with a seating hip point that's been lowered by three-quarters of an inch. The steering wheel adjusts more than previous Camrys and felt more even than competitors. The ride is quiet but not isolated, and a little application of spirited driving -- switching to sport mode and using the paddle shifters -- breathes life into it. Downshifting with the paddles into corners brings it out more.
Next we got in an SE Hybrid. Here the CVT is trying hard to be sporty and responsive but feels neither. A gander at the spec sheet lists mileage at an impressive 52 mpg combined for an LE Hybrid. This might be worth the loss of road feel, especially if you can’t really feel the road anyway, depending on how you drive. The SE and XLE Hybrids are rated at 46 combined, which is also outstanding. If gas mileage is more important to you than sportiness, this is your ride. The straight-up gasoline-engine models, even with direct injection, get only 34 combined for a rare four-cylinder L entry model to 32 for the other four-cylinder Camrys and 26 mpg combined for the XLE and XSE.
Then we got into an XSE V6. From a driver’s standpoint, this is the best of the bunch -- the most power (301 hp) and that livelier S suspension. Second best is the four-cylinder SE. The SE and XSE feel almost fun, certainly manageable. Almost tossable, though the tires on all the Camrys feel a little slippy, a little hard, as if they were made for mileage, not grip. The SE and XSE tires hold on better, of course.
Autoweek readers who are buying Camrys (how many of you are out there?) will want the SE or the XSE. They’re more fun than you ever thought you’d have in a Camry. Everyone else will want to pick from the rest of the lineup based on how much money you have and how many mpgs you need.
Prices start at just $24,380 for that click-bait L model, but again, we kinda doubt you’ll find one on your dealer’s lot. The LE is $24,885 and a well-equipped XSE V6 is $35,835. That’s a broad range of prices. Juggle together option packages and see if one of these Camrys makes sense for your needs. You might be surprised.
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