FIRST DRIVE: all new, totally redesigned 2018 Toyota Camry mid-size sedan
Unmatched in reliability, quality and longevity, the Camry has become North America’s most popular mid-size car.
It may have been labelled dull and boring, but the numbers indicate mainstream consumers do not put style very high on their wish list.
In a move that can be seen as prescient, Toyota set out to change that image when development of the next generation Camry began several years ago.
Consumers have been turning away from cars in droves, switching to utility vehicles and crossovers.
Car sales are plunging like Trump’s respectability. As Toyota put it here during the national unveiling of the new Camry, “car sales are soft.”
Into this scene, Toyota drops a new Camry, looking unlike any other. Sleek, riddled with edges and subtle design cues, lower and much sportier, the 2018 Camry is available with a bright-red interior and two-tone paint schemes.
Toyota feels the radical new design and approach may help reverse the declining sales trend. It hopes current customers looking to trade for another car will accept the changes.
But it also figures the new Camry will attract a new and younger audience, one in their forties with no children at home.
Masato Katsumata, the chief engineer for the new Camry, told us he was tasked with “moving the Camry from a rational to an emotional choice, to make it cool.”
It is a gamble, a big one, but this is a company respected throughout the industry for being ready for trends.
The eighth-generation Camry is based on a totally new architecture. Known internally as TNGA, it forms a more rigid base with an improved ability to prevent noise, vibration and harshness from reaching the occupants.
The base of the windshield is 40 mm lower for improved visibility and a sleeker look. That required putting the engines lower by at least the same amount, which dropped the centre of gravity for improved handling, combined with a 40 mm wider track.
The whole car is 25 mm lower and 30 mm longer, accentuating the swoopy new look. A two-tone paint treatment is available with the darker roof colour uniquely blended into the c-pillar, visually lowering the car even further.
The wheelbase is 45 mm longer with most of that going to the rear seat area, already one of the most spacious in the class.
The 2018 Camry will be available a dizzying array of models with four- and six-cylinder gasoline engines and with a hybrid powertrain — L, LXE, XLE, XLE V6, SE, XSE, XSE V6, H LE, H XLE and H SE.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are upgrade packages at each step on the trim ladder.
Pricing ranges from $26,390 to more than $40,000 and efforts have been made to visually differentiate between trim levels
The design upgrade is just as significant inside where both style and refinement are in evidence. LED headlights and heated front seats are standard across the full model range as is Toyota’s Safety Sense P system.
Stephen Beatty, vice-president Toyota Canada, said the Camry has been at the centre of the brand since 1982, “but this is the most important Camry in 35 years.”
He used some basic numbers to make his point. It has an eight-speed automatic, more than 300 horsepower, quad tailpipes and a new double wishbone rear suspension. The eight-speed is common on all gasoline-engine models. The base engine is a new version of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder, producing 203 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. It is standard on all but the XLE V6 and XSE V6 trim levels.
They get a 3.5-litre V6 that operates on regular or Atkinson cycles depending on load. Toyota said it could have gone to the turbocharged four-cylinder route like most competitors who have discontinued their V6 offerings.
“But we think the V6 offers a more visceral appeal and sounds a lot better,” Beatty said.
He also quickly pointed out that the high-tech V6 can match the real-world mileage of the turbo fours.
Turbocharged engines often produce excellent fuel mileage under regulated test conditions that are difficult to match in the real world, especially here in the east where there are continual changes in elevation.
There are three versions of the new Camry hybrid: LE ($31,290), SE ($33,990) and XLE $40,990). All get the latest version of Toyota’s proven hybrid system with 208 net horsepower and a continuously variable automatic transmission.
All versions of the new Camry boast some very impressive fuel mileage numbers. The four is rated at 8.1 litres/100 km in the city and 5.7 on the highway. The V6 carries ratings of 10.5/9.7 and the hybrid 4.9/4.8. The hybrid numbers are very close to that for the Prius (4.5 combined).
It takes no more than a few minutes or prods of the throttle of V6 models to prove the decision to avoid switching to a turbo four to be a sound one. This is a smooth and powerful engine with terrific responses and great aural qualities.
A couple of hours on rural roads on the island proved the Camry hybrid feels much like the base Camry, which is quite a compliment because that four-cylinder model has been engineered to even greater levels of refinement.
Both gobble up the rough stuff with ease and maintain an even keel when pushed hard. The hybrid can be a bit noisier under duress as the CVT maintains high revs but, in return, you get that amazing fuel economy.
Toyota hopes to significantly boost Camry hybrid sales from 11 per cent currently to 24 per cent. If dealers can get potential customers into the seat of a hybrid for a test drive, I see no reason to question those goals.
The Toyota Camry has earned and maintained a reputation of quality and reliability.
Toss in a serious redesign, more standard equipment and a new entry trim level and the 2018 model may well change the minds of some who were considering a move away from ‘cars.’