Ever since it arrived for 1983 as the first ever transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive Toyota, the Camry has been a sane, sensible family sedan. Over six succeeding generations, the Camry executed that mission so well that it became America’s best-selling passenger car—but also among its most boring. Now, however, company boss Akio Toyoda wants to banish boring, which means big changes for the brand’s big seller. The effort got off to a tentative start with a more-extensive-than-usual mid-cycle update for 2015 but reaches full flower with the all-new eighth-generation car. This Camry really wants to party.

Funk Factor

To start, there’s the styling. In its family-sedan segment, it’s the equivalent of a purple mohawk. The new car is longer, lower, and (fractionally) wider, giving it a slightly lower-slung profile. Up front there’s an angry-looking visage marked by a pinched upper grille and a gaping lower maw. The bottom edge of the fascia flares outward, as do the rocker panels; the shoulder line kicks up behind the rear doors; and a crease slashes across the C-pillar and extends back to the decklid spoiler. SE and XSE models have their own, even busier front and rear styling, plus additional sculpting on the rockers and a rear bumper that emulates a diffuser. XSE versions offer a black roof. One can argue whether the new Camry’s styling looks better, but there is no question that there’s more of it.

The interior is funkier, too, binning the previous slablike dash for a more three-dimensional design bisected by a wavelike trim piece. The triangular center stack angles toward the driver, while on the passenger’s side the dash curves away to create a greater sense of spaciousness. The gloss-black region into which the central touchscreen is integrated provides today’s requisite smartphone-mimicking appearance, but it retains enough knobs and physical buttons to make for easy operation. Top-spec models enjoy padded surfaces, soft-touch plastics, and attractive graining, some of which is preserved for mid-level trims, although these get hard-plastic door panels and a cheaper-feeling steering wheel.

Toyota’s latest Entune 3.0 infotainment system debuts here, and its biggest upgrade may be the company’s standard app-based navigation system, which works through a connected Apple or Android phone with the Scout app installed to deliver real moving maps and turn-by-turn directions just like an in-car nav system; Entune’s biggest downside is that it still doesn’t support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

The nearly two-inch-longer wheelbase helps preserve interior roominess, including generous rear-seat legroom and knee clearance, even as engineers lowered the roof and the seating position. They also lowered the hood and the beltline to avoid the feeling of sitting in the bottom of a barrel. This Camry is more adventurous with color, too, with the gray and tan interiors using multiple hues, while a red-and-black scheme can be had in the XSE.

Feel the TNGA

It’s not just appearances that have changed; much of the hardware is new, as the Camry moves to Toyota’s TNGA architecture. Both engines are fresh, as well, although their layout and displacements are familiar. The direct-and-port-injected 2.5-liter inline-four has a longer stroke and a higher compression ratio than the previous four-cylinder, and it boasts variable valve timing, which is now electrically actuated on the intake side. Output climbs from 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque to 203 and 184—or 206 and 186 in the XSE with its quad exhaust outlets, a Camry first. A 176-hp version of the same engine pairs with two electric motor/generators in the hybrid.

A V-6 also returns, even as competitors—including the archrival Honda Accord—are dropping them in favor of turbocharged fours. Again displacing 3.5 liters, the Camry V-6 makes a robust 301 horsepower versus 268 before, along with 267 lb-ft of torque, up from 248. Both engines trade their previous six-speed automatic for a new eight-speed unit, but the hybrid continues with the same mechanical arrangement that creates a pseudo-CVT.

As before, the Camry lineup divides thematically between S (sport) and L (luxury) models. On the former side, there’s the SE (available as a four-cylinder or a hybrid) and the fancier XSE (four-cylinder or V-6). A new just-plain L (four-cylinder only) is the price leader, with the LE (four-cylinder or hybrid) and XLE (four-cylinder, V-6, or hybrid) climbing from there.

The mechanical changes mean that the transformation from behind the wheel is more evident than you might expect. The mainstay four-cylinder is now the most powerful naturally aspirated four in the segment, and its additional output is evident. We found it to be energetic and well mannered with its eight-speed automatic partner.

Then we tried the V-6. Its power output bests all competitors’ turbocharged fours, as well as the segment’s remaining sixes. (Only the Ford Fusion Sport’s V-6 beats it, but that’s with the aid of two turbos.) And yet, the 3.5-liter’s output doesn’t overwhelm the chassis even as acceleration unloads the front wheels. We dig the V-6’s surplus of go, which together with its smoothness and sophistication puts this engine on a higher plane. Get the V-6 while you still can. That is, so long as you’re not put off by its admittedly hefty upcharge of roughly $5000, although that does include some additional equipment, such as a head-up display, premium JBL audio, wireless-device charging, Wi-Fi, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen rather than the standard 7.0-incher.

With either engine, the Camry driving experience has been elevated. Toyota engineers claim to have lowered the car’s center of gravity by an inch, while the TNGA platform brought a change from a strut-type rear suspension to a multilink setup. The chassis is remarkably stoic and gamely resists body roll. In gentler driving, there’s a newfound poise that replaces the somnambulant motions of the previous car. The steering has real weight that builds nicely as you turn the wheel. Even in its sportiest iteration, the new Camry may not goad you into screaming around corners or whipping through a series of switchbacks, but should you take the initiative yourself, the Camry steels its gaze and plays along.

Traditional Virtues

For all the emphasis on getting in touch with its wild side, no Camry redesign could completely neglect the model’s traditional virtues. Thus, the 2018 version sees a major improvement in fuel economy. The four-cylinder enjoys a 5-mpg jump in its EPA combined rating—and 7 mpg in the base L edition. EPA ratings are 28 mpg city and 39 highway, with the L tacking on 1 mpg city and 2 on the highway. The V-6 manages a 2-mpg increase in its combined figure, with EPA ratings of 22 mpg city and 32 highway for the XSE and 22/33 for the XLE.

The real fuel-economy story, though, is the hybrid, which vaults over the 50-mpg bar with EPA ratings of 51 mpg city, 53 highway. That, however, is for the LE model only; the SE and XLE hybrids earn EPA scores of 44/46 mpg. Those two versions retain a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, while the LE switches to a lighter, more powerful lithium-ion unit. And with its lower level of equipment, the LE is lighter overall. We took a spin in the LE hybrid, and its behavioral transformation is less remarkable than the nonhybrid models we drove. Its continuously variable automatic transmission still suffers constant-rpm droning under acceleration, even though it simulates six stepped gears. Moreover, this version’s steering and suspension haven’t firmed up as much as its siblings’. This new hybrid does, however, achieve normal brake-pedal feel as it mixes friction and regenerative braking, a characteristic that has long eluded Toyota. And all hybrid variants, no matter their battery type, relocate the battery pack from the trunk to under the rear seat, increasing luggage space and opening up a rear-seat pass-through.

There also are improvements on the safety front, as Toyota makes standard forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automated braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with steering assist, and automatic high-beams. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking also are available, while a backup camera is standard.

That additional standard equipment goes some way toward explaining the higher sticker prices, which rise across the lineup. The new base L, for instance, is $1310 more than last year’s LE. At the upper end, the V-6 XSE has climbed $2505, to $35,835.

With shoppers increasingly passing over mid-size sedans in favor of SUVs—the Camry recently fell out of the top spot in monthly sales when it was passed by the Nissan Rogue—the eighth-generation Camry couldn’t bring just more of the same. Being a staid, family four-door is no longer a great strategy. The time is right for the Camry to cut loose.


VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

BASE PRICE RANGE: $24,380–$35,835

ENGINE TYPES: DOHC Atkinson-capable 16-valve 2.5-liter inline-4, 203 or 206 hp, 184 or 186 lb-ft; DOHC Atkinson-capable 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6, 301 hp, 267 lb-ft; DOHC Atkinson-capable 2.5-liter inline-4, 176 hp, 163 lb-ft + 1 permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor, 118 hp, 149 lb-ft (combined output, 208 hp; 1.0-kWh lithium-ion or 1.6-kWh lithium-ion/nickel-metal-hydride battery pack)

TRANSMISSIONS: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode, continuously variable automatic

Wheelbase: 111.2 in
Length: 192.1–192.7 in
Width: 72.4 in Height: 56.9 in
Passenger volume: 99–100 cu ft
Tunk volume: 14–15 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 3300–3600 lb

Zero to 60 mph: 5.7–7.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 14.6–22.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.3–16.0 sec
Top speed: 115–130 mph

EPA combined/city/highway: 26–52/22–51/32–53 mpg