Edgier styling, a new engine and transmission, and better driving dynamics

The Toyota Camry has long held the distinction as a thoroughly competent family car but a real snooze-fest on the road. To be fair, we said the last one was pleasant and capable, with sound handling.

No matter how it’s phrased, the Camry’s bad rap among critics as unexciting is not entirely justified. That’s particularly true this year: Toyota’s eighth-generation Camry has more spirit, in the way it drives and looks.

The 2018 Camry is based on an all-new global platform shared with the C-HRPrius, and the upcoming Avalon. The Camry is lower and wider than the outgoing model, with about a 2-inch-longer wheelbase, and it features a more sophisticated rear suspension. That new suspension, along with tight, well-weighted steering, translates into better handling. The Camry feels light on its feet and takes turns easily, although it’s still not at Ford Fusion levels of agility and precision.

2018 Toyota Camry LE
2018 Toyota Camry LE

A smooth and comfortable ride has always been a Camry strength, and this remains true even with the car’s improved agility. The suspension of the LE model we rented from Toyota soaked up bumps easily, even when the going got rough, delivering a smooth and refined ride.

We also sampled an SE model, with bigger wheels, heavier steering, and firmer suspension tuning. While it’s still quite livable, you sacrifice a little in ride quality with this sporty variation. Road and wind noise are kept to quiet levels inside the Camry cabin, although, again, the SE’s bigger tires give off more hum.

Under the hood is a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It produces a healthy 203 hp and moves the car pretty well. Perhaps in part because the interior is so quiet, the engine’s raspy response when it reaches above 4,000 rpm seems excessive. The new eight-speed automatic transmission exacerbates this, occasionally revving higher than expected before upshifting. The shifts in these pre-production examples could have been a bit smoother, too.

Although it’s not a model of serenity, the new engine and transmission combo looks to raise the fuel-economy ante. Toyota estimates that the base four-cylinder Camry L will achieve 34 mpg combined on the EPA cycle; all other trims should get a 32 mpg combined rating. The last Camry four-cylinder we tested managed 28 mpg overall in our testing, which lagged several of its key, non-hybrid competitors.

There’s also a reworked 3.5-liter V6 packing an additional 33 hp, now up to 301 hp. The vast majority of Camrys will be bought with four-cylinders. A four-cylinder hybrid will arrive in dealerships about a month after the new Camry goes on sale in late July.

2018 Toyota Camry SE interior
2018 Toyota Camry SE

Slide into the Camry’s redesigned cabin and you’re greeted with decent visibility, thanks to slim pillars and ample side glass. The driving position is roomy, with good headroom and nicely padded, spacious front seats that deliver ample support for long drives.

The new Camry is less upright than the outgoing car, so slipping into the rear seat requires a little more ducking, and headroom is a bit tight for taller folks, especially if the car is fitted with the optional sunroof. Seat comfort back there is fine, though.

The interior has a modern vibe, thanks to the angular center stack layout. All Camrys come with Toyota’s Entune 3.0 infotainment system. This latest system taps the users’ phone for navigation and other features, via Toyota’s app suite. In an unusual move, the system doesn’t support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Built-in navigation is also available.

A 7-inch touch screen is standard, and an 8-inch version is optional (but isn’t available in the base version). Controls are easy to use, and we appreciate the knobs for audio volume and tuning placed on the driver’s side. Overall material quality has been upgraded, with more soft-touch surfaces, although some hard plastic bits remain scattered throughout.

All Camrys come standard with Toyota Safety Sense-P, which includes forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking—a decision we at CR applaud. Pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning with steering assist are also included. Blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning come standard on the top XSE and XLE trims, and they are optional on all others, except the base L.

The Camry has long been known for its tremendous reliability and strong resale value, and it’s a good bet this new model will uphold that legacy of solidity. In other words, you’re getting the same Camry strong points but with a bit more styling flair and driving verve.

We’ll be buying our own Toyota Camry soon, so check back to see how it stacks up in CR testing against its rival midsized sedans.

2018 Toyota Camry SE
2018 Toyota Camry SE