2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6 – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis

We like cars that shake things up.

That take what you thought you knew, and lead you in a whole new direction.

One of the biggest surprises this year is Toyota’s venerable family sedan. From the sharp creased lines, to the sharply-creased performance, it’s got a lot of people asking the same question.

That’s a Camry?

Yep. But first, some housekeeping. The rumor of the family sedan being dead is a bit overstated. Yes, crossovers are big business, but there are a lot of buyers out there who are just as happy with a solid, sensible, four-door sedan. And they still sell huge amounts of them.

That said, the popularity of crossovers has forced sedans to up their game, and fight for buyers. Take a look at the new Camry, Accord and coming soon – Altima, and you’ll see that these big hitters are wearing much more aggressive lines, and toting new tech aimed at keeping the family 4-door relevant – and even more importantly, fun.

It sure don’t look like a Camry….

Well, although the Camry has always been pleasant, it’s also been the beige slacks of the auto world. Everyone wears them, but nobody looks particularly good in them.

The new Camry has a sharp tailored look, that’s – dare we say it – sleek. Built on the new Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) the wheelbase is 2.0 inches longer, and sits an inch lower and nearly an inch wider.

The XSE is the sportiest model and looks it, with a chiseled front end featuring a mesh grille, and LED headlamps. The rounded flanks give off a muscular vibe. The XSE ups the game with sporty rocker panels, an integrated rear spoiler, rear finisher, and dual exhaust with quad tips. Adding to the menace are 19-inch black machine finished alloy wheels.

Our tester added to the head turning looks with a two-tone package that includes black A-pillars and roofline that vividly contrasted with the Wind Chill Pearl White.  There’s no debate here – it’s the best-looking Camry ever, and also one of the most handsome sedans on the road.

Am I actually lusting after a Camry Interior?

Most likely. It starts with the Cockpit Red Leather, that feels expensive, catches the eye, and keeps your attention riveted with gray inserts and tasteful contrasting stitching. When you sit down, you notice that the Camry feels sportier – thanks to a lower hip point that gives you a sport-coupe feel. It’s still family-friendly though, with big windows and loads of interior room front and back.

But you really feel the focus on the driver here. The S-shaped center console cuts out an interior that gives a cockpit-like feel, with large speedometer and tach, and 7-inch color display in-between. The fat leather wheel and chunky shift beg for your attention.

To the other side of the S-curve is the info-tainment system, with a beautifully-integrated 8-inch touchscreen, and simple, intuitive knobs and switches to get the job done. Kudos to Toyota for not getting gimmicky in the design.

Which is not to say the Camry is tech-lite. You’ve got a 9-speaker, 800 watt JBL premium audio system that sounds terrific, a 10-inch color heads up display, wireless charging and a trick around-view monitor that will help you park like a pro every time. Very cool.

Oh, what a feeling!

Remember those old Toyota ads where people would jump up in the air and yell “Oh what a feeling”?

Well, we finally have a Camry that may make you bust some moves.

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda laid down the law recently that Toyotas should be exciting to look at and to drive, and while that’s no big whoop on something like a GT86 (formerly Scion FR-S), it is a large step on something as homogenous as the Camry.

Let’s start under the hood, with an improved and polished 301 horsepower 3.5-liter V6. This is a sweet sounding powerplant with loads of low and mid-range power. And it’s interesting that with almost every other automaker going for a turbo 4-cylinder, Toyota stayed with the V6. And we’re thankful – we’ll take the sound of a well-tuned 6 over a 4 any time.

More importantly, instead of going for a gas-sipping and uninspiring CVT transmission, the Camry has an 8-speed automatic. Huzzah! Loads of power through a quick-shifting 8-speed means there’s always plenty of power on tap, and it also makes this one of the quickest Camrys ever.

The XSE also gives you Eco, Normal and Sport Modes to toggle through, and we’d switch over to Sport when we wanted to hustle, and then just switch back to Normal for quick efficient cruising. We didn’t use Eco mode, but were still pleased to see MPG in the mid 20’s despite our lead-foot activities.

While that power is nice, the ride and handling are the biggest surprises here. Toyota opted for a more expensive and complex multi-link rear suspension, but it pays huge dividends in a ride that’s well-controlled and supple. It feels, dare we say…German.

Throw it into a turn, and the Camry responds well too, with a flat attitude, and nicely weighted steering, and plenty of grip from those large 19” wheels and tires. It’s not a sports car, but it definitely is a sport sedan, being a real pleasure to drive on a twisty road, and miles ahead of any “sporty” Camry they’ve produced in the past.

The composure and control also make it an excellent long-distance cruiser, and a comfortable, but still lively day-to-day commuter.

Still sensible?

Hey this is still a Toyota, and a Camry, so with all the goodness comes reasonable pricing. You start with a 4-cylinder LE model that’s nicely equipped for $24,000. Then just add goodies as you step up the trim line to LE, XLE and XSE. There’s also a hybrid LE model, starting at $27,800 that should rack up around 50 mpg, which is amazing.

Our XSE V6 is the top of the line in Camry-dom, and starts at $34,950. Our tester was loaded, with Driver Assist Package ($1,050), Navigation ($940), 2-tone body color ($500), Special Wind Chill exterior color ($395), Rear Bumper Applique ($69), Illuminated door sills ($299), and carpet/trunk mat set ($224). Add in shipping and handling, and you get $39,322.

Competitors? Well, if you want V6 power, Nissan’s Maxima Platinum starts at $40,690, if you’re willing to for a 4-cylinder, the top of the line new Accord 2.0T starts at $36,675, while a loaded Mazda 6 Grand Touring rings in at $34,370.

So here we have on giant leap for sensible sedan-kind. Banish the beige slacks – today’s Camry is great looking, beautifully equipped, and extremely fun to drive.

That’s a Camry? Heck yeah! Drive one – and prepare to be amazed.