The Camry — America’s best-selling car for the past 15 years — has a reputation for being conservative.
But the 2018 Camry is a pretty radical car.
For one thing, it’s still available with a V6 engine — a type of engine that all of its immediate rivals (including the just-redesigned Honda Accord) have abandoned. Also, the Camry’s standard four cylinder engine isn’t turbocharged — something which almost all of the engines in rival family sedans (including the Accord’s) are.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful.
Would you believe it’s more powerful than rivals’ turbocharged engines?
Also, radical is the restyle. The new Camry doesn’t blend in — which Toyota hopes will turn the heads of Millennial-age buyers, to secure the Camry’s future as Toyota’s best-selling sedan.
WHAT IT IS
The Camry is the most popular family sedan on the road — by the numbers sold. Number two — and close behind — is the Camry’s longtime nemesis, the Honda Accord. Which — up to now — has always been the sportier of the two contenders. Other rivals include the Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata.
Base price is $23,495 for the L trim equipped with the standard 2.5 liter engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. A top-of-the-line V6 XSE stickers for $34,950.
The 2018 Camry is a parking brake 180 — in attitude, appearance, performance — in a word, everything.
Almost nothing carries over except the name.
No longer just the sensible choice.
Powerful standard engine — without the turbo.
Optional V6 engine — a type of engine which rivals the Accord, Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata engine that is not offered anymore.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
New Camry has about an inch less backseat legroom than the old Camry.
Trunk is smaller than before — and significantly smaller than the new Accord’s.
Both of the Camry’s engines are direct-injected (like everyone else’s engines) and that means at least the potential for down-the-road issues with carbon build-up, which DI engines are prone to having.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Camry offers both four and six-cylinder engines — neither of them force-fed engines.
Standard equipment is a 2.5 liter four cylinder that makes 206 hp — vs. 192 hp for the Honda Accord’s standard — and much smaller and turbocharged — 1.5 liter four.
The fact that the Camry’s engine is more powerful isn’t surprising given it’s almost twice the size of the Accord’s four.
What’s surprising is that the Toyota’s four is significantly more fuel-efficient, too: 29 city, 41 highway vs. 29 city, 35 highway for the 1.5 liter-equipped Accord. Honda does offer an efficiency upgrade that boosts this to 30 city and 38 highway, but it’s still not as good as the Camry’s 2.5 liter engine manages — and it costs extra.
The Camry gives you class-best fuel economy, standard.
If you want a stronger engine — a bigger engine — Camry’s got you covered. XLE and XLS trims can be ordered with a 301 hp 3.5 liter V6. It is stronger than any of its rivals’ optional turbocharged fours and gets the Camry to 60 in just over 5 seconds — best-in-class acceleration.
Mileage with the V6 is 22 city, 33 highway — which isn’t far behind the mileage delivered by the Accord’s standard four.
And without resorting to turbocharging.
Not that there’s anything wrong with turbocharging. But it’s debatable whether it makes sense to turbocharge a family car engine. Turbocharging, like supercharging — which amounts to the same thing, the force-feeding of air to an engine — has historically been used as a way to increase the power of an already powerful engine; that engine usually powering a sporty car. Put another way, turbocharging (and supercharging) are power adders.
But they are now being resorted to as power-replacers.
To make up for the downsizing of engines — as in the case of the Accord and many other new cars. The engines are being made smaller to try to make them less thirsty — for the sake of complying with government fuel efficiency fatwas — with the turbos added to make power when necessary.
It’s good in theory — but in practice, the otherwise-underpowered/downsized engine is almost always on-boost, to make up for its lack of displacement. And — as in the case of the Accord’s 1.5 vs. the Camry’s 2.5 engine — using as much or even more gas than the larger engine.
Plus, you have the turbo — a piece of equipment that gets very hot and spins at extremely high RPM to produce the boost. Plus the peripherals, things like special exhaust plumbing, an intercooler and so on. No matter how well-designed these components may be, they are subject to wear and tear over time, just like any other component — and eventually, they wear out. And then you get to pay to repair/replace those parts.
The Camry hasn’t got those parts — so they’ll never wear out.
But the Camry does have direct injection.
This is another affliction brought to us — forced upon us — by the government. Not directly. There is no mandate ordering Toyota and every other car company to replace the port fuel injection that’s been in use for decades with direct injection. But there are those fuel efficiency edicts, which have to be complied with somehow.
DI is one way how. It is a much more complicated way of injecting fuel into the cylinders and one that also creates a problem that repair shops are already having to deal with — and customers paying for:
Carbon fouling of the intake valves.
Ordinarily, the backside of intake valves is kept free of carbon crud by the solvent action of the fuel, which is sprayed behind the valve and so washes it down and keeps it clean as the car is driven.
But direct-injection is different. Fuel is sprayed (at extremely high pressure) directly inside the cylinder, very much like an extra spark plug except instead of firing electrical current, it fires fuel. This does increase power — and there is also an efficiency gain of about three to five percent — but because there is no washing down of the backsides of the intake valves, they are prone to the accumulation of carbon deposits and once those deposits accumulate beyond a certain point, they can interfere with the valve sealing properly — and now the engine has to be de-carboned.
This can be done with solvent flushing or by partial engine disassembly, to get at the carbon and scrape it off.
It’s debatable whether DI is worth the trouble — from the standpoint of people buying cars and who will be the ones paying for the repairs. But the government continues to demand higher-and-higher fuel economy and DI and downsized/turbo’d to make up for it engines are desperation solutions resorted to by an increasingly desperate car industry.
Both Camry engines are paired with a new eight-speed automatic, replacing the previous six-speed automatic. The new transmission has deeper overdrive gearing to reduce engine RPM at cruising speed — in order to increase fuel efficiency.
The new transmission also has tighter gear spacing on the way to overdrive — which helps the car perform better, too.
ON THE ROAD
The Camry has become a supercar.
It is quicker — and faster — than the Mustang Cobra R Ford loaned to me back in 1995. That car was a race car, just barely street legal and sold only to people who possessed an SCCA road racing license. It not only didn’t have air conditioning — it didn’t even have back seats.
And it only had 300 hp — from a 5.8 liter V8.
The Camry not only blows its doors off, it has two more doors, back seats — and climate control AC.
The new Camry also has a wider track and longer wheelbase than the outgoing model, which improves the already superlative ride quality of this car. At the same time, steering response has been sharpened up and handling tightened up. The Camry was always the standout car in the class as far as comfort. Now it’s got moves.
There is also less noise.
Toyota went almost-Lexus with the insulation, including a dash silencer matt along the entire length of the firewall/cowl area, to keep the sounds of the engine inside the engine bay. “Vibration damping” material was slathered on the floorpans and upper and lower fender separators are used to further keep otherwise intrusive noise from intruding.
Forward visibility has been improved by lowering the hoodline 1.6 inches and by relocating the windshield A pillars and B pillars so they are less in the way of the driver’s line of sight.
You sit a bit lower in the car, too — which enhances the sporty feel and will appeal to the younger demographic Toyota is hoping to attract.
It’s as pleasant as ever — but also more fun.
AT THE CURB
The new Camry is lower and wider and — let’s just say it — sexier. This is deliberate policy. Toyota says they wanted people to be able to tell the Camry apart from other cars — and especially from older Camrys — from as far away as 200 yards.
They succeeded. This Camry is a looker.
Especially the SE and XSE trims, which get smoked tail-lights, Lexus-esque sculpted lower rocker panels and contrast color exterior accents, including the A pillars at either side of the windshield, flowing back to the roof and B pillars, too. Note also how the driver’s side door glass slopes down from the hoodline before sweeping toward the rear. This is another visibility enhancer, and it also just looks good.
Inside, you’ll find an asymmetric and divided dashboard layout. A hooded pod with analog gauges for the driver with a kind of stylized, elongated “S” off to the right. This tapers all the way down to the center console almost like an embracing arm, clearly establishing the boundaries between the driver’s area of interest and the front seat passenger’s. On the other side of the S divider is the flush-mounted 8-inch LCD touchscreen which controls secondary-to-driving stuff — the audio/infotainment stuff — which are in turn controlled by the latest generation of Toyota’s Entune 3.0 Suite.
It’s slick, racy and very Lexus-y.
The new Camry is also the longest-so-far Camry at 192.7 inches bumper to bumper — which makes it almost a full-sized car in everything but name.
Front seat legroom increases to 42.1 inches vs. 41.6 inches last year. On the downside, backseat legroom declines slightly to 38 inches vs. 38.9 inches in last year’s Camry.
Also on the downside, the new car’s trunk gets a little smaller — 15.1 cubic feet vs. 15.4 cubic feet previously.
The now-more-practical Accord has 40.4 inches of backseat legroom and a 16.7 cubic foot trunk.
Sexiness has its price.
A hybrid version of the new Camry is on deck, too — and will deliver an estimated 52 MPG, an uptick of 30 percent over the previous-generation Camry hybrid. Unusually — radically — it will use two different battery packs, depending on the trim.
Base trims will have a lithium-ion battery pack, which is pretty much standard and par for the hybrid course. But SE and XLE trims will get a more powerful nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack.
Neither version will get a plug — at least not at first.
This, too, is radical in the sense that Toyota is playing it smart.
Plug in hybrids can operate on just their batteries (like dedicated electric cars) for 20-30 miles or so. One — the Chevy Volt — can go as far as 50-something miles on just electric power. But plug-ins are pricey and until (and unless) gas prices spike dramatically, convincing buyers to pay the several thousand dollars extra a plug-in costs vs. a regular hybrid is like trying to sell ice to Eskimos.
The hybrid version of the new Camry will be available this fall.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This radical redesign is just that — an automotive Hail Mary that Toyota hopes will not just connect with millennial buyers but also rekindle waning interest in sedans, generally.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos
* * *
The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.