All-new Toyota Camry aims to shed vanilla label

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The auto market’s best-selling vanilla car is adding a little fudge ripple swirl.

Toyota introduced its 2018 Toyota Camry at the Detroit auto show Monday — made fresh with a new chassis, lower center of gravity and edgy look. The best-selling car in America for the last 15 years (the Ford F-series pickup is the best-selling vehicle), the Camry has won over generations of buyers with its bullet-proof reliability and IHS Top Safety pick status. But its design has grown tired in a segment that is losing ground to bigger, more utilitarian crossovers.

The 2018 Toyota Camry XSE.

Under direction from President Akio Toyoda to make all its products more fun to drive, Toyota’s ol’ reliable Camry tried to stretch the envelope with cosmetic changes for the 2015 model year. But the 2018 car is remade from the ground up on the Toyota New Global Architecture, which first underpinned the (much sportier) Prius hybrid last year.

With a lower-by-an-inch driver seating position and roof, the Camry gains a more dynamic chassis stance.

Job One, however, was making the Camry more interesting to look at. To that end, Toyota has tailored its “Keen Look” design philosophy to lower the hood by almost two inches, while incorporating a “thin and thick” two-grille treatment.

“In order to create something that stirs people’s soul, we’ve laid out the concept of a new sedan that provides fun and excitement behind the wheel,” said Camry Chief Engineer Masato Katsumata in a statement. “In developing the next-generation Toyota Camry, we were able to start with a clean slate, which allowed us to create a true driver’s car.”

With buyers flocking to high-seating position SUVs, the Camry aims at more performance-minded driver who accepts a lowered seating position for better handling.

Work up through the Camry’s familiar four trims — LE, XLE, SE and XSE — and the mid-size sedan gets even more dramatic in appearance. The SE and XSE grades wear a noticeably different body style highlighted by a sculpted rocker panel, 19-inch black wheels, rear spoiler lip and diffuser, and aggressive front bumper.

Engine options – a 2.5-liter, inline 4-cylinder, 3.5-liter V6, and 2.5-liter hybrid with battery assist – do not change from the current generation. But Toyota says all three drivetrains have been reworked to provide more horsepower and torque. The base 4-banger is projected to get best-in-class fuel economy. The gas engine swill be mated to an all-new, 8-speed automatic (up from the current 6-speed) while the hybrid will get a familiar, continuously variable tranny.

Toyota also projects best-in-class fuel efficiency for the hybrid, a crown it had given up to the Ford Fusion after innovating hybrids in the mid-size segment.

Sitting on a two-inch longer wheelbase, the Camry promises an increase in interior room that was already near the top in class – and outward interior visibility thanks to better placement of the side mirrors relative to the A-pillar. The Camry features premium, soft interior materials and a new, more futuristic dash design with a character line extending from the instrument panel and bisecting the “waterfall” console. A heads-up-display unit – innovated years ago by Cadillac – is also available.

The console is run by a new, Entune 3.0 system that offers upgraded navigation and vehicle WiFi for up to five devices. Toyota has not yet adopted Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity apps popular in other vehicles in class. The Camry will have available a full suite of driver assist features that once separated mainstream from luxury cars. No more. Camry features include pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection and automatic high beams.

“The all-new 2018 Camry is, without a doubt, the most captivating mid-size sedan we’ve ever produced,” said Bob Carter, Toyota senior vice president of automotive operations, in a statement. “It delivers on everything Camry owners have come to expect from America’s best-selling car, and adds to it, jaw-dropping design, more advanced technology, cutting-edge safety systems, and stirring performance that raises it to an unparalleled level of excitement.”

Made in Georgetown, Kentucky, the 2018 Camry is scheduled to go on sale in late summer 2017.

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Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.