2018 Toyota Camry XLE – Jack of All Trades

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2018 Toyota Camry

2018 Toyota Camry XLE

2.5-liter four-cylinder (203 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm; 184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

28 city / 39 highway / 32 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

8.5 city, 6.1 highway, 7.4 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $28,450 (U.S) / $35,090 (Canada)

As Tested: $34,388 (U.S.) / $36,962 (Canada)

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,845 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Complete the last part of the phrase in the headline up there. Yeah, it’s “master of none.” Thing is, that doesn’t apply to the 2018 Toyota Camry – it really is a jack of all trades, and it even masters at least some.

Fight it we might, but most automotive journalists, or at least most of us who grew up as enthusiasts, have biases. One of mine has been to rag on the Camry, dismissing it like so many others as a boring and beige (figuratively, not literally) commuter sleigh.

Toyota was listening, and every generation got a bit better, even if the driving dynamics part of the equation was still lacking compared to some of the competition.

Well, now that part is finally on par.

I spent more time with my Camry tester than I do with most – it was my ride to Detroit and back earlier this year for the auto show. So I got a lot of seat time, most of it spent on the freeway.

In years past, I’d have had mixed feelings about that – the old Camry was fine for freeway cruising but not really engaging in most other respects. That’s changed.

The keys handed to me belonged to an XLE-trim car with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. That “power” gets to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

I put “power” in quotes because 184 lb-ft doesn’t sound like a lot of torque, especially not in comparison to the 267 provided by the available V6. But it got the job done both around town and while merging on the freeway.

2018 Toyota Camry

Toyota engineers have finally figured out how to dial sportiness into the steering and suspension. Gone is the float of yore. Gone is steering that feels like it’s not even in the same area code as the tires. The steering is direct and has a nice heft. Meanwhile, Toyota hasn’t confused sporty with stiff – the Camry’s ride is far from soft, but it’s compliant enough to make a freeway slog comfortable.

All of this is done without sacrificing the elements that have kept Toyota cranking out Camrys in huge numbers over the years. It’s more fun to drive, but not only does it keep the ride on just the right side of comfy, it also continues to offer a spacious cabin, trunk space aplenty, plus fuel efficiency.

So, the Camry finally drives well enough that enthusiasts won’t shun it. It finally drives well enough to put it in the same conversation with the also all-new Honda Accord, the Mazda 6, and the soon-to-depart Ford Fusion when it comes to fun-to-drive factor. Huzzah! Great! There must be some flaws somewhere, though, right? Nothing in life is perfect, after all.

2018 Toyota Camry

Yeah, there are flaws. None fatal, but I found plenty to be annoyed by. That’s not to pick on Toyota – it’s literally part of my job.

Let’s start with the styling. I don’t find it ugly, but Toyota’s attempt to make the Camry look as sporty as it now feels means the car is a mish-mash of design cues. I like the wing-shaped logo/grille element, but the large and gaping maw that makes up the lower front grille gets uglier the more you look at it, and the weird lines on the front hood mar what could be a clean look.

Speaking of clean, the rear of the car is better looking because Toyota kept it simpler out back. If that same philosophy existed up front, the Camry could look even sleeker than it does.

Also annoying – a snowstorm completely flummoxed most of the various driver-assistance systems. Not surprising, perhaps, and likely not unique to the Camry – but it tells me our autonomous future isn’t quite here yet.

2018 Toyota Camry

What bugged me the most, however, is the feature-to-cost ratio. The XLE is the second-highest trim available for non-hybrid models, and the window sticker is as notable for what isn’t there, as what is. Not only are the aforementioned driver’s aids optional as part of a package, but so too is the premium audio system. Furthermore, if you want factory nav, you need to get a V6 – with the four-cylinder, you get navigation via an app.

That would be all well and good if the price were lower. Sure, the average new-car transaction price is $33K and all that, so maybe this is me being the old man yelling at a cloud, but a $28,450 base and a $34K sticker for the driver’s aids, premium audio, panoramic roof/moonroof, and a few other accoutrements still strikes me as dear. Especially since a base XLE V6 is just a tick more (yes, I know – that gap will widen with options).

2018 Toyota Camry

Let’s pause here and note that a top-trim Accord bases under $34K, although there is no more V6 in that car.

Fuel economy is a wallet-pleasing 28 mpg city/39 mpg highway/32 mpg combined, making the Camry a good road trip choice.

2018 Toyota Camry

Which, for me, it was. It swallowed luggage easily, the seats never got uncomfortable, the steering tracked straight, the ride was never harsh, and I needed gas just once on a Chicago-Detroit round trip.

Camrys always sold well, even when they didn’t drive well. Now, in a bit of bad timing, the Camry finally drives well just as the market shifts to crossovers. Still, with the car able to do almost everything well, the Camry presents at least one exhibit in the case for midsize sedans.

[Images © 2108 Tim Healey/TTAC]