2018 Toyota Camry and Camry Hybrid first drive

June 21, 2017

Over the course of a long day last month, we drove five separate versions of the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry mid-size sedan. Until recently, it had been Toyota's best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 15 years—but now it's been overtaken by the RAV4 compact crossover utility vehicle.

That points out the challenge for the new Camry: demand for mid-size sedans is ebbing in favor of SUVs of all sizes. It's not as if they're going away, but the competition continues to improve while many long-time buyers look to other kinds of vehicles.

Our impressions of the new Camrys is that they'll do well in an increasingly tough segment. But that's a preliminary conclusion, because we haven't yet driven the equally new 2018 Honda Accord or the heavily updated 2018 Hyundai Sonata. Other competitors include the handsome Kia Optima, the Chevrolet Malibu, and the aging Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima.

DON'T MISS: Read our full review of the 2018 Toyota Camry

All but the Altima offer hybrid versions that face off against the new 2018 Camry Hybrid, and the Fusion, Optima, and Sonata also offer plug-in hybrid models—which Toyota doesn't. (Chevrolet's plug-in hybrid is the smaller Volt.)

With that in mind, Toyota has gone back to an old formula: longer, lower, and wider. The new Camry's styling is crisper, sleeker, and to our eyes, a largely successful update using Toyota's latest design cues—but without the oddball-to-bizarre lines of the Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell sedan or the fourth-generation Prius hybrid hatchback.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

The interior of the new Camry is somewhat more premium than its predecessor, which could be taxi-plain in its lower trim levels. We couldn't make a complete assessment of the interiors, though, because every 2018 Camry we drove was a pre-production version with at least some black temporary trim substituting for the real items fitted to production cars.

Comfort and performance

Still, the new front seats have been reshaped and accommodated two rather differently shaped adult reviewers during a day of driving, with the right amount of bolstering. With the exception of bottom-of-the-line Camry L, every model has a power-adjustable driver's seat, and higher-trim versions add more types of adjustment and power for the front passenger seat as well.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

The rear seats sit lower than before, and their cushions are slightly shaped to cradle the two outboard passengers. There's enough head room front and rear for adults, but access to the rear is somewhat compromised by the narrow opening between the rear-door pillar and the corner of the seat cushion. The interior has plenty of trays, bins, cupholders, and cubbies to hold various gear.

The engine found in most 2018 Camrys sold will be a 206-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, now mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission to drive the front wheels. This combination doesn't feel particularly powerful, and full acceleration usually produces two and occasionally three downshifts before the car gets its maximum power. It's a tradeoff for fuel economy, with a projected EPA rating of 32 mpg combined. The base Camry L, lighter due to fewer features, comes in at a projected 34 mpg combined.

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