The 2018 Toyota Camry XSE: Rethinking the Sedan

Susan Frissell

I suppose like any sedan today, Toyota’s new-and smart-Camry strives to offer something a little different. As with the ever-popular (at least before the days of SUV’s), Honda Accord, these tride and true sedans have brought much to their brand.

Our week in the redesigned 2018 Toyota Camry XSE afforded some challenges as we navigated the snowy streets of Chicago. Having recently relocated to Indianapolis, I was back for the preview days of the Chicago Auto Show. Having arrived before the ‘big snow,’ I was fortunate to be settled and able to attend Thursday’s preview.

Unlike several of my colleagues who-we heard later-had made the decision to hop a plane, or take to the highways BEFORE the snow landed, my colleague George and I kept remarking how sparse the show floor seemed. Void of many of our fellow journalists, bloggers and writers, it seemed too that automotive execs and product specialists, usually in abundance, were also missing.

It made, however, for a great walk-around as we leisurely snapped photos, climbed in and out of vehicles and chatted with the few manufacturer reps in attendance.

As do most large cities that are familiar and well-prepared for what nature casts upon them, getting around Chicago wasn’t anymore difficult than usual; just somewhat slower. The 2018 Camry handled the streets well, and there were never any moments that I didn’t feel safe.

The redesigned Camry XSE we drove is available in several trim levels, including the L, 2.5 LE, automatic ($23,495), 2.5 SE, automatic ($25,200), 2.5 LE Hybrid, automatic ($27,800) and the 2.5 XLE, automatic ($28,450). Our test Camry carried a total vehicle price of $37,813. Right around today’s average price for a vehicle ($36,495). Considerable.
The L trim comes standard with remote keyless entry, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and a USB port. Add 17-inch alloy wheels, power driver’s seat, anti-theft system, and 60/40 split-fold rear seat, and you’ve got what most drivers need.

Moving up to the SE version with its different front-end design, one can get 18-inch black-finished wheels, rear spoiler, SofTex sport front seats, and dual zone automatic climate control. Three USB ports, heads-up display, panoramic roof and 7-inch color display are all standard.

As expected, there are more goodies on the XLE version, including full LED headlights, a bright metallic front grille, 18-inch chrome-finished alloy wheels, leather-trimmed steering wheel, and upgraded Tiger Eye wood or textured metal interior trim.

The XLE V6 and XSE come with a larger 8-inch touchscreen, featuring easy-to-read fonts and icons and pinch-to-zoom for maps, as well as buttons on the side of the screen to help navigate. This larger touchscreen also comes with a 9-speaker JBL premium audio system and RemoteConnect with Wi-Fi connectivity.

The grills vary among trim level: The LE and XLE sharing a look, and the SE and XSE, the same but different grille. We prefer the SE and XSE grille; although, like its cousin the Lexus, it takes a little getting used to.

The vents are large, and the upper grille seems as thoaugh it’s separate and apart from the rest of the front end. As you distance yourself, the look makes more sense and grows on you, after a while. The look is contemporary and sets the 2018 version apart from its predecessor.

We especially like the two-tone paint version of the Camry. Displayed on the auto show floor in black/white, it will easily catch a passerby’s eye with its roof and top half of the C-pillar in black. Resembling, on purpose, a sports car, this trim is something different to offer; especially in a sedan, resembling a coupe.

The Camry’s cabin gets a needed update, placing it more in the ‘luxury’ category. It is quiet and comfy, with upgraded materials. As with many vehicles today, though, there is a lot going on up front. A well-lit dash and all kinds of high-tech features, these new vehicles can intimidate the average driver.

This writer needed tech help to figure out the GPS offering. Unless you want to pay extra for the usual GPS system, the standard offering if a system that once your phone is synced. This is something I hadn’t realized, as I’m far from up-to-date on all things technical. My ‘teacher’ was in disbelief that I don’t carry my phone everywhere, nor do I find it necessary to connect it to the car’s system. I know….I know….

The standard infotainment system is Bluetooth connectivity, Siri EyesFree and Google voice controls for Android users, but does not offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. My daily driver runs with Android Auto, so I’m a tad more familiar with it. I had to download the App Scout GPS and Entune to get the Camry’s GPS system working. Not a difficult maneuver, or so I found.

The Camry comes standard with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It’s part of Entune 3.0, which comes with a host of apps, including iHeartRadio, Pandora, Yelp, NPR One, and Slacker radio. Also available are real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, and sports scores, and stock updates.

In terms of performance, the 2018 Camry’s base engine is the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, with 203 horse. Opting for the XSE version ups the engine horsepower to 206. The XSE and XLE come standard with the I4 engine, but are available with a 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6; the engine in our test XSE. Power is there for the taking; no need to fear when navigating the ramp on 94. The 8-speed transmission shifts right into place without any fanfare.

As mentioned, the dash and controls seem somewhat confusing at first, but do maintain a Toyota pattern. The stereo works with volume and tuning knobs, and climate control is easily determined. There is plenty of legroom in the rear seating area and passengers can expect to be comfortable on longer trips.

Front seating is spacious, and seats are supportive and comfortable. Although several sedans have added a few inches to their trunk space, the 2018 Camry trunk is at 15.1-cublic-feet, about average.

As with all new vehicles today, safety equipment abounds. The 2018 Camry has a tire pressure monitoring system, and Toyota Safety Sense P, a suite of high-tech safety features provided as standard, including forward-collision avoidance, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise. The LATCH child-seat anchoring system is also standard. All these features are part of why Toyota, and Camry, stand out.

Camry also comes with a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and intelligent clearance sonar for detecting objects while parking at low speeds. The sonar engages the available 360-degree camera. The camera turns on as your moving into a parking space, allowing you to determine how close you are to the vehicle in front of you. We felt there were enough beepers going off: Waiting in line at McDonalds, coming too close to the vehicle in front, etc. We chose to turn some of them off.

Our XSE came equipped with Toyota’s V6 engine, but its biggest competition-the Honda Accord-no longer offers a six-cylinder, choosing instead to put turbo 4-cylinder’s under the hood. Not sure why Toyota stayed with the six; perhaps to be one of the few to still offer it.
With highway driving, the V-6 engine averaged around 28.7 mpg. Some have reported as high as 30 mpg., perhaps depending on what mode you choose. 22/32 mpg. are predicted.

The Camry allows for a change of modes, including Normal, Sport, and Eco. Most of our driving happened in Eco, although we like Sport for around town driving. The 2018 drives very sporty, a surprise to us, but a good surprise. Solid acceleration, responsive steering and good solid tires on the ground make this new, redesigned Camry a much better car. It’s clearly come out of sleeping mode!

We liked the Panormaic Roof, covering both front and back areas. This is a luxury, as many buyers, we guess, would forego it.

Performance tires don’t hurt, and we’re becoming fond of those black-finished rims. For those who seek the more comfortable ride, opting for the LE and XLE trim levels might appeal better. We like a car to hug the road and provide feedback. Of course, not every driver does, and might actually regard same as negative.

The only real complaints we might have had include a noise coming from the back seat area, sounding like it might be the door. Also, the raising/lowering of the front driver’s window is louder than we’d like. In all fairness, it may have had something to do with the weather: Days of ice around the casing.

Options on our XSE included Driver Assist Package, Bird’s Eye View Camera ($1,050), special color: Ruby Flair Pearl ($395), Carpet, Trunk Mat Set ($224), Illuminated Door Sill and Enhancements ($299). The Driver Assist Package includes a 360-degree camera, parking sensors, JBL Premium audio system, etc. Our back-up camera was foggy most of our test drive, due, of course, to inclement weather and ice.

Toyota seems to be competing in the BMW 3-Series range with this sporty trim level, although not sure any BMW enthusiasts would consider a Toyota product. Nevertheless, this Camry looks sporty, sexy and sculpted. We love the lines-Lexus-like, and the 19-inch wheels paried with black-finished wheels. The curvy hood and flared fenders are head turners, along with the XSE’s rear diffuser and quad exhaust tips.
A much more desirable car than in years past, this new Camry competes better with the Nissan Maxima, we think. Also a sports sedan, we favor the Maxima. But then, we’re partial to Nissan products.

Our test 2018 Camry XSE total vehicle price came in at $37,813; MSRP of $34,950. The other stats look like this:

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, DOHC 24VDirect Injection w/Dual VVT-i, 301 hp., 267 lb. ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed Automatic-inc., Paddle Shifters, Direct Shift and Speed, Sequential Shift Mode, Sport Tuned Suspension
Drivetrain: Front Wheel Drive
Wheels: 19-inch, machined finished alloy
Tires: P235/40VR19
Wheelbase: 111.2 in.
Length: 192.7 in.
Height: 56.9 in.
Curb Weight:
Width: 62.2 in.
Warranty: Basic: 36,000-miles/3 yrs.; Corrosion: 5 yrs./unlimited; Drivetrain: 5 yr/60,000-miles; Maintenance: 2 yrs/25,000-miles; Roadside Assistance: 2 yrs/unlimited

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