There is a myth that all sedans are being eliminated from the American showrooms. Crossovers and SUV’s are growing in popularity, yet, automobiles of all sizes are not leaving our roadways anytime soon. It is true that manufacturers around the world are targeting the faster-growing vehicle segments. Why not? Automobile companies are in the job of selling vehicles. I, for one, love a comfortable and efficient sedan that drives like a car. Whether this is a sporty sedan with agile handling or a larger highway cruiser that takes the family on a long road trip, sedans (and wagons for that matter) have a place in my heart.
Thankfully, Toyota has continued to build a better sedan, and it has the #1 sales nameplate of Camry. The new 2018 Toyota Camry continues to sell very well alongside others great vehicles, i.e., Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Chevrolet Malibu, and Ford Fusion (soon to be discontinued). My recent test drives have been in the 2018 Toyota Camry gas-powered and Hybrid sedans in the LE, XLE, and SE model grades. This is an impressive sedan. The SE and XSE are a firmer/sportier ride with a different suspension configuration.
The Toyota Hybrid II System includes a 208 horsepower 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder aluminum alloy twin-cam 16-valve engine and electric motor. The horsepower starts with 176 hp @ 5,700 rpm from the gas engine and 118 hp/149 lb.-ft. of torque from the Permanent Magnet Synchronous motor. Each applies power to the front wheels, controlled by the power control system for a smooth operation. These Toyota hybrid systems have been successfully proven reliable, over millions of miles in Prius, Camry, and Avalon sedans and hatches. All this wizardry is to increase fuel efficiency and reduce exhaust emissions. Toyota has perfected a different way to drive, one in which millions of people have embraced.
The 2018 Camry has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 51/53/52 mpg (city/highway/combined) in the LE Sedan with a lithium-ion battery pack beneath the rear seat. The LE is several hundred pounds lighter than the other models, weighing in at 3,472/3,549/3,571 for LE/SE/XLE and the latter two models get an estimated 44/47/46 mpg (SE, XLE). This is a significant difference in mileage and highlights the difference in the less efficient Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack in the SE and XLE Hybrids. Our Camry Hybrid SE was spot on with an average of just over 47 mpg.
With a 13-gallon fuel tank, the road-trip range is 598 miles and will require a human-stop long before a gas-stop. The seats are comfortable front and back for most occupants, and the materials are soft to the touch on most surfaces. Rear seat legroom is reasonably good for longer legs, but the headroom is less than last year’s model due to a sloping roofline. In fact, taller people have to duck to get into the back seat, and the whole car is lower to the ground making ingress and egress more challenging for older people. The lower ground clearance does increase fuel-efficiency.
This hybrid engine, motor, and CVT powertrain run with smooth transitions between regular octane gas, electricity, and gearless front-wheel drive. The Camry moves off the line with electric-powered torque, and then the gas engine provides the second wave of acceleration. The car will run in EV mode on just electric power if the battery is charged up and the speed does not exceed 25 miles-per-hour. However, more power is available with quicker acceleration when the driver pushes the “Sport” mode button. EV, Eco, Normal, and Sport are options under most conditions. However, the default “Normal” is adequate for most driving situations and produces the estimated mileage numbers.
The Camry Hybrid engineering team gets high marks for placing the hybrid battery under the rear seat so the backseats can fold almost flat and the trunk is full-size and huge to boot- in the boot! The trunk holds 15.1 cubic feet of cargo while the cabin holds 99.9 cubic feet of passenger space. Toyota did an admirable job in creating storage space under the trunk floor as well. Most manufacturers are making efforts to solve the battery placement issues, but Toyota solved the problems with cargo space inherent to hybrids cargo.
My biggest complaint is the infotainment system and Bluetooth connectivity. Toyota uses their own Entune™ audio system with apps available for mobile phone options. However, I found the hands-free conversations were a challenge due to a weak microphone audio quality. There were also issues with my iPhone 6s and the Bluetooth system. This was true in 3 of my 4 Camry test vehicles. Toyota reports that they are working on this software and will start offering Apple CarPlay™ and Android Audio™ in 2019 models.
The overall drive in our 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid was very good with improvements in the handling, straight-line tracking, and steering response. The SE felt very solid in the corners and balanced under hard emergency maneuvers. I appreciated the smooth ride quality in the XLE Hybrid on the rougher California highways- even on lower profile tires. However, when the Camry crosses railroad tracks or hits a pothole, the entire front-end feels like it has been impacted right up through the steering wheel. Isolation from road noise and vibration still has room for improvement.
This notwithstanding, the 2018 Camry is a vast improvement over the 2017 model in fuel efficiency, exterior styling, interior materials, and driving dynamics. The controls and switches are still intuitive and solid to the touch, including volume and tuning control knobs. With the improvement in the cellular connectivity, the 2018 Camry Hybrid would be my pick for a sedan when I buy my next vehicle. There is no reason not to believe that Camry will continue to be the highest-selling sedan in America for another year.