When debating between the two most popular midsize sedans in existence, the prevailing logic usually went like this: If you want the one that's a bit more fun to drive, choose a Honda Accord. If you'd rather have a little more comfort, it's the Toyota Camry.

With the all-new 2018 Camry, that distinction isn't necessarily the case anymore. That's because the latest Camry, now in its eight generation and 35th model year, has gotten a thoroughly athletic makeover in both design and dynamics. Going forward, your choice between the two may have less to do with driving manners and more with personal preference or the way each midsize sedan plays with your smartphone (i.e., the latest Camry doesn't have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, while the Accord does). 

Striking new design

You'll get the impression of the Camry's bolder new character before you even open the door. That's because Toyota gave its bread and butter sedan a daring new design. The Camry's exterior has been so revamped that, during its recent media introduction in Oregon, executives pointed out that the only thing carried over from the current model is the emblem. It doesn't get much more "all-new" than that.

The 2018 Camry sedan literally wears its athletic attitude. The sheet metal has been sculpted, creased and enhanced to portray its newfound verve. On the sportier XSE models, the Camry further ups the attitude with an available two-tone roof that highlights its rearmost c-pillars. Those trims also boast dual exhaust outlets with quad tips, pretty ambitious for a family sedan and a first for the Toyota Camry.

Three powertrain choices

Looking the part is one thing, backing it up is another. Thankfully the 2018 Camry delivers where it counts. The Camry will again be offered with three powertrain choices: The standard and by far most popular 4-cylinder, a smooth and strong V6, and a hybrid that pairs a 4-cylinder gasoline engine and battery-powered electric motor.

We drove all variants over miles and miles of mostly 2-lane roads that put on full display the Camry's new suspension setup that is highlighted by a double-wishbone rear that replaces MacPherson struts. This change is part of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) that is the platform for the Camry and makes all variants feel decidedly more athletic than any previous version of this best-selling sedan.

4-cylinder Camry: The populist

Here's the bread-and-butter engine that will power the majority of new Camry models. Available across all five trims (L, LE, SE, XLE and XSE), Toyota's 2.5-liter 4-cylinder is all new and boasts more power and better fuel economy than the motivator it replaces. In fact, with 203 horsepower, it can claim best-in-class power output for a standard engine in a midsize sedan, and it's a noticeable bump over the outgoing model's 178 horsepower. On the economy front, the base Camry L is rated at up to 41 mpg highway, and the other 4-cylinder trims are estimated at 39. That's a sizable increase over the 2017 model, which tops out at a 33 mpg rating.  

Also: See more new and redesigned cars of 2018

These numbers are impressive for sure, but they only tell part of the story. Between the lines is how the new Camry feels on the road, and it's a noticeably different experience than the car it is replacing. The 2018 Camry feels tighter, tauter and more dynamic, yet not so much so that it sacrifices the overall comfort and drivability for which this sedan is cherished.

The new 8-speed automatic transmission works smoothly in the background, and when you punch the accelerator it's quick to do business, downshifting promptly. In XLE and XSE trims you can toggle between eco, normal and sport drive modes, but truth be told we didn't notice vast differences between the latter two. On XSE trims we observed more road noise intruding into the cabin, quite possibly due to this sporty trim's 19-inch tires.

V6 Camry: Now over 300 strong

The V6 Camry has long been a pleasant surprise. Toyota's velvety 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine has a reputation for packing a reservoir of power that makes short work of freeway on-ramps and high-speed passing maneuvers. This optional engine has also been revamped, and now makes an impressive 301 horsepower. As with the standard engine, the V6's power is transmitted to the front wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.

While the 4-cylinder rarely felt underpowered, the V6 Camry never did. On one particularly steep and winding road that had us rapidly gaining elevation, this 6-cylinder sedan wasn't even winded. Gun it from a stop, and you can easily chirp the tires. Even the engine note is gratifying.

The Camry is among the one of last mainstream midsize sedans to even offer a 6-cylinder engine, and Toyota execs admit it's a minority seller. But if you want your athletic new Camry to pack significant more muscle than the standard version, the V6 delivers.

Camry Hybrid: One happy medium

It's this third powertrain that surprised us in the best way, and is highly recommendable. With mpg estimates of up to 51/53 mpg for city/highway, the latest Camry Hybrid is the most efficient yet. Those numbers also beat out those of the Honda Accord Hybrid, which registers 49/47 mpg figures (the caveat being the higher-trim Camry Hybrid SE and XLE models are rated 44/47 mpg). For buyers simply seeking the most efficient Camry, this Prius-like fuel efficiency will be reason enough for purchase.

Also: See our Midsize Sedan Buyer's Guide

But here's the icing: The hybrid is highly satisfying to drive. With 208 total horsepower, the 2018 Camry Hybrid feels like a happy medium between the standard 4-cylinder and the stout V6, all while delivering eye-popping fuel economy. And power delivery felt excellent in this initial test. Transitions between the gasoline engine and electric motor were seamless, and the extra oomph from the electric system always felt readily available. The regen brake system, too, is laudable with none of the "grabby-ness" that hampered other hybrids from years ago.

With a price that starts just a few thousand more than a comparable Camry gasoline LE model, the hybrid proved an unexpected highlight in the Camry lineup. And that brings us to the next bullet point: How much it will cost to get into the 2018 Toyota Camry, and when you can do so.

2018 Camry pricing and availability

The all-new Camry is set to arrive late summer with a price starting at $24,380 for a base L version, including destination charge. On the other end of the spectrum, a V6 Camry XSE will begin just under $36,000. Camry Hybrid models will range from $28,685 for an LE model to just over $33,000 for a top-line XLE. The all-new Camry has much to offer, from styling, dynamics and fuel economy and in the process, is well-positioned to shake up the midsize family sedan segment.

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More New and Redesigned Cars for 2018


 

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