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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

With Camry Hybrid, Toyota doubles down in shrinking sedan segment

Riding on a new lightweight and high-strength chassis, the 2018 Camry is the most comfortable, dynamic and engaging Camry yet. (Toyota)
Riding on a new lightweight and high-strength chassis, the 2018 Camry is the most comfortable, dynamic and engaging Camry yet. (Toyota)

In 2017, the Toyota Camry lost its standing as the best-selling passenger car in the U.S.

Fifteen years of dominance, gone in a flash.

Weep not for Toyota, though. It was a sibling that dethroned the champ, after all. Last year, Toyota’s compact RAV4 became the first crossover to sell more than 400,000 vehicles, shifting a Camry-like 407,594 units.

So, yes, the crossover’s ascendance is fully realized. And automakers are left to ponder the fate of the sedan. Some are backing away slowly from the four-door segments. Others, like Toyota, are doubling down.  

Willing to redraw the lines

When he took over the family business in 2009, Akio Toyoda pledged to reanimate a lineup that, though massively profitable, had fallen into a paint-by-numbers predictability. 

The all-new, eighth-generation Camry ($23,495) dropped last year. And though it may not paint outside the lines, its happy to redraw them. Riding on a new lightweight and high-strength chassis, it’s the most comfortable, dynamic and engaging Camry yet.

The new platform extends the Camry’s wheelbase and widens its stance. Visually, the Camry grows more dynamic, thanks to a sleeker silhouette whose hood and rooflines drop substantially. 

Polarizing elements are muted

Structural changes lower Camry’s center of gravity and a new multilink rear suspension boosts ride quality and quells unwanted body motions. At speed, the Camry is planted and stable, with less body roll in the corners. Steering is direct, accurate and moderately communicative. It’s a bit over-boosted but a good on-center groove assures true tracking characteristics. 

The most polarizing elements (read: its grille) of the last-generation’s design are muted. Buyers who prize bold design will gravitate to the SE ($25,200) and XSE ($29,000) trims, with their dramatic lower-bumper accents, mesh grille and smoke-tinted rear combination lamps.

The SE package also includes a sport-tuned suspension and quicker steering ratios.

Camry’s reimagined cabin centers on a fluid, asymmetrical dashboard layout that brings new visual interest to the front of the cabin.

Cabin feels spacious and open 

Redesigned seats are broader to accommodate a wider range of occupants. They are placed lower in the cabin, and the cowl, beltline and dash also come down in height. The effect is a more open and spacious feeling cabin. 
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Standard equipment on the base LE includes heated front seats, adaptive cruise control; automatic LED headlights; keyless entry and ignition; a rearview camera; dual-zone automatic climate control; a power-adjustable driver seat, with power lumbar; forward-collision mitigation, with pedestrian detection; a rearview camera; and lane-departure warning and mitigation.

Toyota’s Entune audio interface gets a new 7-inch touchscreen this year. The system includes voice controls, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with CD player and auxiliary audio jack. 

The available Entune Audio Plus subs in an 8-inch touchscreen, plus a smartphone-based navigation app, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, a 4G LTE connection with Wi-Fi hotspot, Toyota Safety Connect and a nine-speaker JBL audio system with satellite radio and HD radio. 

Three powertrain choices

Camry can be had in four-cylinder, six-cylinder and hybrid iterations. A new 203-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine provides class-appropriate acceleration (0-60 in 7.9 seconds) and is 26 percent more efficient than last year’s base powerplant.

A 301-horsepower 3.5-liter six is available on XSE and XLE ($34,950) trims.

Toyota’s updated hybrid system produces a total of 208 horsepower. Mileage varies by trim; the base LE Hybrid ($27,800) uses a lithium-ion battery pack to produce an estimated 52 combined/51 city/53 highway). The SE ($29,500) and SLE ($32,250) use the heavier and more durable nickel-hydride technology and are rated at 46/44/47. 

Underway, our XLE Hybrid tester rode quietly and comfortably. Incidental cabin storage was adequate and controls fell easily to hand. 

The system operates transparently, though the regenerative brakes sometimes felt grabby.  Our tester’s low-rolling resistance tires responded harshly to potholes

The redesigned system moves the battery pack out the trunk, where it limited available space, to a less intrusive home under the rear seats.

All told, the 2018 Camry is not a sedan to be taken lightly. In January, a 21 percent sales surge restored it to its familiar spot atop the charts. Even its upstart CUV sibling cannot be resting easy.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com, or visit www.facebook.com/donadair.inc/.

Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid
Vehicle base price: $23,495
Trim level base price: $32,250
As tested: $37,245 (including destination and handling)
Options: birds-eye view camera; adaptive headlights; LED headlights with level control and auto on/off; moonroof; Entune 3.0 Audio Plus, with JBL/Clari-Fi, Connected Navigation and App Suite, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging.
EPA ratings: 46 combined/44 city/47 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.