Since the conception of both vehicles a few decades ago, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have been competing head to head, trying to win over the hearts of North American families with significant success. Up until now, the Accord would get a redesign the model year after the Camry, allowing it to tweak and improve on the formula ever so slightly. Things are a bit different this year, with both redesigns occurring at the same time. The 2018 Toyota Camry XSE suggests a huge departure from what the Camry name previously stood for; will it deliver on this promise?
Our Camry test vehicle came painted in a sharp Platinum White Pearl with a black roof. The overall design of the car is completely new for this year, and this XSE trim is the most aggressive of the line. 19” alloy wheels complement sporty styling that a few onlookers mistook for both Acura and Lexus. The black roof is an interesting concept, a first in this segment, and contrasts with the rest of the car nicely. The headlights are of the LED variety, and the rear end is finished off with quad exhaust tips (even on the four-cylinder model) and a black lip spoiler.
The interior is also revised, making it significantly different and far less conservative. This XSE was equipped with bright red seats, upholstered in leather-trimmed UltraSuede. The seats themselves are pretty well bolstered, and far more supportive than this car’s predecessor – the outgoing car’s seats were a serious weak point. Some red accents carry forth on the door panels and dashboard, though the center stack is finished in a piano black plastic that is certain to be scratch-prone in the future. Materials overall are quite good, with many pieces having the appearance of brushed aluminum.
The Camry’s controls are easy to use, with most major controls placed conveniently on the three-spoke steering wheel. A drive mode selector is located by the gear selector allowing the driver to select the car’s characteristics between “Eco”, “Normal” and “Sport”. The emergency brake is now electronic, and there is a “Hold” feature that was previously only seen in higher-end luxury vehicles. The driving position overall is quite good, with decent visibility throughout. A panoramic sunroof (rarity in this class) adds to the brightness of the cabin, and has a power-retractable shade.
Toyota has opted to not offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, opting to go with their own proprietary Entune 3.0 infotainment system. In this application, Entune uses an 8” touchscreen display that is quite responsive, and offers connectivity with Scout GPS rather than built-in navigation. The system works adequately, but we were not able to use any of the three USB ports to browse through music on our iPhone or Android devices, instead requiring a Bluetooth connection to stream audio. Audiophiles will notice that audio quality is severely hampered this way.
All of the Camry’s powertrains are slightly updated, and the biggest advantage over the new Accord (reviewed here) is the retention of a traditional V6, also offered on the XSE. This model was equipped with the 2.5L inline four-cylinder, with 206 horsepower and 186 lb-ft. of torque. The quad exhaust tips make a raspy growl on both a cold start and wide-open throttle, particularly neat from a four-cylinder Camry. All non-hybrid variant get an eight-speed automatic transmission, which sweetens the deal for those who are put off by the CVT in the Accord.
The availability of a V6 already gives the Camry a straight edge over the Accord, as well as other rivals like the Hyundai Sonata (reviewed here), Kia Optima, Mazda6, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion. In a world where larger displacement engines are being replaced by turbocharged four-bangers, the more traditional choice is the more engaging one. There is no denying the efficiency potential of the fours, but the linear and confident powerband of a good V6 is one of the best traits of the classic family sedan.
Dare I say; this sportiest trim of the new Camry is decently fun to drive. The steering is electrically assisted, but it’s nicely weighted and feels good when pushing the car around a corner or a fast highway onramp. There is sufficient response from the chassis and minimal body roll. Toyota engineers claim that the center of gravity has been lowered by one inch, which helps the car stay planted in a variety of situations.
The XSE has a more athletic suspension, which includes a multilink setup in the rear. The car rides very well, and feels great in the city without the thrashy personality of the last XSE (reviewed here). While it’s comfortable and refined out on the highway, a significant amount of road noise made itself evident – the Camry in this trim is not as quiet as an XLE would be. This isn’t exhaust drone or engine noise, but simply sounds from surroundings making their way into the cabin.
Fuel economy on the four-cylinder XSE is rated at 8.1L/100km in the city and 6.5L/100km on the highway. Our test consisted of using the Camry to commute on a daily basis, and typical family errands on the weekend. The overall result with a healthy mix of both city and highway was 7.8L/100km with no real effort to keep consumption down. The tank will hold 60L of regular 87-octane fuel. Those prioritizing economy will want to consider the Camry Hybrid, which is rated for 4.9L/100km city and 4.8L/100km on the highway.
Standard fare on the new Camry includes Toyota’s active safety suite, called “Safety Sense P”. This includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam control, and lane departure alert with active steering assist. Adding onto this is the Entune Safety Connect system, which is similar to OnStar, and can alert the authorities in the event of a collision. The Camry XSE also has an SOS button near the rear view mirror, and Entune Safety Connect also includes enhanced roadside assistance and a stolen vehicle locator.
Toyota Canada prices the new Camry at $26,390 for the base L trim, which still includes Toyota Safety Sense P, a rear-view camera, LED headlights, heated seats, and an Entune infotainment system. The LE “Upgrade Package”, at $29,990, is the one most Canadians should have, and includes dual-zone climate control, push button start, and Entune Safety Connect. The four-cylinder XSE tested here is fully loaded at $34,890 and includes everything including the sportier styling and luxury options of the other trim models. Stepping up to a V6 engine in this trim would be $39,690.
As of right now, the Camry and Accord are not only the perennial choices in the segment, but also the newest. The Accord has its advantages offering a better infotainment system with real smartphone connectivity, and a manual transmission. For the everyman though, the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE offers unmatched smoothness and interior kit. When comparing this with the Toyota’s longstanding reputation for bulletproof reliability and top safety ratings, the Camry begins to make a compelling argument for itself.
First Drive: 2018 Honda Accord
2018 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T
First Drive: 2018 Toyota Camry