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The Toyota Camry recently received its biggest redesign in years, boasting fully updated underpinnings and aggressive new styling.
The 2018 model is quieter, more comfortable, better to drive and more pleasant to be in than any Camry before.
But after spending a week evaluating it, I'm not convinced that the 2018 Camry has what it takes to woo buyers who are increasingly purchasing crossovers and SUVs instead of sedans.
Let's start with what Toyota nails: the fundamentals. Space inside dwarves the Toyota Avalon, while ride quality and composure benefit from a switch to Toyota's New Global Architecture (TNGA), a vastly improved platform that the Camry shares with cars like the Prius, the new Corolla and the upcoming Rav4.
On a 355-mile jaunt from Columbus to Chicago, the Camry was able to accommodate four adults with baggage for a four-day trip. While Camrys of the past tended to float down the road, today's model is more composed and European in style. It's still very comfortable.
The interior is upgraded and trades the jumbled-together look of older models for a more flowing and modern dash. Touch points are soft-touch plastic or leather for the most part, with tasteful brightwork and light leather helping it avoid the cave-like darkness of so many modern interiors. Our XLE tester was priced at $34,783, which is reasonable for what it comes with.
The standardization of Toyota Safety Sense — which bundles active cruise control, automatic high beams, lane keeping and collision avoidance — is something Toyota deserves repeated praise for. I especially appreciated the full-speed active cruise when stuck in Chicago toll traffic.
Toyota improved its Etune entertainment system, too. Menus are mostly brightened and modernized, while overall performance felt less clumsy. It's still not nearing best in class, but it's less annoying to use than older versions.
The Camry is comfortable, quiet, refined, bright, airy, efficient and stuffed with content. This is the family sedan, completed.
People aren't buying sedans like they used to. The perennial-favorite family midsize sedan is quickly falling out of favor, with compact crossovers like the Rav4 and CR-V aggressively swallowing sales.
To compete with crossovers that offer more capability for not much more, cars have to find a way to be more appealing than their lifted counterparts. And that's the biggest weakness of the Camry. If you want a boring, mundane vehicle to get the job done, you're likely going to be looking at one of the dozen white-bread crossovers.
Sedans, as I see it, have two main advantages over crossovers: they sometimes look better and can drive better. Up against the mountaineering excess of a Jeep ad, you can counter-sell with performance or sexiness. But the Camry offers neither.
Despite Toyota's aggressive marketing and adventurous styling, the Camry doesn't evoke emotion. It's an extremely competent and capable car, but people buy with their guts. It looks good, but not great. It drives better than any Camry before it, but worse than a Mazda or a Honda.
It's refined but it isn't exciting. And in a world that doesn't seem to care about sedans, that's damnation enough.
Start with a $25,350 Camry SE for your best blend of options and price. That locks you into the four-cylinder powertrain rather than the more potent V6, but the base engine is adequately motivated and you aren't getting a performance car anyway.
You'll also want the "Audio Package with Options," which tacks $3,380 on to the price. It includes a moonroof, passive entry, dual-zone climate control, upgraded infotainment with navigation, wireless charging, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a JBL stereo system.
All in, you're looking at $28,730 for a well-equipped sedan.
I recommend the 2018 Camry. Though it isn't particularly exciting, it puts no foot wrong on its path toward becoming the near-ideal midsize sedan.
It's fantastic for road trips and even better for commuting. It doesn't annoy or get in the way, so in that Toyota has accomplished its mission.
I just worry that, with consumers increasingly opting for more "lifestyle vehicles," Toyota getting everything right might not be enough to court buyers.
Driving Experience: 3.5
Price as configured: $34,783