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2018 Toyota Camry XSE: Writing a Check its Performance Can’t Cash

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2018 Toyota Camry XSE: Writing a Check its Performance Can’t Cash

After years of ho-hum styling, the Toyota Camry is all-new for 2018. The redesigned 2018 Toyota Camry ushers in the sportiest design language this sedan has ever seen. For those looking for added sportiness, Toyota offers the range-topping XSE trim.

Does the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE’s performance deliver on the sporty check its body writes? I spent the last week in this model to find out. Here’s what I think.

Styling

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

On the design side of things, the Camry is no longer the vanilla sedan it was in years past. It took a few years for it to catch up to the likes of the Kia Optima and Honda Accord, but it is finally a stylish machine.

The XSE trim enhances this sportiness with a front end that boasts a mesh grille and wide air vents, and a revised rear end with an upgraded bumper, a trunk-lid spoiler, and quad-exit exhaust tips. The package is complete with the side-sill extensions and 19-inch black wheels.

These added highlights on the XSE model are further accentuated by the Blue Streak paint job and black roof. While that black roof, which is a $500 option, looks great from a distance, a closer inspection shows the paint separation is not on a seam, so there is a rough line where the two colors meet. This line gives me the feeling it will peel there at some point.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

Inside, the 2018 Toyota Camry has a sharp base that is highlighted by the “Y” shape that flows up the center console and across the dash. In the center of this “Y” lays the infotainment system and climate controls. This infotainment system is the new Entune 3.0 unit with an 8-inch touch screen. While all the functions are built into the touchscreen, there are redundant buttons surrounding this screen. I typically like physical buttons, but these big chrome buttons stand out like a sore thumb and make everything seem dated.

The seats have a stylish pattern to them, and in the XSE model, they are even sportier, wrapped in leather, and feature a small suede-like insert in the upper center portion.

Inside and out, the 2018 Camry is the best looking of its kind, and the XSE trim is even sharper. It may alienate some of its older clientele, but it will draw in younger buyers.

Comfort & Features

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

The 2018 Toyota Camry XSE is a mixture in terms of comfort. There is plenty of legroom and headroom in the rear at 38 inches each, plus its hip room is plenty at 54.7 inches. Fitting a 6-foot adult in the rear won’t pose any issues, and getting three adults in the rear in a pinch isn’t a big deal. That said, its legroom and hiproom are a little light when compared to the Accord. The front seats are comfortable and offer a lot of support, but they can get a little too firm on longer drives. 

Trunk space is adequate at 15.1 cubic feet, but it falls short of the Accord and Altima, which boast 16.4 and 15.4 cubes, respectively.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

I am sure the ride in the standard Camry is on-par for the midsize family sedan segment, but the XSE’s ride is a strange one. Toyota gave it a sportier suspension to help it in the corners, but it sacrifices a lot in comfort for this. The ride can get very rough at times, and there is no way to tone this down at all. Plus, the steering system and chassis allows a lot of feedback into the cabin, making this pricey sedan feel cheaply made.

Tech

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

The 2018 Camry XSE is loaded with advanced tech, but its highlight is the Entune 3.0 system with 8-inch touchscreen. While the Entune system has long been one of the best in the biz, it has not aged well relative to some of the latest infotainment systems. The cloud-based navigation system is slow to search and respond, the menus can be confusing, and the voice recognition is downright terrible. It is nice that it uses the cloud to find businesses when you search, so there is rarely a new business that is not listed.

This trim gets the JBL nine-speaker audio system with Clari-Fi. This audio unit is clear and crisp, and it can get punchy at higher volume. Though this system lacks Android Auto, it uses Bluetooth to connect to Pandora and allows me to skip tracks from the touchscreen. Above, I mentioned how the infotainment system’s buttons were awkward and looked weird well, there are ergonomic issues here too. The volume button is very high on the dash and tucked a bit too far behind the steering wheel for the driver.

I fell in love with the 10-inch head-up display that shows all the pertinent information right at eye level. Besides showing the speedometer, this display also shows the navigation information and cruise control info. Speaking of cruise, the XSE trim comes standard with adaptive cruise control that helps keep you a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead of you. It seems to work well about 90 percent of the time, but it malfunctioned a few times and hit the brakes when I didn’t need it to. I had the same issue with the lane-keep assist a few times.

My tester also came with the Driver Assist Package ($1,050), which includes bird’s-eye-view camera. While this camera is great and gives a clear view of what’s surrounding you, that price is eye-watering.

There is one piece of tech that drives me insane inside the 2018 Camry XSE, and that is the Qi wireless charging pad. Sure, it functions but only at a dead stop. The charging pad has no grip, so once you move, your cellphone will almost immediately slide off the pad and stop charging. Toyota needs to enhance the stickiness of this pad or place small ridges around it to keep the phone from sliding.  

Performance

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

This is where the sportiness of the XSE trim all falls apart. It looks the part of a well-performing family car, but the 2018 Camry XSE is anything but that. This 3,500-pound sedan shows its heft in the corners, despite its stiffer suspension tuning, making you second-guess any fun in the twist. Also, the brakes are responsive but fade quickly when coming to a complete stop.

The 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivers a little bit of straight-line acceleration and is more than adequate for merging onto the highway, but at 301 horsepower, I expected a little more fun from the initial dig. While it has a little giddy up from a stop, hitting 60 mph in under six seconds, it doesn’t have the initial pull of its turbocharged rivals. The eight-speed transmission complements the V-6 engine with smooth shifts, but it doesn’t stiffen the shifts enough under heavy throttle.  

Toyota needs to take a page out of its competitors’ books and offer a little more excitement in the engine department. With modern turbocharging in the Accord and Malibu, these rigs feel sportier than the Camry, despite lacking the sporty looks the Yota boasts. I know you’re attached to the big V-6, Toyota, but it may be time to make the boosted four-pot switch.

Fuel Economy

In the fuel economy department, the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE’s 3.5-liter V-6 delivers decent fuel economy for a six-pot at 22 mpg city, 32 highway, and 26 combined. This is identical to the Accord, Malibu, and Altima with their respective upgraded four-cylinder engines. No, this is not stellar fuel economy, but if you’re getting the upgraded engine, fuel economy is not your first choice.

If you want fuel economy, you’d likely look to the 2.5-liter engine that delivers up to 34 mpg combined or the 52-mpg-combined hybrid model.

Overall

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

I am no fan of family cars, but I can appreciate that automakers have to deliver performance, fuel economy, tech, and comfort all at affordable prices. The Camry does this well and looks good in the process. But its competitors do a lot of this better.

What Would I Do?

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

The 2018 Camry XSE bases from $34,950, making it the highest-cost non-hybrid Camry. At that price, you can get a similarly equipped Honda Accord or Chevy Malibu with their respective range-topping engines, but you have to check a few option boxes to match the features. For my money, the Accord and Malibu offer more value and better performance for a more enjoyable drive than the Camry. Until Toyota scraps the V-6 and goes with a boosted four-cylinder, the range-topping Camry will continue to lag behind its competitors.

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