Test Drive: The 2018 Camry impresses post redesign

Are automakers still building midsize sedans? Are they still trying to squeeze every possible mile out of a thimbleful of gasoline? Are the cars roomy and comfortable, with superior road manners? The answer is yes, at least if the automaker you’re talking about is Toyota.

We test-drove a Toyota Camry hybrid sedan just two years ago, and scored another one this spring. The improvement over this short period, with one redesign in between, was staggering. Ford Motor Co. may be leading the pack in the abandonment of subcompact, compact, midsize and full-size sedan lines, but Toyota evidently is fully committed to the midsize-sedan segment.

Of course, part of the improvement in the 2018 model was reflected by the letters that followed “Camry.” The 2016 model was a basic SE, while the 2018 was a high-end XLE. The price difference totaled about $5,000. But the more luxurious, well-equipped 2018 Camry beat the 2016 in ways that had nothing to do with the size of the wheels, the material stretched over the seats, or the infotainment system.

Our 2018 Camry Hybrid, priced at $37,255, delivered significantly higher fuel economy: 44 mpg city, 47 highway, compared with 40/38 in the 2016 — and as much as 53 mpg in LE trim. You would think the newer Camry’s battery pack must take up more space, sapping passenger and cargo room, but you would be wrong. The 2018 Camry’s luggage capacity is 15 cubic feet, compared with just 13.1 in the earlier model. We’ve driven full-sized sedans with the same or even less trunk space.

All Camrys are 4-door, 5-passenger sedans that ride comfortably and handle competently. The base non-hybrid Camry L starts at $24,565, and comes equipped with a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with an 8-speed shiftable automatic transmission. The conventional Camry does pretty well on the fuel-economy front, too, averaging as much as 41 mpg on the highway. For drivers who relish the technology and enhanced fuel economy of the gasoline-electric drive system, the base Camry Hybrid LE starts at $28,870.

Even the top-of-the-line XLE has a base price well within range of the LE: $32,250. Our test car was dressed up with about $4,000 worth of options, most of which we could have lived without. Younger drivers likely would have gone for the Entune 3.0 infotainment system with connected navigation, app suite and Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging system, an $1,800 option.

Major competing models, most of which can be set up with hybrid power, include the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. Drivers who like the idea of driving a comfortable, near-luxury hybrid sedan 600 to 700 miles nonstop have a range of options, including the Camry, Sonata, Accord and the class-leading Optima (729 miles).

Overall Camry sales reached 429,355 as recently as 2015 but declined to 387,081 last year.

In addition to its reliability and high fuel economy, the Camry has a splendid safety record. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated it a Top Safety Pick Plus for 2018.

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

Price: $37,255

Engine: 2.5-liter inline Four with electric assist, 208 horsepower combined, 163 lb-ft. torque

Transmission: electronic continuously variable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,571 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear

Wheels: 18-in. chrome machined-finish alloy

Tires: P235/45R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 15.1 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13 gallons

Fuel economy: 44 mpg city, 47 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

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