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2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6 Review: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

by Paul Strauss
2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6 Review: Harder, Better, Faster, Strongerzoom in

    2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6

  • Engine: 3.5L naturally-aspirated V6
  • Horsepower: 301
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 267
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Drive Configuration: FWD
  • 0-to-60 Time (secs): 5.7
  • City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 22/32/26
  • Curb Weight (lb): 3,572
  • Wheelbase (in): 111.2
  • Total Length (in): 192.7
  • Width (in): 72.4
  • Base Price (USD): $34,950
  • Price as Tested (USD): $37,813

A few months back, I spent a day or so driving the new Toyota Camry lineup, and overall was very impressed with the progress that Toyota has made in turning its trusty sedan into a truly desirable car. This time out, I got to live with the sportiest variant, the Camry XSE V6 – for a full week.

The latest generation Camry represents a soup-to-nuts revamp of Toyota’s popular daily driver, starting with an all-new chassis based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA). These new bones provide a solid platform which improves overall driving characteristics and safety. Outside, the new Camry has a much more aggressive and athletic look than before – especially in the XSE trim that I drove.

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This trim level gives the Camry bold and dynamic lines on its front end, with its blackout grille and sharp, piched looks that draw your eye into Toyota’s iconic “T” logo. That grille is flanked by bright LED headlights with sporty smoked tint, and a cool sculptural stacked-“L” design to its accent lighting.

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Around back, the sharp, angular look is mirrored onto its LED tail lights, which float above what I believe is the first use of quad exhaust tips on a production Toyota. Those exhaust tips do help with airflow, but don’t expect any big growl to bellow forth from them. Despite packing a powerful engine, the Camry XSE is still a quiet car.

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The naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V6 produces an impressive 301 horsepower, a substantial bump from 2017’s 268 ponies. Combined with a reasonable curb weight of 3,572 pounds, the 2018 V6 Camry is more powerful and weighs less than a Mustang GT did just a decade ago. Progress!

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Pedal to the ground, this Camry has some serious get up and go. It launches from 0 to 60 mph in just about 5.7 seconds, and its 8-speed transmission shifts quickly and predictably. Despite its power, I found its fuel economy to be very good – on one extended highway driving session, I managed to break 35 mpg. As they say, “your mileage may vary,” but you can expect an average around 26 mpg between both city and highway cruising.

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A sport-tuned suspension and nice stiff new chassis results in much better handling than ever before, and the Camry handles deftly through corners. It’s still got a little bit of understeer, but it corners better than most other front-wheel drive sedans out there.

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One thing I did notice this time out is that the steering weight feels a little unnatural when in Sport mode. Rather than feeling more direct than in Normal mode, it just feels like some extra resistance is being artificially introduced by the power-steering system. It’s a minor flaw, but I’d love a little more of a direct connection to the road.

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Inside, the new Camry looks great, carrying through the sharp angles seen on its grille and tail onto its uniquely styled dashboard. Strong lines distinctly separate driver and passenger areas, and while the materials in use on the dash aren’t extravagant, they do have a premium look to them. Soft touch surfaces find their way onto the dash and door trim, and shiny “piano black” plastic bits have been relegated to the bezel around the infotainment system.

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The interior is whisper quiet, and despite the aforementioned sport-tuned suspension, the ride is still smooth. The front seats are exceptional in terms of comfort, and I found they offered great support without fatigue even after several multi-hour driving sessions. While I like the black leather seats and trim, I’d go for the sporty red, which is one of the available choices. Those seats come equipped with heat, but sadly cooling isn’t an option here like it is on the Accord and Sonata. Also absent is a heated steering wheel, which would have been really nice on the wintry Chicago days I had the car.

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Rear seat passengers will be happy to know there’s excellent legroom and headroom back there, so even tall adults and full-grown teenagers will be comfortable on road trips. There’s lots of light in the cabin thanks to a big panoramic glass roof, which offers a power tilt/slide front section. Other niceties in the cabin are the outstanding 9-speaker JBL premium audio system, which punches out big, clean sound, a 10″ color heads-up display, and three USB ports – two of which output 2.1amps for larger gadgets like tablets. There’s also a tray in the center console that wirelessly charges Qi-compatible devices.

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One of the few tech shortfalls in the 2018 Camry is Toyota’s Entune 3.0 infotainment system which feels clunky and dated compared to others in the market. It’s devoid of capabilities like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the available Entune apps just feel like a Band-Aid on an aging system. I’m hoping Toyota has a new system in the works that can catch up with folks like Kia and Hyundai, who do it much better.

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My car was also equipped with the optional Bird’s Eye View camera system, which goes beyond typical backup cameras by offering a top-down 360º view of the car. This is feature typically found on SUVs, but it’s just as welcome here in a sedan application, making the negotiation of tight parking spots a breeze – and keeping you from curbing those schmancy 19″ black alloy rims.

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Toyota also loads up the Camry with safety and convenience tech. Toyota Safety Sense P is standard on the XSE, and that includes a pre-collision system that both warns the driver and helps apply braking in an impending crash, as well as lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control. This system can work all the way from highway speeds down to 0 mph, though it does require a quick tap on the gas pedal to resume after a stop. It performed quite admirably, giving my feet a welcome rest as I encountered rush hour traffic on the highway. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and rear cross-traffic braking are also standard on the XSE, as well as brake auto hold, which can hold the brakes for you when at a stop light.

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Overall, the new 2018 Camry XSE is a really great car. I think the styling has much more personality and appeal than previous model years, plus its seen a dramatic upgrade in terms of handling and performance. With the V6 engine, its got great acceleration and passing power, and surprisingly good mileage too. The interior looks great, is comfortable for both front and rear seat passengers, and there’s plentiful trunk space too. That all said, the Camry XSE V6 is my current favorite (sub-$50k) mid-size sedan, and should definitely be high on your test drive list if you haven’t become one of the many crossover and SUV converts out there.

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