The words “Camry” and “hybrid” are the automotive equivalents of “plain” and “white toast.” Even CEO Akio Toyoda recently commented that the company would veer away from his company’s “boring” lineup.
Though the Camry has undergone multiple updates over the past 38 years, it was consistently boring, slow, made of plastic that appeared to come so cheap it wouldn’t be used in children’s toys and had the visual appeal of mobile beige paint. And these factors made the midsize car one of most boring modes of transport on the road. Add to this a hybrid option beginning in 2006, and the snooze factor went up to 11.
For these reasons, car enthusiasts never flocked to Toyota dealerships to put a down payment on a Camry. But millions of others did. The Camry checked the two most crucial factors on the list for people who don’t make their car decisions on speed, styling, handling and excitement.
These people happily left Toyota lots, new keys in hand, because the Camry was affordable and had the kind of reliability that would make a cockroach jealous. And the Camry was always enough for the average driver.
It was quick enough. It was comfortable enough. Its handling was good enough. It was affordable enough. Though the Camry measured on the exhilaration scale somewhere near vacuuming, it never had enough faults to drive most buyers away. While it had no major faults, it also had no major redeeming factors other than price and reliability. In short, it was boring.
And after 15 years of being the highest selling car in the U.S., Toyota decided to start from the ground up in 2018. So, does the Camry hybrid finally have some spice or it still soporific?
The short answer — the refined 2018 hybrid version may not cause your loins to tingle, but it’s a vast improvement over previous models.
For starters, the new Camry features an exterior that is “undoubtedly more aggressive than that of any predecessor,” according to a press release. Well, that’s not saying too much considering that Camry’s days past had about as many curves as my desk. But with its trapezoidal openings at the front, angular grill, diffuser fins near the rear, dual exhaust and optional 18-ince alloy wheels, the new Camry certainly is more exciting to view. Although, I wouldn’t go as far as it’s a necessarily good-looking car. The front end, which Toyota called an, “aggressive face,” is too busy.
The interior also underwent a major refinement. And like the exterior, the designers seemed to make a point to add some curvature.
The instrument cluster takes its shape from the angular opening on the grill, with trim giving the impression of an undulating road. The controls are intuitive and where you’d expect them to be.
Thanks to a new chassis, the Camry’s handling is collected and the ride is generally comfortable, but the steering is still a bit feathery and lacks feel.
The hybrid system has been updated to add eight horsepower, certainly not a huge increase, but it does benefit from the Camry’s more composed ride and the new model has a surprising amount of pep when the feeling takes you and you hit the sport button.
But you certainly won’t be rushing to the gas pumps.
The hybrid now gets an EPA-estimated combined 46 miles per gallon, up from 42 in the 2017 version. Even with my non-hybrid-friendly right foot, the Camry averaged 44 miles per gallon exclusively in suburban stop-and-go driving.
And if the lack of fill-ups didn’t make it clear enough, the Camry steps in with constant reminders you are in a hybrid.
Carried over from previous models is the Camry’s hybrid gauge. Instead of a rev counter, the readout shows the driver when they are using the gas engine, a combination of gas and electric power and when the electric motor is being charged while coasting to a stop.
In addition to being visually reminded you are in a hybrid, the Camry also lets you know by feel. There is a minuscule, practically imperceptible amount of resistance when you first put your foot on the accelerator. It’s almost as if the Camry is saying, “Hold on, you’re in a hybrid so take it easy.”
So like the Camrys of yesteryear, the 2018 hybrid doesn’t necessarily have any major faults, undoubtedly why it has been topping the U.S. car sales market for decades. Even with its flashier exterior, better ride, improved fuel economy, and peppier output, the updated version will still leave driving enthusiasts wanting more. But in every perceivable way, the new Camry is better.