Stick Shift: 2018 Toyota Camry XSE

The 2018 Toyota Camry has undergone an awakening of sorts. A Renaissance of medieval proportions you could say. I almost felt compelled to get out and double check the name plate on the back. Yep, it says Camry alright. In a game of word association, saying Toyota Camry used to conjure thoughts of a safe, plain, completely vanilla vehicle. A reliable and safe, albeit boring option of transportation. That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer. With an all new platform, aggressive styling, powerful V6 and sophisticated powertrain, the Camry is putting serious distance between its plain past and its fresh future. The model that expresses this dramatic change the most, pairing this capable V6 with the sportiest trim offered, is the model I was lucky enough to have, the XSE.

While Toyota is still attracting the traditional Camry consumer with the toned down styling and softer suspension of the L, LE and XLE models, the Sporty S group offers firmer damping, wider tires, bigger wheels, gaping intake vents, black exterior trim and even a blood-red interior option for the shopper who’s really lost control of things. My XSE had LED headlights with smoke tint, a gloss black front grill, black machine-finished 19” alloy wheels and most shocking of all, a dual exhaust with quad chrome tips! Not the Toyota Camry any of us remember. Not even close.

Photo via: Toyota

Offering an impressive 301 hp, the powerful 3.5L V6 represents a direction most 4-door sedans have abandoned, opting instead for turbo charged 4-cylinders. The V6 offers great low-end torque and linear power delivery. Best of all though is the edgy exhaust note it produces. A more attractive tone than the Dyson vacuum soundtrack of many of its 4-cylinder competitors.

Helping measure out the power is a new 8-speed automatic transmission. With so many gears, we see fuel-economy gains despite the extra ponies, bringing totals to 26 combined mpg. There is a noticeable delay when you punch the gas and await the inevitable downshift. Probably in part because of the Camrys’ preference for high gears and optimal engine efficiency. This delay can be improved with the use of the Sport mode button on the center console. Where the transmission may attempt to limit the fun, the chassis makes great strides to make up for it. The 2018 Camry turns with real conviction. There’s very little body-roll, and impact to overall comfort is minimal. In the ‘tossable’ department, the Camry is closing the gap on the likes of the sporty Mazda 6 and segment king, the Honda Accord.

On the inside, the Camry XSE boasts an interior quality far beyond lower LE and XLE models. The infotainment system is easy to use with attractive chrome-tipped hard-button shortcuts to make navigating controls and settings even easier. Colors are vivid, the backup camera has dynamic gridlines and there’s plenty of connectivity for media and smart phone integration. There’s even Qi wireless charging on board. With leather wrapping the seats and steering wheel, attractive ambient lighting and a clever interior layout, the Camry has never looked more poised or polished.

Photo via: Toyota

There’s no denying that the new Toyota Camry XSE is a vehicle reborn, hardly recognizable from its tame and restrained former self. Pairing a powerful V6, a responsive chassis, sport-tuned suspension, dramatic styling and a beautiful interior, Toyota has catapulted the XSE to the head of its class, arguably shoulder to shoulder with the Accord 2.0T. So much privilege comes at a price though, and while the new Camry may be better than ever, the last and most unexpected change of all is the high price tag.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $38,230.00

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