Who would have thought that I'd be writing an article in 2018 about a sporty version of a Toyota Camry? I certainly didn't, but I do like this strange-new world I've woken up in, because the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6 is a surprisingly great sport version of this insanely popular mid-size family sedan. In fact out of all the other vehicles in this segment, the Camry actually excels at offering more sport-oriented features to buyers than companies like Honda or Chevrolet.
It's one of the reasons I suspect we were asked by viewers to get behind the wheel of this all-new eighth generation Camry, with it's 3.5L 301 horsepower V6 engine, 8 speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, and an actual sport-tuned suspension. For once we're looking at a Camry to have some fun in. Now that's not to say all the 2018 models are like this, the XLE trim is more luxury-oriented with different seating and leather options, wood trim instead of woven aluminium, and a completely different exterior design. The traditional Toyota buyers will still be pleased with the looks of the XLE, while enthusiasts finally have an option aside from the GT 86.
That exterior design is unique to the sport trim, with a seriously more aggressive front and rear end design, along with quad exhaust tips out back. There's also plenty of tech happening with the exterior of this car, including a 360º bird's-eye view camera system, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, forward obstruction warning & collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic alert, and a power opening rear trunk.
The sport trim also adds larger and wider tires and rims with a proper sport suspension which helps with handling and performance, something we weren't fully able to explore on our short drive, but certainly did notice it's precise steering feel and response.
Overall I really do like the design of this model, at first I wasn't fully sold on the large Camry lettering across the rear trunk but it has grown on me. It gives the car a different look over it's predecessors, but also seems to be a new trend in automotive design language once again. I feel this car has the right proportions and design elements to make it look more like a competitor to the performance cars rather than a grandpa car.
Red might not be for everyone, but you can also get black leather with the sport model. Toyota is offering limited colour choices on the sport model, at least at this time, which again falls into suit with other sport-oriented vehicles out there. It also could be a safe move on the Japanese auto maker's part, allowing the new generation time to build demand before building hundreds of thousands of cars in all sorts of interior colours. Toyota is nothing if not a safe company, and I feel that's why we've got two choices right now.
Their design language on other models has certainly gotten more liberal over the years, and the Camry finally gets into the swing of it with this asymmetrical design, having leather wrap along the passenger's side of the centre stack while having it open to the driver. The hvac and media console also is an odd shape, but seems to work with the rest of the interior design of the car.
The design makes sense, you're able to easily find where the controls are for everything you expect even if it isn't as uniform as we've come to expect. There are some fun gadgets on the inside of this car, such as heated front seats, heated steering wheel, Qi wireless charging, dual zone automatic climate control, LED interior lighting, panoramic sunroof, and a 9-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and the Navigation system in the car requires users to download an install Scout GPS Link on their smartphone in order to have maps in their Camry.
We do find the sport seats to be firm in comparison to other non-sport vehicles in this segment, you do sit on them rather than sink into them. They don't contour or adapt during driving, but they're still comfortable for those looking for a more sport-oriented experience in their car. There is no driver memory option though, so you will need to change your seat position if you have multiple drivers.
The back seat space is probably the most lacking in our opinion. The space itself is comparable to other mid-size family sedans, but there's nothing back there for passengers. Unlike other vehicles in this segment, no heated seats are offered, nor can you get side window sunshades to help block out the sun. Additionally we found the centre arm rest to be very sad, without a stop position to keep it level, when opened it will just fall until the top hits the seat cushion.
While buyers looking at this car as a personal transport to get back and forth to work might not care, many people buy these cars as a daily family hauler, and having back seat creature comforts are becoming a must in this segment, especially when you consider the 2018 is a new generation, we would have expected to see this tech available.
Performance & Ride
As mentioned at the start, we were truly surprised to find the Camry was one of the more sporty options out there in this segment, and it certainly lives up to that expectation on the road. We found the 301 horsepower engine to be quite good in power delivery and overall sound. Some have reported the 8 speed automatic transmission can feel a bit jerky but we didn't notice any real issues with it during normal driving. It's certainly possible as with most automatics that the wrong gear would be selected under wide-open throttle, but the flappy paddles could help alleviate that.
The ride was also very good on this car, it is a bit more firm than others given the sportiness of it, but the handling was outstanding. The steering was tight and responsive as you would expect from any sport-oriented vehicle, and the car felt like it wanted to go exactly where you pointed it. We'd definitely love to have the chance to drive this over a longer period to see how it really feels on the road.
But you can see everything else we found about the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6 in our episode of TestDrive Spotlight below: