NAIAS 2017: Is the 2018 Toyota Camry's 'Emotionally-Charged Design' a Sales Winner?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Toyota is hoping to inject some vigor and flair into the best-selling car in America. With the midsize-car market shrinking thanks to affordable gas and a generational shift toward crossovers, the Camry has lost ground for the second consecutive year. While it is undeniably clear that something needs to be done to recapture buyers’ attention, the methodology behind Toyota’s response is more enthusiastic than sound.

The company says the 2018 Camry has a new “emotionally-charged design,” but the mood its designers tapped into must have been bitter sadness. It is an almost unfortunately futuristic modeling of a car. Following some of the Prius’ head-scratching styling cues, the Camry’s new look stands to be extremely polarizing.

Its face is exaggerated and slightly hostile, though the merkinized grille seems to be covering up a damaged — or perhaps missing — piece of bumper. Thankfully, appearances aren’t everything.

While Toyota could have lifted the Camry and made it crossover adjacent, it ended up taking things in the opposite direction. The midsize is now about an inch lower across the board. Thanks to the Toyota New Global Architecture, the Camry now possesses a lower hood height, roof line, hip point, and shoulder line, resulting in a lower center of gravity.

The automaker praises the TNGA platform as “a structural reform movement for the entire company that will result in cars that are more dynamic, athletic, and fun to drive.” Toyota also believes that “drivers will notice the dramatic improvements within the first few seconds of driving.”

That’s a pretty bold statement coming from steady-as-she-goes Toyota.

2018 Camrys will be available with a 3.5-liter V6 and a substantially improved 2.5-liter inline-four. Toyota says the updated base 2.5-liter will have superior power and torque ratings compared to its predecessor, thanks to higher-compression, intelligent variable valve-timing, and a 40-percent improvement on thermal regulation. Expect a significant increase in fuel economy. Both motors come paired with a new 8-speed Direct-Shift automatic transmission.

Next-generation Toyota Camry Hybrids make use of the same inline-four motor mated to the THS II hybrid-electric system and a CVT that can mimic a six-speed DTC — the SE model even comes with paddle shifters.

Controversial looks notwithstanding, the next Camry should offer a better drive and more comfortable ride. Toyota is also stepping up the model’s standard safety with ten airbags, range-dynamic cruise control, pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning with assisted steering.

Coming in four trim levels, the SE and XSE models have stylistic differences from the LE and XLE that you could spot from orbit. The sport variants swap the limited’s already massive grille and begin tacking on lower bumper accents, a diffuser, mesh, and just about anything else that will stick to the front of that thing. SE and XSE trims also have larger wheels, unique rocker panels, different rear bumpers, and smoke-tinted taillights.

Toyota claims the interior will be spacious, with all of the important gauges angled toward the driver. Some models will include a trio of connected displays, including a 10-inch HUD, seven-inch multimedia display, and an eight-inch screen for navigation, climate,and audio controls.

While the Camry remains the best-selling car in America and the fourth-best-selling vehicle overall, its sales still slid by over 9.5 percent last year. Re-branding Toyota’s highest-volume car as a source of excitement is a gamble. While attempting to add to the Camry’s appeal, Toyota runs the risk of alienating previous devotees.

[Images: Toyota]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • 05lgt 05lgt on Jan 10, 2017

    3.5 V6, lower CG and belt line, 8 speed, DW suspension improved interior room... looks OK in SE to me... Ping! on radar.

  • Hifi Hifi on Jan 12, 2017

    It'll continue to sell fine. They made it bland in all the right ways.

  • Jeff Self driving cars are not ready for prime time.
  • Lichtronamo Watch as the non-us based automakers shift more production to Mexico in the future.
  • 28-Cars-Later " Electrek recently dug around in Tesla’s online parts catalog and found that the windshield costs a whopping $1,900 to replace.To be fair, that’s around what a Mercedes S-Class or Rivian windshield costs, but the Tesla’s glass is unique because of its shape. It’s also worth noting that most insurance plans have glass replacement options that can make the repair a low- or zero-cost issue. "Now I understand why my insurance is so high despite no claims for years and about 7,500 annual miles between three cars.
  • AMcA My theory is that that when the Big 3 gave away the store to the UAW in the last contract, there was a side deal in which the UAW promised to go after the non-organized transplant plants. Even the UAW understands that if the wage differential gets too high it's gonna kill the golden goose.
  • MKizzy Why else does range matter? Because in the EV advocate's dream scenario of a post-ICE future, the average multi-car household will find itself with more EVs in their garages and driveways than places to plug them in or the capacity to charge then all at once without significant electrical upgrades. Unless each vehicle has enough range to allow for multiple days without plugging in, fighting over charging access in multi-EV households will be right up there with finances for causes of domestic strife.