The 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6 is much better looking than previous generations, it is more fun to drive, and my tester had red interior. But it’ll cost you $39,253 and have people surprised you’re driving a Camry.
The first moment I looked at the sticker of the new 2018 Camry XSE V6 I was pretty shocked. But then I took a second to think of the competition. The Ford Fusion Sport will run you 35-40 grand, as will a Honda Accord. A Nissan Altima will cost you less, but then it’s pretty meh to look at, and it’s just fine to drive. The new Volkswagen Passat GT will cost less and go just as fast.
With that being said, none of them will come with red interior. That may be dumb to some, but I know of numerous people that will choose a car based on its interior color, and every single car in this class has boring interior colors. All except the Camry XSE.
My test car came equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 making 301-horsepower at 6600 RPM, and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4700 RPM, and bases at $34,950. An 8-speed automatic is the only transmission available, and it’s not really tuned properly to this car. But more on that later. The XSE V6 comes standard with the 19″ black and silver wheels you see in the picture above. Optional equipment are 50 state emissions (this isn’t a joke; it’s really listed under optional equipment), Driver Assist Package ($1,050), which includes the bad ass Bird’s Eye View Camera, Navigation Package ($940), which includes an absolutely stellar JBL sound system featuring 8 speakers, two-tone exterior color, silver with black roof, spoiler, and side mirror caps ($500), Illuminated Door Sill Enhancements ($299), Paint Protection Film ($395), which is a 3M-style clear bra from the factory, and finally, the oddest option every Japanese car seems to have, carpet and trunk mat set ($224).
After all those boxes are ticked, the as-tested price comes out to $39,253, including the $895 destination fee. And that number, right under $40,000, kept sticking in my head as I drove the car all week. In fact, Reba kept harping on it, too. It’s not that it’s not worth the sum, I just couldn’t believe that we are in a day and age where a Toyota Camry, the best selling car in America, can cost as much as a BMW 330i. But then the Camry XSE V6 is only 3-tenths of a second slower to 60 mph, weighs 128 pounds more (3,665 vs 3,537), while having the same 60-0 stopping distance (123 feet), is larger and more comfortable, has 15.1 cubic-feet of trunk space versus 13, and is, in so many ways, more interesting to look at. The BMW is “prettier”, but the Toyota is more striking and interesting, not unlike the Chris Bangle era BMWs. Oh, and both will get you similar fuel mileage. The Camry achieves 22 city and 32 highway, respectively, while the BMW will get 23 and 34. I was having a tough time getting past 25 mpg on the combined cycle, mainly because I was trying to see if I could get the tires to come off the car. They didn’t, and the car still got respectable mileage.
Holy hell, Toyota have me comparing a brand new Camry to a 3-Series BMW. Has hell frozen over? Well, it is supposed to snow in a few days in Raleigh, NC, where I live… for, like, the eighth or tenth time in a year. It’s spring, damnit. And the Camry XSE V6 tops out where the BMW 330i bases at ($39,253 vs $39,745).
Enough of the numbers comparison. Unless this Toyota wants to be treated the way the BMW deserves to, then it has to drive just right. Sadly, that’s where the Camry XSE falls over. Around town it’s fantastic, and it’s hard to put a tire in the wrong spot. But once you get away the five o’clock traffic crew and push the Camry past its normal limits, the body roll starts to slide you around in your seat, which needs more side bolstering. But let’s say you’re okay with that. Put the computer in “sport” mode, pull the left paddle to downshift, and stomp on the go pedal, and wait for the 301 hp V6 to not do much. The car picks up speed, but only at a semi-sporting rate. It’s a rate that doesn’t feel any different than most modern sedans, especially the ones in the Camry’s class.
If, instead, you just want to drive fast and let the computers handle all the hard work, then hit the tall skinny one on the right and hold on… it takes about two seconds before the engine, gearbox, and throttle actually get on the same page. It feels like a laggy turbo motor from the ’80s.
Let’s be honest, though, most of this Camry’s buyers won’t really mind much. This is, without a doubt, the fastest and best driving Camry there’s ever been. That’s not saying much, but it doesn’t matter, because Toyota made another car that’ll last until the dinosaurs come back. The interior is comfortable, big, very bright, the navigation buttons are perfectly laid out with big font, and even though there’s a ton of plastic inside, it oddly works.
I do, however, believe Toyota could tone down some of the hard plastics. The steering wheel, for instance, has a pointless black plastic piece at the six 0’clock position. If that area were open, it would look much better. There is one area that continues to bug me even two weeks later, and that’s the silver carbon fiber plastic on the passenger dashboard, and it meets a dark grey piece of trim towards the cup holders. The style is cool, but the color differences bother me. Why a silver and grey piece meeting in the middle? Why not just make it all the same color? That’s like when Cadillac puts carbon fiber and wood bits together. Manufacturers, quit throwing so many colors and styles together. Don’t force blend things, just let it flow naturally.
Another odd thing is the trunk. It’s a very nice size at 15.1 cu-ft, and the rear seats fold flat. But it’s weird that it’s such a small area that actually opens when you put the seats down.
While I’m complaining I must mention that the Camry has a wireless charger, which is great. Sadly for me, though, I have an iPhone X, which is too small for the pad. I would put my phone down, it would start charging, and as soon as I put the car in drive or reverse and started moving, so did my phone. And it would never get back to a point where it would charge on the pad. Instead it just slid around. If you have an iPhone 8 Plus or any modern Android phone, you should be fine. But if you have an iPhone 8 or X, you’ll be SOL.
I know it seems like I’m whining a lot, but I just feel there are little things that Toyota should have easily thought about. If you want a Camry XSE don’t expect me to talk you out of it. Most likely you were going to buy one anyway, and I wouldn’t blame you. It’s a good price with a lot of stuff. The technology in it is really cool with the Bird’s Eye cameras. It allows you to get a full 360 degree view of your car from above, and then through your car. It’s seriously one of the best features I’ve seen on a car (watch the video below).
I’ve been waiting to talk to you about this one thing I loved more than anything. If Toyota said they were going to sell me a 1986 Camry for $40,000 with this one feature, I’d be like, “Fine, sure. Hell yeah.” All right, what’s the damn feature, dude? The JBL sound system. The pinnacle of my concert experience was finally getting to see Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden thanks to Reba last September. I have always heard how great MSG is for a concert. Nothing could prepare me for how much more than amazing it really is. Jimmie Vaughan opened for Gary Clark, Jr., and he for EC. Then all three played together at the end. It’s the third time I’ve seen Clapton live, and nothing compares to The Garden.
The sound quality inside the arena is so clear that you can hear every note, each word as if you’re being spoken to, or you’re the only person there and the sound system has been tweaked for just you. The JBL system in the 2018 Camry is as close as you’ll get to that without spending roughly six figures on a car. I’ve heard the Bowers & Wilkins, Burmester, and Bang & Olufson systems, and Toyota and JBL have done one hell of a job giving you a high-end experience in a mid-level price range. Playing a live Clapton album put me right back in my seat at The Garden.
In the end, the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6 is a good car. Outside of the sound system, there’s not a whole lot that’s amazing. It is simply good, and the Toyota will be paid off before it probably breaks down on you. If you want a car that can keep up with a BMW 330i on paper, while still costing less, having more room, and getting good fuel economy. The exterior looks alone will stand out well in any crowd, and if you opt for the red interior you’ll have everyone poking their heads in your windows to say “wow”. My test car, with the silver paint and black roof, was very striking. I became fond of the look, and I didn’t mind being seen in it. It fit the style of my new, modern neighborhood perfectly. It’s still just weird that a middle class family will be spending $39,235 for a Camry. But then they’d make a case to spend that on a BMW, wouldn’t they? So why not the Toyota Camry XSE V6 instead?