by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it’s nothing like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, the 2018 Toyota Camry could perform a similar function.

It is an all-new four-door sedan that is intended to slow the tsunami of crossover sport utility vehicles that threaten to inundate the marketplace.

Sure, Toyota has plenty of its own SUVs and crossovers, including the truck-based Sequoia, Land Cruiser and 4Runner, and the crossover Highlander, RAV4 and C-HR to tantalize buyers. But it also has demonstrated strength with the Camry, the best-selling midsize sedan for 15 straight years.

2018_Toyota_Camry_LE_02_B20AA139B42DE10B882933077ECC41B939043174_lowThough it has declined recently as customers flock to crossovers and SUVs, it still is a giant in the marketplace. In 2015, Camry sales totaled 429,355. That dropped to 388,618 in 2016 and, in 2017, sales have been running at an annual rate of about 355,000.

So, there’s no hint that Toyota plans to ease off on its development of standard sedans, which once were the gold standard in the U.S.

In the mid-1980s, Ford’s Taurus owned the midsize sedan segment. But it eased off development of the brand to focus on its more profitable F-Series pickup trucks, which  became the all-time best seller. Meanwhile, the Taurus withered and died, though the name later was resurrected on other cars.

2018_Toyota_Camry_LE_01_D12DD6C73DE47B4C2ED8846274C98762B7FEFAE0_lowThere’s no way Toyota will let that happen to the Camry, even though the leadership there recognizes that it may not return to its past sales glory. Plus there’s the possibility that the crossover fad may fade.

Enter the 2018 Camry, which the company says is the best it has produced in the marque’s 33 year history. It is chockablock full of new styling, safety, entertainment and other innovations to tantalize buyers, many of whom are attracted to the name because of its enviable reputation for long-term durability and reliability.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_09_AE8B0ED5B895414D0555DD4A239A2999ADC67F74_lowBut this Camry also has the looks, value and feel to appeal to a broad swath of the motoring public. There are 10 versions with three different power trains, two transmissions and starting prices that range from the base L at $24,380 to $35,835 for the XSE V6. There are three hybrid trim levels: HV LE at $28,685, HV SE at $30,385 and HV XLE at $33,235.

Four of the 10 were driven for this review: HV LE hybrid; SE four-cylinder; XSE V6; and LE four-cylinder. The last is likely to be the best seller. Like the other four-cylinder models, its 2.5-liter engine makes 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is more than adequate for any driving situation on public roads. Its city/highway/combined fuel consumption is EPA rated at 28/39/32 mpg.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_21_17AE8D8EFBA9C2A3F36077CBDE608FAADE3F17DE_lowFor customers who seek more sporting sensations, Toyota offers the Camry S versions, which offer tighter steering, a slightly stiffer suspension system and more aggressive transmission shifting. There are four trim levels with hybrid, four-cylinder and V6 power trains.

Gasoline-engine models all get the power to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission which can be manually shifted with steering wheel paddles on S models. Hybrids use a smooth gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_28_D229B971678531D0B838E34892EBD78A38583C8E_lowIn the Camry tradition, all of the 2018 models display stylish interiors with quality trim and workmanship. The LE’s seats, covered in soft but durable cloth, are supportive and comfortable for long-distance cruising. The outboard back seats have abundant head and knee room, and the center-rear position, despite a hard cushion and floor hump, can accommodate an adult.

The steering is precise, with a good on-center feel. Along with the Camry’s new double-wishbone independent rear suspension system, it contributes to capable handling on twisting roads.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_29_C882F1ECBF650B53C14056C4946BDD4CD3966813_lowThe ride is cushy without being mushy and the only noticeable intrusion is some engine noise under hard acceleration. If you’d like something quieter, you can order the gasoline-electric hybrid, which has a fuel economy rating of 51/53/52 mpg. But in LE trim, it costs $3,800 more.

Toyota’s Safety Sense is standard and includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, brake hold, hill-start assist and automatic headlight high beams. Other safety equipment, such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, is standard on more expensive trim levels.

Two gripes: When the transmission is inadvertently left in “drive” and the engine is turned off, the Camry does not automatically shift into “park.” It rolls. And big C-hinges in the trunk are unprotected and could squish luggage.

Overall, however, this new Camry has the stuff to resist the crossover deluge.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XLE_07_3691F27FD618DAA4DAFBDC4B43CD3E0FBADC0D2B_lowSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Toyota Camry LE four-door sedan.
  • Engine:5-liter four-cylinder, 203 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 99/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,296 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/39/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $24,885.
  • Price as tested: $28,275.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2018_Toyota_Camry_SE_09_BCA4F22E6A0E552FA10C39DCBD381DA118C35E3D_lowPhotos (c) Toyota.