Executive Wheels: A Toyota That Tastes a Lot Like Meatloaf Tuesdays
Why mess with success – Unless you're looking for a little more color in your life
Right as I was gearing up to review this 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE sedan, I went to dinner with a friend and he picked me up in his hybrid Camry. He loves the car, couldn’t say enough about the deal he got two years ago, touted the gas mileage, and said it was excellent on long road trips. He used to have a Prius, hybrid of course, and noted that while the gas mileage in the hybrid Camry isn’t as good, the overall experience – its road worthiness – is much better.
I can’t dispute any of that. This 2018 model – the 8th generation of the venerable model that Toyota debuted in 1982 – has been redesigned and is overall bolder, with a more aggressive grille and lines, somewhat sleeker and rounded. But sitting in my friend’s 2016 model and then jumping into the new one, the interior seemed awfully similar and familiar. I suppose that is one of the hallmarks of any venerable model, that is, one that has been around for years: Why mess too much with success? You have to keep up with the pace of marketplace demands, but since the Camry has been a huge seller for 36 model years the changes made are incremental rather than revolutionary.
This is a wonderful car, really. I haven’t got anything particularly negative to say about it. It is well-made, comfortable, has all of the bells and whistles, is quiet, gets great gas mileage (44mpg city/47mpg highway), drives beautifully, has plenty of room, plenty of trunk space (which is a big plus for a hybrid that often needs to take trunk space for batteries), is beautiful to look at, and I’m sure will operate for years and years at a very high level. As sedans available in America go, this just might be the very best, especially for the money.
So do you suspect a hint of something wrong in how I have phrased all of this? A bit of hesitation?
Yes, but just a bit. While it’s a great car — as I said, maybe the best in this size class – it is humdrummingly boring. There’s just nothing exciting. It does everything you’d expect it to do. Every feature, even the high-tech ones involving apps and Bluetooth and voice commands, is intuitive and easy to use.
It’s just that as I was driving it I felt as though I would suddenly, inexplicably, take a turn into a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with, something in black-and-white and seemingly perfect, like that movie “Pleasantville.” I expected to get out of the car, go into my perfect home and say something like, “Honey I’m home. What’s for dinner?”, and have June Cleaver in pearls meet me and reply, “Why, meat loaf, of course. We always have meat loaf on Tuesday.” Oddly enough, I picked up my nearly 20-year-old son, asked his opinion of the car, and he said, “It’s boring.”
Frankly, I want more color in my life.
It’s not like Toyota can’t make cars with a little more flair. I hesitate to call the Camry derivative, because if you look around you’ll see that nearly every other sedan on the market looks like the Camry; Camry is the one they all copy and have been copying for decades. But the net effect is the same:
Meat loaf on Tuesdays.
But now I feel bad for having said that because this Camry is a wonderful car. If you’re in the market for a sedan, then Camry has to be high on your list; and if you care at all about your carbon footprint, this kind of gas mileage is a must. Toyota has long been a leader in hybrid technology, and to get a largish sedan like this to go 44/47 is simply amazing.
Here’s the great stuff:
This hybrid Camry has a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with some 176 horsepower, coupled with an electric motor rated at 118 hp. Because they don’t always work in tandem you can’t just add that up, so the net output in horsepower here is 208 horses, and this car is quick on city streets, smooth and powerful for passing on the highway, and never seems to strain. The car features a continuously variable automatic transmission that operates seamlessly and always seems to deliver the right amount of power for any situation. The car handles very well, too, with no lean in the curves, and a sense of control all the time.
Of course, there are cameras all around – this car is loaded – and it has this very cool “view” button which affords the driver a 360-degree bird’s-eye view from above (I don’t know how they do this), that makes the car very easy to park.
The leather seats are exceptional, the wireless phone charger is a plus, and there are plenty of power/USB/acc buttons in the appropriate places.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
The ubiquitous LCD screen is too big and distracting, and during the daylight hours it features this very drab white/grey color that is obnoxious. At night the screen lighting is fine, as it darkens and gets more interesting.
The climate control is easy to use, with knobs for temp, fan, mode, etc., and it worked great. The problem is the radio operation buttons are in the wrong place – too high up – and no matter how many miles I drove I kept reaching for the climate control knobs to adjust the sound system. It bugged me no end.
Okay, so the Camry has all of the modern bells and whistles, so I won’t go into detail. Suffice to say even the most geeky among you will find everything to your liking.
For the record, the base price on this XLE Hybrid is $32,250, and on top of $895 in destination charges, they added on a few thou for the bird’s-eye view camera, adaptive headlights with level control and auto off/on, a power moonroof, and the exclusive Toyota Entune audio and app suite that gives the car all of the aforementioned bells and whistles. The bottom line is $37,255 on the sticker provided, and that is a very competitive price for what’s here. Apparently, Toyota will deal, as my friend reported getting his two years ago, with all of the necessary bells and whistles but a little less than on mine, for around $25k.
Meat loaf not included.
RATING: THREE WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)