Driving the First 300 Horsepower Toyota Camry
For a very long time, the Toyota Camry sold well despite the constant criticism that it wasn’t much fun to drive, but over the course of the last decade, the company has gone to great lengths to improve the driving experience of the midsized sedan. With the newest generation, the company introduced the SE and XSE packages with unique bodywork, suspension bits and chassis tuning, but the automaker also introduced a new 3.5-liter V6. With 301 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque, this new mill is considerably more powerful, making this Camry the best-driving version to date.
Recently, I spent a week driving the 2018 Toyota Camry with the 301-horsepower V6 and while I did not have one of the sporty packages, the new sedan was still far more enjoyable to drive in its premium luxury trim.
My Test Car
My 2018 Toyota Corolla XLE V6 test car came with the Driver Assist Package and the Navigation package, both of which added a total of $1,990 to the $34,400 base price. It also had illuminated door sill guards ($299), an upgraded carpet floormat set ($224) and destination fees ($895) for a price of tested of $37,808.
For well under $40,000, you get everything discussed below and really, if you didn’t want navigation or the fancy door sill guards, you could down into the $35k range. For that price, you get an impressive amount of standard content, much of which was far more common in luxury sedans over the past decade.
Before I pulled out of my driveway with the 2018 Camry XLE, I was impressed by the premium interior spread. All of the seats are wrapped in plush leather with the front seats featuring heated surfaces and power control, with the center console cover, parts of the door panels, parts of the dash board and the steering wheel also being wrapped in matching leather. My XLE test car had wood trim running through the middle of the dash that flows down to the shifter area, accentuating the big, beautiful infotainment touchscreen.
That big screen is part of Toyota’s Entune infotainment package, incorporating all of the key controls for the interior of the new Camry into one easy-to-use panel. The touchscreen is joined by some traditional buttons and knobs for the sound system and the climate control, as well as addition controls on the steering wheel. The driver seldom needs to take his or her hands off of the wheel to make simple radio adjustments and for those folks who don’t love touchscreen technology, things like radio volume, the radio station or the interior temperature are all easily accessed through “hard” controls.
Oddly, there is no premium sound system upgrade offered for the Camry XLE V6, but the standard 9-speaker JBL system is very good, as smaller, stock systems go. Audiophiles might look to upgrade the speakers, but for the average driver, this sound system sounds great.
While the big touchscreen is the star of the 2018 Camry technology show, the 7-inch TFT driver information display and the 10-inch, multi-color heads-up display work together to give this midsized sedan a premium feel that everyone in the car can appreciate. The experience is best from the driver’s seat, but this is a cabin that everyone can enjoy.
The cherry on top is the big, beautiful panoramic glass roof that is standard equipment on the Camry XLE. The front lifts and retracts while the portion of the rear seat is a fixed glass panel, with a mechanical shade that runs along the entire assembly for when you want to block out the sun.
Driving the 301hp Camry
While the new Camry is offered in the sportier XSE trim with sport-tuned suspension, my test car was from the luxury side of the model lineup, but it had the same basic drivetrain. This includes the 301-horsepower V6 that makes this the quickest and most powerful Camry to date, and that power makes for a peppy midsized sedan.
When you stomp the throttle from a stop, the new V6 Camry will spin the front tires just a bit before quickly accelerating up through the gears. I didn’t measure 0-60 or anything like that, but having driven several generations of the Camry, this one is the quickest based on the old “seat of the pants dyno” from a stop. It also pulls hard through the mid-range, pulling well up past any posted speed limit in Michigan in a hurry, so this Camry satisfies the need for speed better than any of its predecessors. This is particularly when you engage “sport mode”, which sharpens up throttle response and adjusts the shift points to bolster performance. In some non-performance models, sport modes don’t do much, but with the new Camry XLE V6, it makes the car more responsive and even more fun to drive.
Where the XSE model has sport-tuned suspension, the XLE has dampers that are tuned to offer a smooth ride, and they make good on that. However, the luxury-level Camry still does a nice job of handling the curves around town and on the open road. This isn’t a model that someone is going to buy to go racing, but more than any of the models in the past, the newest Camry XSE combines power and comfort.
Really, the comfort aspect of the 2018 Camry XLE V6 should be emphasized here, as that is the prime focus of this package. The interior is gorgeous and the ride is both smooth and quiet, but when you have to get somewhere in a hurry – the 301-horsepowwer V6 gets it done better than any Camry engine in the past.
Finally, I was impressed by the fuel economy capabilities of the new Camry with the V6 engine. The EPA expects figures of 33 miles per gallon on the highway and 26mpg combined. I made one 50-mile, all-highway run during which time I had the cruise set at 72 miles per hour. On that trip, with the only non-highway driving being a 3-mile turnaround in the middle, I averaged 35.1 miles per gallon without any special driving techniques. As a result of the great fuel economy on the highway, I also exceeded the combined number, averaging around 28mpg over the course of the week.
The Final Word
If the Toyota Camry has appealed to you in the past for its efficiency, reliability, affordability and overall quality, but you weren’t impressed enough with the driving dynamics to pull the trigger and buy one – you will want to drive a new model with the 301-horsepower V6. If you really want a sportier driving experience, the XSE package might be the answer, but for anyone who wants a car that embodies all of the traditional advantages of the Camry with a more engaging drive and a premium interior layout, the 2018 Camry XLE might be your ideal new car.