The prospect of being an Uber X driver just got a lot more appealing.
At least in New York City, where they all seem to drive four-cylinder Toyota Camrys. That used to mean a life of reliable, affordable, anonymous dullsville, but now there’s an all-new Camry that not only looks like it might be something you’d want to drive, but is.
Toyota has come to the realization that styling is as important as every other trait these days, and it has put a little effort into this time around. Instead of a slab, cheap-to-build body, the 2018 Camry is sculpted with bulging fenders and character lines that I daresay flow. The aardvark-esque grille may be a bit much for some, but it’s… distinctive?
No one cares what their car is going to look like when they order it up on an app, of course, but when one of these pulls up, you’ll likely step back and check it out. Once inside, you’ll be pleased with the roomy backseat, (the droopy cupholder-equipped armrest not withstanding,) but the driver gets the best stuff.
The dashboard design is much more interesting than the last Camry’s, without being muddied by any wonky functionality. All of the knobs and buttons are right where they should be, and there’s a nice big storage space on the center console that can be covered with an optional wireless charging pad.
Everything in the cabin that doesn’t matter or get touched often is made of hard, cheap plastic, but the rest of it is what you’d expect in a sedan that starts at $24,390. The leather steering wheel in the sporty, top-of-the-line XSE I tested felt particularly excellent.
All Camrys come standard with a pedestrian-spotting automatic emergency braking system that makes life easier in the big city and is bundled with adaptive cruise control for those highway runs to the airport. There’s also a hold function like some of those fancy Uber Black cars have that lets you take your foot off the brake as you wait for a traffic light without creeping forward until you press the gas. When you do, even more improvements start to unfold.
This Camry is one of those cars that impresses by the time you pull out of a parking space, especially if you’ve driven one of the old ones, which were weak-kneed and soft, bobbing and creaking down the road. This one feels responsive and tight, but not stiff. The suspension gently caresses bumps without upsetting the car or anyone in it.
The new 2.5-liter engine delivers a very healthy 203 hp through an eight-speed automatic transmission. That’s 25 horsepower and two gears more than the 2017 edition had, and they come with a combined fuel economy rating of 32-34 mpg, depending on the trim level. That’s a huge 19- to 26-percent improvement in efficiency, worth an easy three or four hundred bucks a year for the average driver, and even more for a high-mileage hack.
Extra fuel economy and power are available, but not at the same time. There are hybrid versions good for over 50 mpg, and a V6 engine option with 301 hp that makes a good argument for the Camry being Toyota’s NASCAR entry. The increased price entry for both is significant, though, and you can’t get either in the Camry’s lowest and most affordable trims.
That’s fine, because the four-cylinder Camry is in such a sweet spot now that you might as well mark it with an X.
2018 Toyota Camry
Base price: $24,390
As tested: $32,253
Type: front-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 4-door sedan
Engine: 2.5-liter inline-4-cylinder
Power: 203 hp, 184 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
MPG: 28 city/39 hwy