2018 has started with a few surprises in the automotive industry. First, Buick comes out with their all new station wagon, the Regal TourX. It’s very possible and not too far fetched to say that the TourX could reshape the opinions of consumers on whether crossovers are the best option when shopping for a vehicle that provides cargo space, practicality, and a relative sense of performance. The all new Kia Stinger GT is setting out to take on the likes of the Audi S5 Sportback, as it provides a surprisingly great driving experience and performance. Then you have the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE. The sedan that just might redefine the term, “entry level luxury”.
When you think of the Toyota Camry, performance and luxury are probably not the first adjectives you’d use to describe this sedan. In fact, most likely it’s practicality and reliability that are the more accurate terms. However for the 2018 Camry XSE, it feels as though Toyota has made a sedan that challenges all preconceptions, opinions, and perceptions that it’s just a car that will get you from point A to point B. Having had the opportunity to test drive this car at the New England International Auto Show, I can no longer look at the Toyota Camry as being a means of transportation for the average driver. Instead, the Camry has given me hope that during a daily commute to work, I can still have some fun behind the wheel and enjoy the driving experience without having to pay $45k+ on a new luxury vehicle.
With the very distinct and almost retro-like two-toned exterior, which is optional on the XSE, the Camry looks much more aggressive than in previous years. A black mesh front grille and 19″ wheels also adds a sporty appeal on this trim. For performance the XSE comes with a 3.5L V6 engine that gets 301 hp and 267 lb ft of torque and is paired with an 8 speed automatic transmission that do come with paddle shifters. You’ll go from 0-60 in 5.8 seconds which is 0.1 seconds slower than the Honda Accord 2.0T Touring but faster than the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
Inside you’re greeted by a very comfortable and spacious interior. For a car that’s not considered a full-sized sedan, the Camry comes with a lot of arm room. You don’t feel cramped, and you’re not so close to your passenger that it begins to feel uncomfortable. The most important aspect of the interior are the seats. Along with the two-toned exterior, you’ll get red sports seats that literally hug you while driving. It surprised me that I was behind the wheel of a Toyota with paddle shifters and was actually comfortable during the test drive.
I don’t know if it’s almost the two decades long biases I’ve had against the Camry or Toyota in general being a car enthusiast, but I was genuinely impressed with both the looks and driving experience.
Toyota has been marketing themselves lately as being more sporty and cool which didn’t make much sense to me prior to spending time with the Camry. However, I’m beginning to buy into their latest changes as the XSE is surprisingly fun to drive and provides a comfortable luxury-like driving experience.
The Camry XSE comes with a base price of $35k and can reach $39k fully loaded. While it could be argued that the Camry is reaching entry level German luxury sedan territory, what can’t be denied is that Toyota is beginning to offer some sense of luxury with performance. It will be interesting to see where the brand goes from here, as the redesigned Toyota Avalon shares the same design cues as the Camry, and the facelift looks just as good.
Japanese and Korean car makers are stepping up their game, and with that comes better designed cars. The next few years are going to be exciting, and for me, I’m looking forward to what’s down the road as car brands that weren’t emphasizing luxury at all, are beginning to offer features, styling, and performance that’s hard to pass up if you’re a consumer in the market for a sedan in the $35k – $40k price range.