Green With Less Beige In It: The 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

Front 3/4 of 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE
The 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE.
There are very few things that haven't happened to me in 20 years of professionally reviewing cars (there was 11 years of doing just that on local radio and television in Arizona before we launched TireKicker globally in the fall of 2008 and expanded five years later with a move of TireKicker World Headquarters to Folsom, California while maintaining a bureau in Phoenix). 

$75,000 Jaguar bent...not bashed, but the frame bent....by an 80-something lady in a (then) 18-year-old, four-cylinder Mustang with handicapped plates backing out of a space at the supermarket and cutting the wheel too soon, then pressing harder and harder on her accelerator when her car stopped backing up (because it was pressed up against the rear quarter-panel of the Jag)?  Check. 

Flat tire in a pre-production Chevy Tahoe during a press event with no spare on board and the two-way radio out of range somewhere in the Superstition Mountains?  Check. 

Brand new Mercedes-Benz (the unloved C230 coupe) that decided, while parked in a mall parking lot, to put reverse where third gear should be and every other gear in someplace other than where the good Lord intended?  Been there, done that, got the sheepish apology from M-B who thought I must have abused their ride until they found out that someone at the factory forgot to tighten a bolt.

But never...never...has anyone stopped to compliment me on a Toyota Camry.  And with the new 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE it happened three times.

Rear 3/4 view of 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE
2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE.

The admirers?  Two lot jockeys for a local rental car firm, both in their early 20's, I'd guess, both of whom move bland four-doors around all day long for a living, and both of whom rushed up to me when they saw me approach the car, asking "Is this the '18 Camry?  Sweet!  How do you like it?  How much is it?"

The other was a 40-something dad in the parking lot of a convenience market, who couldn't stop talking about what a great looking car it was and how Toyota had done a great job. I figured he must be in a previous-gen Camry, so when we were finished I watched to see what he was driving.  Late model Range Rover.

The "beige" reference in the headline of this review is an allusion to the commonly-held belief, especially in enthusiast circles, that the Camry is and has been to cars what beige is to colors...the blandest, most "meh" thing on the planet. That was always a disservice to what has been a very popular, tremendously reliable automobile, but with the '18 Camry's new design, Toyota's more emotional design language (evident in varying degrees of success on Lexuses and the current generation Prius) makes it to the bread-and-butter family sedan.  The Phoenix Bureau has referred to this as Toyota's "Angry Birds" school of design...and the Bureau has a point.  But it's pulled off infinitely better in the new Camry.

Toyota is on to something here.  And then there's the hybrid factor.  The net power of the 2.5-liter gasoline engine and the electric motor is 208 horsepower.  It's more than quick enough. But Toyota is getting very nearly Prius mileage numbers out of the 2018 Camry Hybrid.  51 mpg city/53 highway.  The Prius is 54/50.  The tiny Prius C only manages 48/43.

And the good news continues with the window sticker.  Camry Hybrids start at $27,800.  The Camry Hybrid SE is $29,500.

Interior view of 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE interior.
What do you get for that money besides the racy looks and the otherworldly mileage?  Quite a bit.  The following is standard:

  • 18-inch black machined-finish alloy wheels.
  • Bi-LED combination headlights with auto on/off.
  • LED daytime running lights with on/off feature.
  • A black front grille with sport mesh insert.
  • Color-keyed heated power outside mirrors with turn signal and blind spot warning indicator.
  • Washer-linked intermittent windshield wipers.
  • High solar energy absorbing glass.
  • An acoustic noise-reducing front windshield.
  • A color-keyed rear-spoiler
  • Single exhaust with dual chrome tips.
  • Dual-zone automatic climate control with air filter, electric compressor and humidity sensor.
  • Qi-compatible wireless phone chargine
  • Integrated backup camera with projected path.
  • A 4.2-inch multi-information display.
  • Sport SofTex trimmed heated front seats with fabric inserts, seatback pockets, 8-way power adjustable for the driver, 6-way manual for the passenger.
  • 60/40 split fold-down rear seats.
  • Leather-trimmed tilt/telescopic three-spoke sport steering wheel with paddle shifters and steering wheel controls.
  • Smart Key System on front doors and trunk with pushbutton start, remote keyless entry and remote illuminated entry.
  • Power windows with four-window auto up/down.
  • Overhead console with maplights, sunglass storage and Safety Connect button.
  • Pre-collision system with pedestrian dectection.
  • Lane departure alert with steering assist.
  • Automatic high beams.
  • Dynamic radar cruise control. 
  • Enhanced vehicle stability control.
  • Traction control.
  • Four-wheel anti-lock brakes.
  • Electronic brake force distribution.
  • Brake assist.
  • Smart stop.
  • Ten airbags.
  • Tire pressure monitoring system.

Again, that's all standard.  For $29,500.  Ten years ago, that was a $60,000 Lexus equipment list and some of the things on it simply didn't exist at any price.

Our tester had options, including a convenience package with a HomeLink universal transceiver and auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass for $325; a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert for $600; a moonroof with power tilt/slide for $900; an upgraded Entune audio and nav system including HD Radio, Sirius XM Satellite Radio and the Entune app suite for $1,080.  And the Ruby Flare Pearl paint is a special color, so there's another $395.

With destination prep and handling of $895, the bottom line rings in at $33,965.  We routinely see a lot less car for a bit more money here at TireKicker World Headquarters.  But now, the 2018 Camry Hybrid SE doesn't have to be a purely rational purchase.  Your emotions can play as well.  And that is a major step forward for the Camry nameplate.