Behind the Wheel of the Swanky 2018 Toyota Camry XSE

If you’re a regular reader of my site, you already know that I get to drive a lot of different cars and write about them. Most recently, it was a silver 2018 Jeep Compass 4×4 that graced my driveway for a week as we took it through its paces in Colorado suburban life. This time, however, I didn’t get behind the wheel of yet another SUV but rather a surprisingly luxurious 2018 Toyota Camry.

A “luxurious” Camry? I can almost hear you snicker from here. But it’s true, the Camry with the XSE package was startlingly cool and comfortable, reminding me quite a bit of the considerably more expensive Mercedes line with its styling and performance – particularly in SPORT mode. And yet, the car has a 3.5L V6, not some monster engine. To start, though, an exterior shot so you can see what I’m talking about:

2018 toyota camry xse exterior

Looks like a luxury vehicle, doesn’t it? Clearly the Toyota designers took a lot of inspiration from their higher-end Lexus line with the style and amenities. One worth noting right up front too: a ridiculously big sunroof. Toyota calls it a “Panoramic Glass Roof” and you can see in this photo just how darn big it is:

2018 toyota camry xse panoramic sunroof

The first portion opens up as a moon roof too, but even without it open, just having the glass roof of the car makes it feel so much more roomy and expansive, particular to the rear seat passengers. Very nice.

Which isn’t to say that there might be a little bit of a learning curve figuring out how to control it:

2018 toyota camry sun roof moon roof controls

You’ve got that all figured out, right, and there’s no chance of accidentally pressing the SOS button and summoning emergency help? At least the button labels are clear, so you can indeed figure it all out pretty quickly. Bonus: Unlike the Jeep, the Camry makes it really easy to see how to enable or disable the interior light on door open feature.

While we’re talking about nice features, the Camry sports a heads up display similar to my Mazda CX-5. Speed, navigation, proximity sensor for blind spot monitoring, it’s darn convenient to have it on the windshield:

2018 toyota camry hud heads up

Heads up displays are notoriously difficult to photograph, sorry it’s a bit out of focus!

Speaking of the dashboard features, the main gauges have a layout straight out of a race car:

2018 toyota camry xse dash gauges

With an automatic – the XSE features a 6-speed ECTI transmission – there’s probably no reason to actually have a tachometer, since you’re not going to shift differently based on how fast your engine is revving. Unless you want to use the paddle shifters, though car manufacturers tell me that a vanishingly small percentage of drivers even know what they are.

Look closely above and you’ll see another feature of note: Fuel efficiency. In ECO mode, I was seeing around 26mpg, but once you jump into SPORT mode and have some fun with the zippy pickup of this engine, fuel efficiency drops accordingly. For the few hundred miles I drove the Camry XSE I averaged about 25.4 mpg, as shown above. As always, it’d be nice if it were 10mpg better, but still, no real complaints with a car in this luxury sedan class.

Where it does feel like a videogame is when you pop into reverse. Because, well, check it out:

backup cameras, toyota camry xse

Through some neat camera processing , the left view is the camera mounted above the license plate, while the right view is a synthesized overhead shot. There’s no drone floating over your vehicle, it’s all done with magic. And it’s really cool. In this shot you can see just what a terrible job of parking between the lines I did.

Note: before you get up in arms about my horrible parking job, know the parking lot was completely empty when I showed up to have a little photo session with the vehicle. No other cars were unable to park because of my diagonal parking job. 🙂

Another neat thing: Qi charging, built in to the dash system. Here it is charging a shiny new Samsung Galaxy S9:

qi charging pad, toyota camry

Great idea, but with a rather daft mistake: the surface isn’t non-slip so it’s a constant challenge to ensure that the phone is optimally positioned to charge as you take turns, brake, accelerate and do everything else characteristic of a typical day behind the wheel of a vehicle. I suspect owners have some sort of smart solution to this problem, either a non-slip sticker on the phone case or something similar on the surface itself.

And, finally, the performance mode buttons and cup holders:

2018 toyota camry xse interior

All in all, I really enjoyed the heck out of driving the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE 4-door, both enjoying the curb appeal of its sleek red design and the driving experience. If you want to really enjoy driving this little performance vehicle, though, definitely ensure you have it in SPORT mode, because otherwise the low-end shifting is clumsy.

The most amazing thing: The price tag. I don’t often say that about a vehicle, but when I got into this car and drove it around for a bit I was convinced it was in the $50K ballpark. Turns out that, as configured and with some optional packages included, the price tag was $38,220. That’s a heck of a deal for this Camry, it’s definitely one to check out if you’re in the market for a luxury sedan.

AS DRIVEN: 2018 Toyota Camry 4-Door XSE V6 Sedan in Ruby Flare Pearl. Optional: Driver Assist Package, Navigation Package, Special Color. MSRP: $34,950. As Driven: $38,220.

Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the Camry XSE for a week in return for this writeup. Thanks, Toyota!

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