Rotten Rental Car Review: 2018 Toyota Camry

Whenever I travel to Colorado, renting a car is always a gamble. Yes, there are mountains out here and yes it snows, but each time I decline that additional insurance at the rental car company’s check-in desk, the clerk behind the counter starts some persuasive monologue in an attempt to sway me out of my current choice of wheels. It’s almost hilarious, and at times I just want to play along with their game.
Disclaimer: Ignore the word “rotten” in the title. This rental deserves praise rather than comical criticism.
Guilt trips like “Are you going up to the ski resorts? You’ll probably want four-wheel-drive to get over the pass,” or “A four-cylinder will not be a good choice to make it up the mountains on your drive to Summit County, you should upgrade to something with more power.” I wage war with my smile and try and keep-on a straight face, nodding my head in a faux naive state, as I’m desperately talked into paying more for a V-8 Tahoe. But in all reality, and having both lived in Colorado and traveled around this wonderful state I know that it is possible to drive up steep winding passes with names like Berthoud, Vail and Independence, in a small, front- or all-wheel drive four-cylinder car, even in heavy snow. It’s called just using common sense and being safe.
On a recent long weekend trip to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to ski, Advantage Rental Car put me in a 2018 Toyota Camry for the next four days. I was actually content with what was parked in spot 215 because the Camry did get just a complete redesign and is easily one of the most important cars out on the market right now. By the time I got on the road at around 11:45 at night, conditions for the 144-mile drive west to Glenwood Springs turned for the worse, with parts of I-70 shutdown and the CDOT’s traffic conditions map all lit up in varying shades of blue for snow, blowing snow, and ice.
This Camry, in LE trim, had all-weather tires on it and even with its hokey-pokey four-cylinder engine, had no trouble whatsoever skirting west up I-70 in treacherous road conditions. I was impressed and again, on my drive back into Denver when a snowstorm hit its hardest a few miles from the city, the Camry felt confident and planted in harsh weather where typical crossovers and SUVs in neighboring lanes were crawling along at a slower pace.

While the Camry continually sits at the “top-selling cars in America” table month after month, and though I don’t know if I would ever own one personally because they’re just too common, the Camry is a really, really good car. I’ve grown up with Camrys. I took my drivers test in a 1998 XLE that had leather seats, every option and a thunderous V-6, and my mother currently has a 2009 Camry Hybrid.
This 2018 model got an entirely new exterior and interior along with a slew of other upgrades and enhancements to make Toyota’s best-selling car even better than the last Camry. First off, it looks better, much better, and every time I’ve seen one driving on the road or photos in a magazine I can’t help but think to myself, “Wow, that looks really good. I can’t believe I’m saying that about a Camry.”
Like all other Camrys I’ve driven in my life, having spent a stint in high-school working at a Toyota dealership, this 2018 model is easy and effortless to drive. It’s smooth, turns easily and like it does in rough weather, the Camry sticks to the road more than the outgoing model. Its suspension soaks up any kind of bump, big or small, much more noticeable, too.
Inside the cabin, the Camry doesn’t look as boring or depressing. Fake stitched leather, aluminum-like accents cover the dash area and a panel of flowing piano-black plastic cascades at an obscure angle down to the center console area. Toyota still provides buttons and knobs for the climate control and audio systems, like every auto manufacturer should do, and the touch-screen infotainment system responds relatively well. Two things of note- there was only one USB charger and this LE model didn’t have push-button start, which I’m fine with but may shy away other buyers.

Power-adjustable seats were, eh, somewhat comfortable but after nearly four-hours, my upper legs and butt started to ache from the flat seat bottoms and sadly the lumbar only when in-and-out, not up-or-down too. I found visibility excellent out the front and side windows, especially thanks in-part to the belting of the car that gently slopes downward as it approaches the front of the A-pillar. Looking over my shoulder to make any kind of lane change was a bit tedious, as this new Camry’s C-pillars obscure that blind spot sight line. The 40/60 split-folding rear seat allowed for a pair of skis and snowboard to fit though the opening itself is a tad narrow. Overall trunk space was still generous for additional luggage and not sacrificed after various winter outdoor recreation gear filled portions of it.
There were plenty of safety features on this Camry apart from the backup camera. This LE, which starts at around $24,000, Toyota’s Standard Safety Sense suite, featuring a front pre-collision alert system, automatic high beams, and lane departure assist. The later system, LDA, monitors your lane position and if you drift a bit too far over one direction, will beep at you and gently nudge the steering wheel the opposite direction to position the car back in the center of the lane, a cool magic trick I showed a friend riding shotgun. Oddly enough though, this car was void of any kind of blind spot monitoring system. The front collision alert and also its laser-guided cruise control, routinely failed to work because the sensors became too dirty. This was frustrating because on a 75 mph highway, I could not figure out how to engage cruise control the old fashion way, sans radar. A case in point of when technology in cars becomes too complex and fails to work.
Under the Camry’s hood was the 203 horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder that had enough grunt to bomb around town and get up to highway speed on an on-ramp, but passing cars on the interstate proved to be a work out. I honestly wasn’t a fan of the eight-speed transmission either, I found it unrefined and constantly searching for gears. I do give it praise as I had no issue at all manually downshifting or up shifting when traversing up and around icy, steep mountain roads at 2am. Fuel economy was also impressive, and after all the heavy highway driving in adverse conditions and bumper-to-bumper traffic, the Camry still returned 32.7 mpg. I still think Toyota however, is falling short on two things mechanically with their popular mid-size sedan: it needs all-wheel-drive and a manual. Honda answered the enthusiasts’s plea and still offers three-pedals and a six-speed in their great, brand-new Accord.
People in America are oddly and hilariously obsessed with crossovers which I think is just embarrassing. If you’ve read any of my other posts on here, you’ll know I have a profound disgust for them. I think crossovers are just stupid, and it seems like less and less people are buying four-door sedans. Mid-size sedan sales are down 15% and crossovers up 12.8% year-over-year. Last month, Nissan sold 38,119 Rogues, which makes it the third best selling vehicle in the states after the Ford F-Series and Chevy Silverado pickups. I hope Toyota’s strong effort to try and make the Camry the best in its class pays-off and changes this, because for the average car buyer who just needs something safe, comfortable, reliable and simple to drive around- the Camry is a solid choice. I’d much rather see more Camrys on the road than overhyped RAV4s (Toyota’s sold 56,522 of them this year) and cliché C-HRs.
Camry sales this year compared to last with 30,865 sold in February 2018 alone. Competitors in the crowded mid-size class have yet to catch up with Toyota’s leader, which moves ahead of Honda’s Accord, selling just 19,753 in Feb. 2018, Nissan’s Altima (19,703), and the Ford Fusion (16,721).
So please, don’t knock the Camry or hate on it. Sure it’s not the most fun or unique car to buy or sexiest to look at, but it is a very, very good car for what it’s intended to do and for its target audience.
[Image ©  / Robby DeGraff]

By |2018-03-21T08:00:59+00:00March 21st, 2018|Featured, Rotten Rental Car Reviews, Toyota Reviews|27 Comments

We the Author:

By day, Robby DeGraff is an Industry Analyst for an automotive market research and product-consulting firm. Based an hour from Road America in Wisconsin, he once piloted a Suzuki Jimny around Iceland for two weeks in the middle of winter. Robby still has his first car, a red 2001 Camaro, a Saabaru with 233,000 miles and a 1981 Honda CB650. Someday he lusts to own a first-generation Aston Martin Vanquish or a Volkswagen Vanagon.
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