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, came equipped with 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 are up some 16% 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]

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27 responses to “Rotten Rental Car Review: 2018 Toyota Camry”

  1. Fred Avatar

    The last time I rented a Camry was about 4 years ago and it was a 4 cyl SE model. Comfortable car that I put about 200 miles on and it barely moved the gas gauge. I was going up into the Sierra foothills from the SF Bay Area to an elevation of just over 4000′ The problem was I was behind some Nissan going about 65, until a passing lane opened up and he speed up to keep me behind. I couldn’t get that Toyota to go over 80 mph. Expecially frustrating because I knew my A3 could take that grade at over 100 mph.
    The other thing I didn’t like it was the small trunk opening. Again, my A3 would of swalled the patio chairs without problem.
    It was part of the reason I ended up replacing the little Audi with a TSX Sportwagon. Not that it’s fast, but at lease I can put a few patio chairs in the back and take that grade at about 90 mph. Maybe more if I had to pass a stupid Nissan.

    1. Professor LavaHUPT Avatar
      Professor LavaHUPT

      The small trunk openings on these cars are likely reason enough for many consumers to look at crossovers. I may not ever go off-road, but I’m routinely trying to jam boxes things into my Civic’s mail slot of a trunk opening and driving around with it half-open.
      Buick saw the wisdom of a wagon! Maybe Honda will follow suit!
      I would buy a 2018 Accord Wagon tomorrow! Not a semi-crossover wagon like the Crosstour, a WAGON.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        Wagon, wagon, hmm… that’s an interesting concept. Like an BMW X6, but with proper head space in the rear, and you’ll climb down instead of up, right? So you end up with a practical car that’s 1/2 ton lighter? I have to tell my neighbors!

  2. Shingo Avatar

    It sticks to the road better because “it’s grounded to the ground.”

  3. nanoop Avatar

    Two thoughts:
    No push button start is shying away people? I am astonished.
    Also: 2.5L 4cyl with +200hp, is this a turbo?

    1. Fred Avatar

      On the TSX forum, yea people complain about the lack of luxury stuff, mostly push button start.

      1. robbydegraff Avatar

        I prefer the key method honestly.

    2. robbydegraff Avatar

      Good thoughts-
      You’d be surprised how many people might cringe at the lack of a push-button start these days in a new car.
      And it’s actually NA, no turbo on this model or the six-cylinder.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        Two afterthoughts, then:
        Having a physical key required to turn over the engine (on key or button) is a safety measure; I envision kids playing in the car, hitting the start button, and the car lurches over their parents with their vicinity-will-arm-all-functions-fob in their pockets. I don’t know if that scenario is legally possible, though. There must be more paranoids around than only me.
        An I4 2.5L NA is exactly what produced 160hp in the 80ies in not-a-real-Porsche using not-a-real-emission-control.This is a good time to buy internal combustion engines!

        1. salguod Avatar

          I don’t think the car will start unless the key is actually inside. I believe that’s true of my two push button cars, 2007 Prius & 2015 Accord. Plus, you’d have to reach the brake to move the gear lever (or to start it, frankly.)

  4. Alff Avatar

    Glenwood Springs has been the last overnight stop on my family trips for almost 20 years, as it is home to the world’s largest hotspring fed pool and our trips generally involve a lot of hiking and climbing. The town used to be notable for the moderately sulfurous aroma. The last couple of years the air has been filled with a very different aroma.

  5. HoondavanDude Avatar

    Had one as a rental last fall. It looked pretty aggressive in the higher trim level I had (still a 4cyl). Red stitching on black leather, if I remember correctly. It moved along fine and returned excellent fuel economy. It also sounded terrible. It accelerated under extreme protest and seemed to be hunting for gears any time it was asked to change pace. Yes, there was a sport mode and paddle shifters…but directing a shift was more of a suggestion than a command. I also can’t stand when the trunk hinges wind up taking up storage space in the trunk.
    You’re preaching to the choir about the lack of MT and wagon options. Toyota’s engine tech sounds pretty low-tech compared to the competition…but it’s tough to argue with the fuel economy results.
    It’s also has the whole “grounded to the ground” thing going for it, which is nice.

    1. Eric Rucker Avatar

      The trick is that it’s actually not low-tech, it just doesn’t have a turbo.
      That said, everything I’ve heard is that the transmission is pretty bad. I wonder how the hybrid would do, seeing as it won’t have an unrefined stepped-gear automatic… (I have a Prius with a smaller version of the 2018 Camry’s hybrid system, and I’m quite satisfied with it. Is it a manual in terms of driver engagement? No, but it does what I want it to, when I want it to do it.)

      1. HoondavanDude Avatar

        Yes, I’m sure there’s quite a bit of tech involved with getting a big 4cyl to return that kind of economy on such a big/heavy car. The insurgence of turbo-everything (marketing) may imply otherwise. I admit my driving wasn’t necessarily typical…as I was trying to see how it responded to spirited driving. My wife did complain when it groaned and complained about seemingly normal on-ramp acceleration.

    2. HoondavanDude Avatar

      I felt compelled to update this comment after spending another two days and 400 miles in a rented Camry. I arrived at National car rental after midnight and while I only paid for a Hyundai Elantra, the camry was the only sedan available. News of this “upgrade” was met with a shoulder shrug. In hindsight, it was in fact an upgrade.
      My first 30 miles were spent on winding 2-lane drive through the foothills. After some taps of the paddle the car actually seemed pretty competent at selecting and holding the right gear on its own. Even in regular (not sport) mode, the car seemed 10x more logical than my prior experience. The rest of the trip was interstate cruising . The most surprising thing was that I actually liked the sound of the engine on rural 2-lane roads. It was pretty easy to hold a gear and hear the engine sing at the upper limits. Maybe I’ve just gone numb from driving a VW 1.8TSI (alltrack) that makes zero sound and loses steam at the top of the tach? This could also have something to do with the fact this trip was just me, instead of the 4 people + luggage I usually had in my last Camry rental.
      I was unimpressed by the tech features. The car required some Toyota proprietary interface phone interface which didn’t work nearly as well as Android Auto. I think the navigation functions may have been limited by the software, I can only assume rental car companies still disable navigation so people will still have to pay them to rent a GPS? Do people even still do that?
      The radar cruise control was maddening. On the interstate it would hit the brakes any time you came within a few hundred yards of another car…way before it would be appropriate to put a blinker on and move to the passing lane. If you were looking to pass you’d have to actively press the gas to maintain your speed and go around the slower car. I suppose it worked OK if you were looking to match the speed of the car in front of you.
      Anyhow, my views of this car have moved from “terrible” to “If I needed to buy an automatic shift big sedan, I’d consider this one for the right price.”

  6. Sjalabais Avatar

    Excellent, honest review! My experience with rental counters is that they will try to cheat you as best they can: “Want to upgrade to something bigger at only double the price?”, well knowing there is a free upgrade around the corner already. But super CDC is something I like to book.
    We own an ’02 Camry, a super rare car in Europe, and its 4 cylindre puts out “only” 160-ish hp. Maybe I am confusing adequate with powerful, but I can’t come up with a situation in which our boat came across as lacking oomph. A 200hp sedan that feels sluggish? That’s outside of my perception of reality.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      To be fair Robby didn’t say it felt sluggish, rather the opposite apart from perhaps noting the car had to work at high speeds at high elevation – no surprise there. Frame of reference is important too – I remember getting into a standard Falcon after driving a turbo and thinking “where did the engine go?”
      Worrying about overtaking on US interstate highways is amusing to me, being used to two-lane roads – where you have to worry about oncoming cars!
      The last Camry I drove was the old model about 18 months ago as a hire car; a perfectly reasonable transportation appliance, if lacking in angry-styling ‘flair’ that most people don’t care about.

    2. Eric Rucker Avatar

      From what I’ve heard in every review, the transmission is quite sluggish to downshift, and being an 8-speed it may need to downshift a lot to get into the powerband.
      So, the horsepower peak’s way up at 6500 RPM, but you’re down at 2000 RPM, where you’ve got about 62 hp to work with, until it decides to downshift three or four or five gears.

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        HP is overrated. It’s low-end torque that gets the car moving. I do despise sluggish transmissions, though.

        1. Eric Rucker Avatar

          Ultimately, it’s wheel torque that produces acceleration, and ultimately, if your gearing allows you to get the engine to its horsepower peak at your current vehicle speed, more horsepower means more wheel torque.
          Improved low-end torque means that you get more horsepower at low RPM, which means that you may not need to downshift to get the wheel torque necessary for your desired acceleration. And, with stepped-gear transmissions, wider gear ratios can maintain good acceleration because the power curve is broader. But, close ratio many-speed gearboxes can maintain good acceleration on a peaky engine, or CVTs that can just hold the engine at its power peak for the entire duration of acceleration can do that even better, perfectly maximizing wheel torque.
          (Of course, then, the issue with CVTs is that people perceive changes in acceleration more than the acceleration itself, and CVTs tuned properly don’t provide the relatively dramatic changes in acceleration of a stepped-gear transmission (whether a torque converter automatic, a dual-clutch transmission, a robotized manual, or an actual manual).)
          Improved low-end torque also generally means lower-RPM operation, which reduces wear on the engine. (However, on turbocharged engines, it often means high boost operation, which can counteract that, and can greatly worsen fuel efficiency. In fact, I suspect some of this new Camry’s engine efficiency is from its relatively poor low-end torque – what’s most likely poor volumetric efficiency at low RPM means there’s not as much excessive intake charge, and therefore it can run wide open throttle efficiently.)
          Basically, if you have a transmission with enough ratio choices and fast downshifting, horsepower really is what you want. Low-end torque (which means low-end horsepower) means you don’t need as many ratio choices or as fast downshifting, but horsepower still matters.

          1. outback_ute Avatar

            Modern engines with variable valve timing and intake manifold runners do an incredible job of getting 80-90% of peak torque at 2000 rpm so there aren’t the trade-offs there used to be.
            More likely is an over-aggressive emphasis on fuel economy with the transmission tuning. I encountered that in a Mitsubishi Outlander hire car driving in a hilly area, where it would try to keep the engine below 1500 rpm even as I increased the throttle opening for a hill and the speed would drop before it would rev to 3-4000 rpm and zoom off (relatively speaking). Not a smooth experience at all.
            Probably gives great figures on the official testing which I gather has pretty gentle acceleration, but bad in the real world. The next trick is to have a sport mode that keeps rpm unnecessarily high at all times…

          2. Zentropy Avatar

            I didn’t mean to suggest that horsepower doesn’t matter, only that it’s overrated. Most of what people sense as “power” in a car is actually torque. Two engines can have similar peak hp figures but vastly different torque curves. I’ve had fun in both “torquey” and “revvy” cars, but they give different experiences. Those with grunt down low and flatter torque curves can perform well with few gears, but often run out of steam higher in the rpm band. Those with torque that doesn’t develop until higher rpms are a blast to rev to redline, but can feel anemic down low, and need more gearing steps to keep things moving. In short, torque rules at first, while hp is more important at speed.
            The rpms, transmission gearing, and axle differential gearing all determine torque at the driving wheels, with the gears acting as a multiplier. CVTs don’t actually hold the engine at the power peak– they keep it at the engine’s “sweet spot”, somewhere between the rpms of peak torque (force) and peak hp (power). Regardless, transmission and differential gearing are critical to perceived and actual performance.

  7. Zentropy Avatar

    Good review. Honestly, there’s nothing really wrong with the Camry (other than typical botched Toyota styling), but there’s nothing distinctively great about it, either. That’s the problem– it’s a driving appliance. Good for its intended function, but nothing inspirational.

  8. Alff Avatar

    When spotted out of the corner of my eye, the new Camry is somewhat attractive and distinctive. Then I look at it face on and realize it’s not that it’s so good, it’s that the competition lacks distinction. As much as a new, reliable sedan would serve my needs and make my life better (I spend waaay too much time on the creeper) there’s no way I’m plunking down my money for that ugly plastic face.

  9. tonyola Avatar

    This Camry might make a fine transporation capsule, but all things considered, I’d rather have an Accord.

    1. Zentropy Avatar

      I agree. In my experience, Camrys ride better and are a bit quieter (but have numb steering), while Accords handle better with a tad more road noise, but with more steering feel. Neither would win a beauty contest, but I’d take the Accord too, no question.

  10. MattC Avatar

    I remember having a Camry as a rental in Colorado in the mid 1990’2. It was a 4 cylinder, possibly LE spec (cloth seats/auto). It easily impressed my then girlfriend (now wife) and myself for its comfort, fuel economy (high 30’s) at altitude in Colorado Springs. The new Camry really looks nice and I am drawn to the Hybrid version.