2019 TOYOTA CAMRY

The family sedan might not be as popular as it once was, but the Toyota Camry proves that there are plenty of reasons why this four-door deserves a close inspection.

The eighth-generation Camry, introduced for the 2018 model year, has undergone what can be considered Toyota's version of radical surgery. Nearly all the car's bits and pieces were produced from fresh molds and stampings, yet the end result still manages to remain, well, Camry-like. That's critically important for a vehicle that, for the past 16 years has managed to maintain a top spot in the midsize-sedan class. More than 350,000 buyers in North America brought one home in 2018.

Base price:$24,900 (including destination)

Engines:2.5-liter, 1-4 (206 hp); 3.5-liter, V-6 (301 hp); 2.5-liter, 1-4 with electric motor (208 hp)

EPA rating (city/highway):51/53 (hybrid)

These folks are getting more bang for their buck in more ways than one. Compared with the previous Camry, Toyota extended the length by about an inch and the width by less than an inch. The distance between the front and rear wheels, however, has grown by 3 inches, which translates into more legroom. The roofline is slightly lower, as are the seating positions, which according to Toyota means a lower center of gravity.

Passengers seated in back enjoy one of the more stylish cabins in the segment with lots of leather and wood trim available in premium trim levels.

But it's the Canary's sheet metal that gets the most interest. The grille, nose-piece and rear end are more aggressively shaped, while the sloping rear glass has a more fastback appearance, not dissimilar to the Audi A7 Sportback. The net effect is a hunkered-down sedan with a sporting stance that might persuade tall wagon-averse buyers to at least scope out the brand.

The Camry platform is 30 percent stiffer than that of the previous generation. Toyota claims that the architecture adds a "fun driving experience that plays on all the senses." That's marketing jargon, but part of that improved sensory feeling includes a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 206 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. That's 28 more horsepower and 16 more pound-feet than the previous 2.5.

Optional is a 3.5-liter V-6 with an output of 301 horses and 267 pound-feet, up from 2017's 3.5 that was rated at 268/248.

Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Unlike most of the competition, both the four-cylinder and V-6 are naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged). They are also at the thrifty end of the fuel-economy scale, especially thefour-cylinder that delivers a rating of 29 mpg in city, 41 on the highway and 34 combined.

Want better? The Camry Hybrid combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with a 118-horsepower electric motor to generate a net 208 horsepower. The base Hybrid LE uses lithium-ion battery technology and achieves a rating of 51 mpg in the city, 53 highway and 52 combined, which is way up from the previous hybrid's 40/37/38 numbers. Interestingly, the better equipped SE and XLE Hybrid trims are fitted with older-technology nickel-metal hydride batteries. Economy takes about a 10 percent hit in combined city/highway use when compared to the lithium-ion cells.

The batteries are now located beneath the rear seat instead of the trunk, which means stowage volume matches non-hybrid versions, and the rear seatbacks can be folded forward.

Pricing for the base Camry L - one of five gasoline trim levels — starts at $25,000 ($29,300 for the Hybrid LE), including destination charges. The L, LE and SE provide all the basics plus a number of active-safety technologies (which leads the class).

The top-end XSE and XLE are loaded with premium content, including dual-zone climate control, heated and leather-trimmed seats and a JBL-brand audio system with navigation system.

As the shift to utility vehicles shows no signs of abating, Toyota seems more determined to take them on by infusing plenty of styling, comfort, fuel efficiency and performance into its star sedan.

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