First Drive 2018 Toyota Camry: The Next Generation Of The Franchise

Toyota has completely redesigned the franchise, the 2018 Toyota Camry, and we had the chance to go to Portland, Oregon to check it out. It’s available in four-cylinder, V6, and hybrid configurations. The big question is, is the Camry no competitive in the family four-door segment? That’s what we find out on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.

First Drive 2015 Hyundai Sonata: “Modern Premium”


When Hyundai debuted the past generation Sonata in 2011 it caused quite a stir with it’s “fluidic sculpture” design.  It was a fairly aggressive design for the mid sized sedan category, which, when it comes to design, errors on the side of ultra conservative.   While many people did not like the design, it was an overwhelming sales hit for Hyundai, to the tune of a capacity constrained 210-220,000 units a year in sales.

Hyundai’s M.O. is to provide high quality and high content levels at a savings compared to it’s competitors, and this value proposition works well, not only in the Sonata, but across the lineup at Hyundai.

Now with this next generation of Sonata, Hyundai it trying to tweak it’s formula.  They are still shooting for the value proposition, however, this time their goal is to have a more mature looking car, less “look at me” and communicate a “higher quality” aura, both inside and out.

This “modern premium” philosophy, both inside and out, comes through with a much more conservative exterior, and a simplified interior.  Competing, volume wise, with the likes of Camry, Fusion, Altima, Accord and Malibu, there is much to like, yet there is much to question, mostly about the exterior design, but we will get to that in a bit.

There will be three powertrains offered in the 2015 Sonata.  The volume of sales will be with the 2.4 liter four cylinder which will be prodding 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 178 lb/ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.  Fuel economy for the 2.4 is rated at 25 mpg city, 37 highway and 29 combined.

A 2.0 Turbo four cylinder is also available, this unit will produce 245 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 260 lb/ft of torque from 1,350 through 4,000 rpms.  Once again, as in the last generation, there will be no V6 option, rather the two liter turbo provides similar power in a smaller package with better fuel economy.   For the Turbo Sonata that equates to 23 city, 32 highway and 29 combined.  According to Hyundai, the take rate on the turbo, is similar to other brands V6 packages, of somewhere between 17 and 22 percent of model sales volume.

For the first time Hyundai is breaking out a dedicated Eco model.  A 1.6 liter GDI Turbo engine with 177 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 195 lb/ft of torque from 1,500 through 4,500 rpms will be rated at 28 city, 38 highway and 32 combined.  While the 2.0 Turbo and 2.4 liter four’s make due with a six speed automatic, the Eco model gets a seven speed dual clutch unit, with updated electronic shift actuators.  Hyundai’s goal was to give a traditional automatic transmission feel, with the performance and fuel economy benefits of a dual clutch gear box.

If there was an area that was lacking in the last generation of Sonata it was the suspension tuning.  While fine over smooth pavement, it felt harsh and abrupt over rough or choppy pavement.  The new generation attacks that in several directions.

First there is a significant use of high strength steel in the 2015 Sonata.  51% of the Sonata contains high strength steel, and, along with the use of aero grade adhesives, it results in a chassis stiffness that is up 41% from the previous model.  Secondly both the front and rear suspensions have been redesigned.  The McPherson struts up front have a different geometry, and the rear suspension has been upgraded from a single to a dual link system.  Lastly a revised steering rack and column shaft communicate a more connected road feel.

The wheelbase for the Sonata checks in at 110 inches, pretty close to standard for the class, as is the overall length at 191 inches, however, the Sonata is the widest in the class at 73.4 inches.  All this translates into what Hyundai says is the largest interior in the class, at 106.1 cubic feet, and the EPA actually classifies the car as a Large, rather than Mid-sized with that volume.

As mentioned, the interior layout got a rethink with the new Sonata.  The dash layout drops the waterfall center stack for a more linear layout similar to the new Genesis sedan.  Hyundai have focused on what they call the “human machine interface” to make it more logical and intuitive for the driver to focus on the driving and not have to search around for HVAC and audio controls or the AV monitor.

There will be two different sized monitors in the 2015 Sonata, either a 5 inch model or an 8 inch when navigation is ordered.  Sometime in the next few months Hyundai will be rolling out Apple Car Play in models ordered with the 8 inch touch screen, though models ordered with the Nav, but not Car Play, may be able to be upgraded to Car Play through a software update at a later time.  Hyundai is also working on the Android Auto system as well, but the Apple car play will be live for some time before the Android system.  We have a video of the pre-production unit being demoed for you to have a look.

Other options that are available in the interior are items like driver memory seats, heated steering wheel ride side window sunshades, heated and cooled front seats along with heated rear seats and LED interior lighting.

There is some hard plastic used in the interior but it is kept to a minimum, but even the hard plastics have a good look and feel to them.  The rest of the materials inside are quite good, on the top end models the leather is nice and supple. 

Two things are quite apparent when you drive the new Sonata, number one, the changes to the suspension have made a huge difference.  We drove both the 2.4 Limited and the 2.0T Sport versions of the car over some very chewed up sections of Michigan roads and the ride was excellent.  There was no harshness transmitted into the cabin or through the steering wheel, yet the car didn’t feel too isolated either, it was a nice balance.

The second item was how quiet the cabin was.  There is a combination of items here, better glass, a smooth full under body tray and overall Cd of .27, there is little to no wind noise, and other than on very textured pavement, little no little tire noise as well.  While we didn’t take a db reading of the cabin at speed, based off our experience with most of the other cars in the class, it’s among the quietest.

While we didn’t get a chance to drive the Eco version, we do prefer the Turbo model to the 2.4 naturally aspirated unit.  Not so much for the power, but the low end torque of the turbo model made it much more enjoyable to drive in stop and go driving and typical city environment situations.  With the 2.4 engine, power and torque are high up in the power band, so, you have to really give it some stick to get up to speed.

Overall driving dynamics are solid.  This IS a family sedan, make no mistake there are no real “sporting” characteristics, even in the Sport model, but it gets the job done, and it doesn’t feel like an appliance, rather a competent road car.

The elephant in the room though is the styling.  It’s said good design should draw an emotion, good or bad.  The previous generation Sonata made a bold statement, and it was very much a take it or leave it design.  It’s understandable that Hyundai wanted to evolve the design, and in many ways you can see what they were trying to do.  Rather than bold they wanted Brooks Brothers or Savile Row, not flashy, but when you see it, you know it’s well tailored.  What they ended up with though is a nice off the rack look.

The styling was pulled back so much, that now it just blends in, and while Hyundai is on a roll, we’re not sure their at a point where they can succeed with average styling.  As you walk around the car, it has some good angles, but someone in design pulled back about 10-15% too much.  A few lines need to be crisper, others a bit more aggressive.  Following other cars in the drive we were on the rear could easily be mistaken for the new Mazda6, the front could be one of many cars in the class.  Also not as well done as it should have been is the cover plate for the radar cruise control.  It’s a large block of shiny black metal that sits just below the logo, it looks very much like an afterthought, not well integrated into the overall look and design.

Pricing starts at $21,960 with destination, and goes up through $33,500 in top spec Sport trim.  There are only 12 build combinations for the new Sonata, and when put spec for spec against the competition they do come out ahead for value.

Value is going to have to be the calling card for the new Sonata, styling, at least on the exterior will not.  Interior and driving dynamics are solid, maybe not as good as some, but better than most.

The mid-sized sedan segment is an interesting one.  With the large volumes on offer, it’s understandable that manufactures don’t want to take chances in a segment where most people are looking for a solid transportation vehicle.  That said, the easiest way to stand out from the crowd and draw interest is good exterior design.  Now if the rest of the car is substandard it doesn’t matter, but that’s not the issue for Hyundai.  Six or seven years in now on making large inroads they have momentum, the question is, with the redesign, will that momentum continue, or have they gotten too conservative.  Only time will tell.


Reviewed 2013 Toyota Camry V6: The Sheeples Car!

This is another review from 2013, that we were able to rescue from a memory card that went bad.  So, there is no driving footage, and the audio and video quality may not be the best.

The Toyota Camry is the best selling passenger car for well over a decade, the question we had going in is why.  There are a number of fantastic choices in the mid-sized family four door segment, cars such as the Kia Optima, Hyundai, Sonata, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and VW Passat. 
Is the Camry significantly better it’s competitors or is it pure momentum that is the reason for the sales success? That is what we find out on this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive



Reviewed 2014 Mazda6: The Zoom Zoom Family Sedan

The Midsize sedan market is hugely competitive with names like Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat and Chevy Malibu.  In this segment, to be successful, you have to do a lot of things very well, and the Mazda6 does most things well, so you have to ask why isn’t it more successful.
Other than the audio system, which had a number of issues connecting to various iPhone, iPod and Android units, we really liked the car, but is it best in class?  That’s what we are going to find out in this episode of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive


Reviewed: 2013 Honda Accord Does Honda Have It’s Mojo Back?

The 2013 Honda Accord was the first car from Honda that we have driven in a very long time.  The general consensus in the automotive circles is that Honda had lost it’s mojo, and without sampling any of their recent offerings we wanted to see if that was true.
The Accord is one of the standard barrers along with Civic for Honda, so we thought that it would be good to see just where their signature sedan stacked up in the highly competitive market against cars like Fusion, Optima, Camry, Passat, Altima and others. 
How did it fare?  That’s what we find out in this installment of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive


First Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry

Over the last 18 months, Toyota has done everything they could to make everyone forget about the unintended acceleration headlines they had to deal with.  Just as that was disappearing, the disastrous earthquake and tsunami caused a disruption to the entire manufacturing base.  This event caused a shutdown of plants, a shortage of parts and a sharp drop in sales and profits.

Now that both of those issues have been put behind them, Toyota is looking to have a full court press in refreshing their lineup with the new Camry, the Prius V, Tacoma pickup and the Scion iQ to name a few that will be rolled out over the next several months.

The Camry, while not the most expensive Toyota by a long shot, is in many ways the flagship of the company, how goes sales of the Camry, so goes the fortunes of Toyota.  Since 1983 Toyota have sold 15 million Camry’s worldwide, and 9.7 million of those sales were in North America.  The Camry has claimed the title of “Best selling car in America” 13 of the last 14 years. 

While not a completely new car, the 2012 Camry is a major mid cycle refresh for the car.  The chassis is the same, however, all the sheet metal is new, and only 10% of the parts are carry over.  The one thing that people will notice is how little the Camry has changed in appearance.  There is a new front and rear end look to the cars, but it is not dramatically different. 

When queried about the very conservative looks of the new Camry, officials at Toyota mentioned that styling was far down on the items Camry buyers found important.  Items such as quality, reliability, dependability and fuel economy ranked higher in importance than styling. 

However, the paradox is that Toyota would like to lower the average age of the Camry purchaser from 60 as it currently is, to something in the mid to late 40’s, and to do that the Camry needs to stand out as something more than “blandtastic”.  There are other sedans in the segment that are conservative in appearance, yet cut a much more striking appearance.  To best describe the looks of the Camry, is to say it looks like the suit you get from The Men’s Warehouse in a 3 for 1 sale, and something like the Kia Optima looks like it’s right off the Brooks Brothers rack.  Both are “conservative”, however, one makes a much better first impression. 

The interior to the Camry is a nice update, though there is no new ground broken here.  Of note, while the pricing of the Camry is less than the outgoing model, the interior looks and feels as if is of a higher quality.   One very interesting part of the instrument cluster, however, is the fuel economy gage on the right side of the pod.  The average fuel economy is shown on a mechanical gage, much like the instant fuel economy gage of old BMW’s and then the instant fuel economy is shown asa series of green lights along the outside of that gage.  It’s a different take, and for the most part we like the execution.

One item that will be an option for the 2012 Camry is the Entune infotainment system.  The system works in combination with your iPhone or Android phone. You download the apps to your phone, then they work in conjunction with the Toyota system to provide access to Pandora, Open Table, navigation and more.  The Entune uses your phone for an internet connection, it does not have a 3G/4G system built in.  The Entune system also uses speech recognition software from Nuance and Voice Products to make for a better experience when you use voice commands to navigate the system.

One thing that Toyota was proud of was that they were able to bring the Camry to market with the same or higher levels of content, and do it at a lower price then the outgoing model.  Pricing for the Camry line looks like this:

Model Price +/-2010 Model

LE $22,500    -$200

SE $23,000 -$1,000

XLE $24,725 -$2,000



SE $25,900 -$1,150

XLE $27,400    -$800


*all pricing excludes $760 destination fees.


While not finalized the 2012 Camry is expected to carry a 5 Star safety rating from the IIHS, it will have 10 airbags, an optional blind spot warning system and back up camera.

Fuel economy for the Camry will be at or above the class leaders:


Engine City Highway Combined

I-4 25    35      28

V-6 21    30      25

Hybrid 43    39      41


The mix is expected to be 75% four cylinder, 14% V6 and 11% Hybrid for sales.


We had a chance to take a short drive in a Hybrid model of the Camry.  It was an SE model with cloth interior and standard radio.  When driven in “Eco Mode” it feels as if only 100 of the 200 horsepower available is there to be used.  Acceleration is anything but brisk and on ramps and passing opportunities need to be planned carefully.   

In standard mode, the car feels much more responsive.  We tried a little experiment to see just how the different modes responded to throttle position.  While holding a steady throttle, we exited out of “Eco Mode” into “Normal Mode” and immediately began a rapid acceleration.  This was confirmed by another journalist we were driving with trying the same thing, and having the same exact results.  This showed us that “Eco Mode” requires much larger throttle movements to achieve any forward movement.   

If we had to guess, a good driver using a light throttle would get better results then an average driver using “Eco Mode” in a standard manor. 

The handling of the Camry is not inspired, in fact taking a gentle on/off ramp at anything more than 35 miles an hour started the tires howling.  The ride is fine, not fantastic, the interior is fairly quiet, maybe a bit better than average. 

The regenerative brakes in the Camry feel as if they are a generation behind others.  Ford, GM and Honda all have a much more “natural” feel to their re-gen brakes in the latest models, in the Camry, there seemed to be no consistency in the peddle feel.  In hard stops this is even more exaggerated where there seems to be no action in the first bit of travel and then hard braking all of a sudden. 

It should be noted that we were driving a pre-production model of the 2012 Camry and there might be some final calibration that will be dialed in for the production cars. 

Fit and finish for the 2012 Camry are what you would expect from Toyota.  It is solidly built, the materials have a quality feel to them, door closing has a solid sound, we found nothing to complain about when it came to build quality. 

Overall, our take on the new Camry is that we are underwhelmed.  For us, Toyota played it WAY to conservative in this refresh.  This segment of the market has become ultra competitive, it’s a close in knife fight between five or six manufactures, and it feels as if Toyota approached this as if it was still 2005 and they were unopposed in the market from anyone other than Honda. 

While there is nothing wrong with the Camry, there is nothing that stands out either.  Toyota may feel as if they didn’t need to move the needle with this car since it still one of, if not the top selling passenger car in North America.  However, with the average age of a Camry buyer being 60, that demographic while having money to spend, isn’t going to help you grow new sales, rather you may just be able to hold on for a short period of time before it begins to shrink. 

Hyundai’s Sonata, Kia’s Optima, Chevy’s upcoming Malibu and an all new Ford Fusion on the way, are making statements, and appealing to younger buyers.  The strength of these players is bound to eat into Toyota’s sales for the Camry, maybe not today or tomorrow, but certainly in the very near future. 

It’s possible to be conservative with the design and execution of a car, and still make it feel special. To use an earlier example, buying a Camry is like buying a suit at The Men’s Warehouse, it’s save, it’s not cheep, however, it’s not special.