We pit the new 2021 Toyota Camry against its older 2018 version and find out if the most expensive Camry in history really is worth it.
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For 2021, the Toyota Camry received all new features, a mid-cycle refresh, and a higher base price than ever before. That’s caused us to wonder if it’s still the perennial all-star that it has been for years, or if it makes more financial sense to spend thousands less on a used Toyota Camry. To that end, we’ve decided to pit it against the used 2018 model, the first of the current generation, and ultimately a car that completely redefined what the Camry could be.
For 2018, the Camry was completely new. Inside these now used models you can find three different engines – a 203 horsepower 4-cylinder, a 301 horsepower V6, and a fuel-sipping 4-cylinder hybrid. That hybrid uses a CVT to achieve 51 mpg city and 53 mpg highway. The pure gasoline engines route power to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic. The 4-cylinder gets up to 29mpg city and 41mpg highway while the V6 achieves a rating of 22 city and 32 highway.
The 2021 model uses all of the exact same powertrain options and gets mostly the same scores when it comes to efficiency save for the gas 4-cylinder that has lost some mpgs over time, now down to 28 in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.
For the first time in history, the 2018 Camry proved that it could be a good drivers car. On the new TNGA platform used for many products in the family, the Camry is far more dynamic than any other before it. Handling is quick, well-weighted, and communicative. Braking is also impressive with very little fade even after repeated hard stops.
While not much has changed in the way that the Camry is put together for 2021, the TRD model, introduced in 2020 is a dramatic step up. The sport tuned suspension is still comfortable, but it’s much sharper and dare we say sporty. Front-wheel-drive will always hamper the Camry, but Toyota has done a masterful job of reducing torque-steer and maximizing the fun that can be had behind the wheel of their uber-popular sedan.
While the new and used Toyota Camry are separated by a couple years, both of these models feature a nearly identical interior. The biggest differences show up in the center control stack and we’ll get to that shortly. When it comes to comfort, cargo, and ride quality they’re hard to differentiate. The seating is comfortable, wide, and spacious with the new model having newly updated skins that add some class. The TRD and XSE models get added bolstering, but all Camrys prove to be excellent road trip cars with enough real estate to stretch out and reposition as needed.
The biggest difference we noticed was the much quieter cabin of the 2021 over the 2018 car. While we still wouldn’t call it luxury quiet, it’s a marked improvement over the used Toyota Camry and a welcome one as none of these powertrains are particularly melodious.
This is the section where the differences are obvious and apparent all over the place. First of all, the used Toyota Camry feels even older than it is when you start to use the center control stack. No matter how much you spend on a used 2018 Camry, you’ll never have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There’s no way to seamlessly integrate your mobile device either. The lengths you’ll need to go to just to get proper up to date navigation won’t be insignificant. The dash of the new 2021 model has also been updated to a floating design with a 9-inch screen. It looks considerably better and is quicker to respond.
For 2021, the L trim level is gone from the Camry lineup, but alas, it shouldn’t be missed. Very few were sold and the SE is far more prevalent on the used market. The 2021 XSE and TRD models are the best driving models and also come at a reasonable premium over all other options regardless of age. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the entire 2021 range.
Standard safety features are another area where the Toyota Camry shines regardless of age. Both get a slew of excellent features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure, and forward collision warning. Both have 5-star crash test ratings from the NHTSA and both are considered top safety picks by the IIHS.
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The Toyota Camry has always offered value, but in this latest generation it’s aimed to be more things to more buyers. With that in mind it’s tough to pick a winner when both vehicles offer great value at different price points. If you’re shopping in the sub $20,000 market, then a 2018 Camry SE can be had with less than 25,000 miles on the clock. Still, as prices go up it becomes more and more clear that a 2021 model with it’s much improved interior technology, sportier options, and reasonable price tag is the better buy.
Finding a higher trimmed used Toyota Camry will come at a cost that only saves the buyer $3,000-$5,000 depending on mileage. Both will hold their value fairly well, but for us, saving less than 15% of the total cost of a brand new Camry isn’t worth it when you’ll have to sacrifice quite a few of the comforts we all enjoy and benefit from.