2018 Toyota Camry debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The 8th-generation best-selling sedan in sporty XSE trim is sexy, says Toyota President Akio Toyoda.

For 15 years, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., excluding pickup trucks. Its reputation as reliable though bland has prompted some critics to deride it as nothing more than an appliance.

While consumers don’t care much for critics, Toyota President Akio Toyoda pledged to make the new Camry anything but boring.

"Now I know calling a Camry "sexy" might be overstating it for some," Toyoda said during the most entertaining of a dozen vehicle debuts at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday. "But I truly do believe our designers hit it out of the park this time."

The eighth-generation Camry needs to carve a distinct edge in the midsize sedan segment as consumers buy crossovers in growing numbers.

2018 Toyota Camry debuts at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The 8th-generation best-selling sedan gets sexy, says Toyota President.

The new Camry rounds the square edges of the outgoing model and broadens the grille, which is all the rage. The overall height of the Camry drops an inch, while the hood dips down 1.6 inches to give it a low, leaner look. Headroom remains the same inside, however, since Toyota lowered the seating positions.

The wheelbase on the new Camry is stretched two inches, adding to the lower, sportier look and an overall lower center of gravity for better handling, presumably.

There are three new powertrains, including the 3.5-liter V-6 with direct and port fuel injection for improved efficiency also found in the Tacoma midsize pickup, an all-new 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine that will deliver more torque and lower fuel consumption than the outgoing four-cylinder engine, and a new hybrid system. Powerplant specs haven’t been released.

The sport SE and XSE trims get even more distinct marks with larger air intakes and a x-shaped design over the grille that Toyota calls "Catamaran". It’s intended to make the sport models stand out from a distance. It kind of looks like an Under Armour logo.

The interior is different, more open, less cluttered. There is a waterfall wall, where the passenger and driver’s side of the dash flow under the centerstack, creating a small divide between the passenger’s left knee and the center console not unlike the grab handle on some sports cars. It’s interesting without ostentatious, but its success will depend on functionality.

The XSE with blacked-out 19-inch wheels debuted alongside the new hybrid Camry, which is a modern take on the traditional Camry look. Toyoda was quick to remind the audience, and by association President-elect Trump, of the $10 billion pledged to U.S. manufacturing in the next five years, and the 136,000 Americans employed by Toyota.

The repartee between Toyoda and VP Bob Carter elicited plenty of laughs from a jammed crowd filled with attendees speaking multiple languages. Then Carter brought onstage the new NASCAR Camry, and recent race champs Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, to further underscore Toyoda’s aim to make the Camry more sporting if not sexy.

It’s due in dealer lots late summer 2017.

rduffer@chicagotribune.com

Twitter: @DufferRobert

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