Does the 2018 Toyota Camry Bust the Myth That Turbocharged Engines Save Fuel?

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The all-new 2018 Camry went with larger, more powerful engines while almost every competitor now uses a 4-cylinder turbo. Is there a turbo advantage? It really depends on how you look at it.

Smaller turbocharged engines can match the power of larger engines while delivering better fuel economy, and possibly lower emissions. There is no doubt that turbochargers have come a long way in the past decade. Early turbos worked, but they didn’t have the sophisticated engine management software and hardware that allowed the engine to take advantage of the power. All of the technology that monitors an engine’s performance today is at work maximizing the benefits of a turbo, while minimizing any potential issues. BestRide reviewers count many turbocharged engines among our favorites. The real question is do they have an advantage over smooth, powerful, larger engines?

The answer is yes and no, and it’s largely dependent on which trim you choose.

Although the midsize pack is switching to 2.0-liter turbo engines in their performance-oriented trims, in the new 2018 Camry Toyota’s designers opted to stick to the 3.5-liter V6 layout that has served the up-powered trims for many generations. In their sporty trims of the Accord, Malibu, and Sonata, Honda, Chevy, and Hyundai have opted to drop two cylinders, downsize displacement, and add a modern turbocharger.

Knowing the target audience, smart automakers have designed these engines to operate happily on regular unleaded fuel. That keeps real-world fuel costs down. Here’s how the new Camry matches up to the rest of the pack in terms of performance, power, torque, fuel consumption, and emissions.

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Toyota Camry V6 vs. Competitors 2.0-Liter Turbos: Power and Performance

Honda made the switch to the 2.0-liter turbo this year in the new Accord’s top trims and coupled that move with a new 10-speed automatic.

On paper, it looks like the Accord is down on power, even compared with the V6 from last year. The 2.0-liter turbo four provides 255 hp , 23 less than last year’s V6

By contrast, Toyota added power, and the new Camry is the first Camry with over 300 hp, with 301 to be exact. Only a handful of Toyota models have ever passed this mark, with one notable one being the 1990’s era Supra. On paper, the Accord, Malibu, and Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima with their new turbos are behind.

However, on a dragstrip, the new Accord is in a dead heat with respect to 0-60 MPH and the quarter mile. Motor Trend found that the Camry runs to 60 MPH in 5.8 seconds. The Honda Accord — with an engine 2/3s the size, and with 46 fewer horsepower — did it in 5.7. They were tied to the tenth of the second in the quarter mile with a 14.3-second elapsed time.

How does an engine with that much more power not smoke the four-cylinder turbo?

One benefit of moving to fewer cylinders is a reduction in weight. In the Accord, the 2018 2.0T model dropped 143 pounds when it moved from the V6 to the 2.0T engine. It accounted for an overall loss of 200 pounds for the Accord since last year.

On the other hand, the Camry put on weight since last year. In 2017, the top-line Camry weighed 3,480 pounds. This year, that weight climbs to 3,571, for a 91 pound advantage for the Accord.

The other answer lies not just in horsepower, but torque. The Camry’s V6 makes 267-lb.ft. of torque. The four-cylinder in the Accord beats it with 273-lb.ft. thanks to the turbo.

The other interesting note is where that torque is most effective. The V6 hits its torque peak at 4,700 rpm, about 2,000 rpm before the engine hits its redline. The turbo, on the other hand, has a wide band of RPM where its producing maximum torque, from a low 1,500 rpm up to 4,000, where the Camry hasn’t achieved peak torque yet. Matched to a 10-speed automatic, the Accord makes the most of what its comparatively tiny engine can produce.

Related: Read why we loved the new 2018 Accord 2.0T Touring

2018 Honda Accord 2.0T vs. Toyota Camry V6: Fuel Economy

The main reason why automakers say they are moving to smaller, turbocharged engines is fuel economy. In this matchup, the V6 Camry with its 8-speed automatic transmission is actually better in some trims in terms of fuel economy than the new Accord with its 10-speed automatic.

Even the extra gears could not put the smaller, less powerful turbo engine-equipped cars ahead in fuel economy in the more performance oriented trims.

The V6-equipped Camry has a very slight edge in carbon dioxide emissions per mile and identical EPA smog ratings to the smaller turbos.

Camry 4-Cylinder Base Engine vs. Small Turbos

At the more affordable end of the trim lines, the new 2018 Camry comes with a normally-aspirated (non-turbo) 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. Again, the new Camry is getting lonely. The competitors have switched to smaller, turbocharged engines. We won’t walk through the whole comparison again, but as the chart shows, in this budget-sensitive arena, the non-turbo Camry is tied for the lowest annual fuel cost in this matchup with three turbocharged competitors. The Camry’s non-turbo engine packs 203 hp, topping the Accord’s 192 hp, the Malibu’s 160 hp engine, and 178 hp of the Sonata.

Automakers have benchmarks and goals when they put an all-new car like the Camry or Accord together. If fuel economy was the only requirement, we’d be driving cars that are a lot different than the ones we drive today. You could get a lot better fuel economy if your next car didn’t have 600 pounds of sound deadening material, 13 heavy speakers for the audio system and a climate control system.

Some other consumers are just as interested in performance as they are in fuel economy. The target here for the Accord’s product planners was to package a car with a turbocharged four that could meet or beat the Camry’s performance numbers, while also delivering the same or better fuel economy as it did out of its own V6 from 2017.

However, claims that fuel economy from turbocharged engines is automatically going to be improved aren’t looking at the complete picture.

Modern cars with larger, non-turbo engines can and do match the fuel economy of smaller turbos while offering more power, as the new 2018 Camry illustrates.