Convince me, Camry
Due in a few months, the imported hybrid has the zip and grip to become a fun drive
THE Toyota Camry has long typified the makers’ emphasis on reliability and practicality.
The eighth-generation car maintains those virtues while, according to deputy chief engineer Hiroyuki Tsuboi, giving owners a vehicle they can enjoy driving.
“We have to keep the values existing owners want but also to make this car — and all Toyotas — more fun to drive,” he says.
Toyota Australia sales head Tony Cramb concurs. He says the Camry could well be a metaphor for Toyota Australia as it moves from a local maker focused on sales to an importer promoting global sophistication and driver engagement.
Cramb says: “The Camry is representative of a new direction … we have to add an emotional element that perhaps wasn’t as evident in the past.”
Buyers are still entitled to lament the passing of the seventh-generation Camry, which will continue to be built in Melbourne until the factory closes in October.
The current car may not set any dynamic benchmarks but remains one of the best valuefor-money propositions in the medium sedan segment. Add the fact the hybrid version achieves ridiculously low fuel use and it isn’t hard to see why taxi drivers, fleet buyers and pragmatic private buyers have taken to it.
The new Camry, due here in November, promises to be better in every respect. The eighth-generation sedan is marginally longer and wider and 25mm lower to improve the way it sits on the road and the distance between the front and rear wheels — which helps determine interior space — has grown by 50mm.
The styling is far more dramatic, with a bonnet that has more creases than a slept-in shirt, a more dramatic (LED) lighting display front and rear and the choice of an aggressive mesh-patterned nose job on the sports variants.
The interior has received a similar sculpting job, from the choice of seven or eight-inch infotainment screens to discreet interior lighting on upmarket models, a 4.2 or seven-inch digital display between the analog dials and soft touch materials to reflect the push towards premium.
Toyota expects the hybrid version to become the volume version in the range, selling alongside the carry-over entry level version with 2.5-litre petrol engine and top-spec V6.
The hybrid also benefits from having the battery pack stowed under the 60-40 folding rear seats rather than in the boot, which gives the car 30L more boot space. Toyota says it can now take four sets of golf clubs.
Local specs and pricing won’t be revealed until closer to launch but all versions will pick up adaptive cruise control with stop-start, autonomous emergency braking, active lane departure alert and automatic high-beam headlamps.
Selected models will also gain blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and a 10-inch colour head-up display.
Oregon does good roads, even on the secondary routes that contour around the fir-lined hills and vineyards that make the American state famous. That isn’t representative of Australian tarmac so it’s hard to get a grip on how good the suspension upgrades are.
What are evident are the improvements in steering precision and chassis stiffness. Point the Camry at a corner and it diligently arcs its way around the bend at speed.
The current car wouldn’t have enjoyed the experience; the new one shrugs it off. It doesn’t quite feel as lithe as the best of the mid-size sedans — partly because of the weight of the hybrid motor and battery pack — but it’s a big improvement on the outgoing job.
The Camry also sounds quieter in the cabin. There’s a distant drone from the continuously variable transmission uphill but it’s a relatively refined experience. The regenerative brakes also have the best pedal feel we’ve tested on a mainstream hybrid.
Power delivery from the hybrid is linear without being quick — we’ll need to wait to test the performance-oriented V6 in Australia to see just how well the Camry copes with 225kW/360Nm but the early indications are positive.
The only drawback was the forward collision system shutting down after being hit with road grime from a car ahead. Given that we drove pre-production vehicles, we’ll reserve judgment on whether that’s a flaw in the location of the sensor or just an aberration.
The coming Camry hybrid is not going to be a giant-killer but Toyota could well entice enthusiasts into doing the unthinkable and buying a car that has often been derided as whitegoods on wheels.