Convince me, Camry

Due in a few months, the im­ported hy­brid has the zip and grip to be­come a fun drive

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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