“THERE’S never been a better time to buy a new car!” Yeah, right. How many times have you heard that?
Well, this time it’s true. Contain your excitement while I briefly explain.
The 2018 eighth-generation Camry will be imported from Japan, after production of the current model in Victoria ceases late this year and Toyota, like Ford and Holden, closes its Australian manufacturing operations.
Toyota is flogging the last locally made Camrys at prices that, as the spruikers say, will never be repeated.
It’s clearing out 2016 basemodel Altise demonstrators, for example, at $25,990 drive-away, with interest-free finance.
The catch? It will have been registered during 2016, so the warranty clock is also ticking and you’ll get the balance of, rather than the full, 12 months rego and three years’ warranty that applies to a new car.
Most demonstrators have scant kilometres on the clock. Some will have fewer than 100.
If you want a factory-fresh Altise with 12 months rego and full warranty, it’s $27,990 driveaway. That too is a killer deal, because the Camry Altise succeeds brilliantly at doing what a car is supposed to do: move you safely, comfortably, economically and efficiently. Every day. Without fail. Cabin space is vast, with comfortable, generously padded front seats, ample driving position adjustment, plenty of rear legroom and the ability to carry three passengers back there without a mutiny — and if they get fractious, all will fit in the cavernous boot.
It takes 30 seconds to master the Altise’s dash, which features big, clearly marked instruments, switches and controls, lots of storage for personal items and Toyota’s powerful airconditioning that kept the cabin cool and comfortable through several 40-degree plus days during January.
The test car also had optional ($700) navigation, with a seven-inch touchscreen, digital radio, voice control and Toyota Link, an app-based service to connect with Pandora, deeper navigation functions and roadside assistance. It’s one of the best infotainment set-ups I have ever used.
Bluetooth, for example, connects every time, as does voice control when you ask for a phone number or audio function. In a Camry, you don’t “Call” a number, you “Ring” it. How quaint. When you get a text or email, it’s read to you, or you can just hit “Ignore” on the touchscreen, a rather pleasurable thing to do.
Eyes off the road time is kept to an absolute minimum. Why can’t the Germans do infotainment that’s this simple and safe to operate? The Altise is predictably short on tizz and bling. However, the squeak and rattle-free cabin features attractive, soft-touch materials and precision fit and finish. A leather-wrapped steering wheel would be preferable to the urethane job, which screams poverty.
Essentials for safe, comfortable, easy suburban work include a rear camera that complements clear vision around the car, seven airbags, rear air vents, a smooth ride on small (16-inch alloy) wheels with tall (215/60) tyres, light steering and good manoeuvrability in tight spaces.
The Camry’s drivetrain — long-stroke 2.5-litre fourcylinder and six-speed automatic — is calibrated for the strong launch feel favoured by Australians, so the Altise gets off the line smartly. A brief flat spot in the lower mid-range isn’t really an issue in town where the engine can pull the higher gears without effort.
When you want a low gear and quick power, though, kickdown can take a while. Shifts are quicker, smoother and more decisive in Sport mode.
I averaged 11L-12L/100km in Sydney traffic, par for a fourcylinder car of this size, on regular unleaded. It rolls on low-cost, simple chassis engineering and skinny, shopping trolley rubber, so a sports sedan the Altise is not. Roadholding is fine but the steering is imprecise, especially on-centre, and if you aim it at a tight corner with moderate enthusiasm you get an unnerving combination of immediate, dramatic tyre sidewall flex and excessive body roll.
This one is a languid highway cruiser, as smooth and quiet as some luxury cars, and in the top half of the rev range performance is quite strong, so overtaking is done quickly and safely. Michelin tyres contribute to a compliant, quiet ride. At 100km/h on flat terrain, MAZDA6 SPORT $32,490 Can’t get close to the Camry Altise on price but you get more standard equipment, tidier handling and a responsive, efficient 138kW 2.5-litre engine. SKODA OCTAVIA 110TSI $25,290 Haven’t driven this but colleagues like it. Smaller than Camry, with VW’s punchy, frugal 1.4 turbo, auto emergency braking and radar cruise. SUBARU LIBERTY 2.5I $30,240 Big and well-built, with reasonable performance from 129kW 2.5-litre/CVT/AWD, plus Subaru’s EyeSight active safety set-up. the 2.5 averages 6.0L6.5L/100km.
On steep hills the engine’s lack of lower mid-range torque can cause the automatic to hunt excessively, occasionally shifting with a slur and a lurch. You’re a thoughtful, pragmatic, careful person and you look long and hard at the value for money equation on a new car. You’re much more concerned with safety, running costs, quality, reliability, comfort and space than the “I’m a legend in my go-fast, crotch-rocket” balderdash of the Jeremy Clarkson wannabes.
The Toyota Camry Altise could be right up your street — and the price is most certainly right.