The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test - BILL McKIN­NON

“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.

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