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Car reviews - Toyota - Camry - Ascent Sport

Our Opinion

We like
Newfound refinement, dynamic ability, pricing, space, value, comfort, ease, reliability, practicality, instrumentation
Room for improvement
Fussy styling, scratchy low-console plastics, knee-crushing rear door protrusion, no full-size spare

Gallery

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Toyota logo29 Jan 2018

Overview

IN THE history of Toyota in Australia there has always been a medium-sized sedan – from its first locally manufactured Tiara of 1963 to the final Camry to come off the Altona production line some 54 years later.

The latter’s replacement, then, has a world of expectation on its hefty shoulders, hailing from Japan (a first in about 30 years) to continue the legacy on which this country’s number-one car brand has based its foundations.

Here we take a closer look at the sub-$30,000 Ascent Sport 2.5 that’s likely to be the most popular among families and fleet owners alike.

Price and equipment

Bob Hawke was our prime minister, Kylie Minogue was still in Neighbours and you could buy stuff with bronze-coloured coins the last time a Camry was this new.

Now in its eighth generation since launching in Australia as an upmarket five-door front-drive liftback in 1983, the earliest iteration simultaneously broke a mould and pointed to the firm’s future, eventually replacing the dreary Corona on the Melbourne production line four years later.

Through their dependability as reliable family transport, succeeding iterations of the conservative American-focused four-door sedan wove themselves into the fabric of our everyday streetscape. Like Coles or Woolworths. Only the Australian-made Camry Hybrid ushered in any real innovation.

That dependable theme continues with the new Camry that is now sourced from Japan. But that doesn’t mean the changes haven’t been profound. And they’re certainly most welcome.

Here’s the second up from entry level Ascent Sport 2.5-litre petrol auto, from $29,990 plus on-roads, and the variant Toyota reckons will be one of the most popular.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Though promoted as officially costing $200 less than the Atara S it replaces yet with fresh features that should push that price up by thousands of dollars more, everybody knows that the previous Camry was heavily discounted with driveaway pricing. So it now costs more.

That said, an all-new TNGA (Toyota New Generation Architecture) platform adopts principles and methodology introduced with the current Prius and C-HR small SUV.

Longer, wider and with a lower cabin floor, with a wheelbase that has been stretched by 50mm, the 2018 model’s now-lighter body is 30 per cent more rigid, ushering in new safety technologies as standard equipment.

All models include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), a pre-collision accident-avoidance system, adaptive cruise control, Lane Departure Alert with steering assistance and automatic high-beam activation. That’s on top of seven airbags, stability and traction control, anti-lock braking, a reverse camera, alarm, auto-levelling LED headlights, tilt/telescopic steering adjustment, a 7.0-inch touchscreen display, Toyota Link connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, DAB+ radio, USB and aux-in ports and alloy wheels.

The $2300 walk-up to an Ascent Sport scores buyers keyless entry and start, an 8.0-inch central screen with integrated sat-nav, dual-zone air-con, a powered driver’s seat, front and rear sensors, leather wheel and gear knob covers, a temporary spare (only the base Camry includes a full-sized wheel), a matte-finish grille and a surprisingly integrated bodykit.

Racy! Like Nell Mangel in a miniskirt.

Interior

Whatever you make of the Camry’s rather busy exterior detailing, there is no doubt that the longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs have substantially improved the proportions. The same applies inside.

Make no bones about it. The cabin feels as large and wide as any modern Commodore’s, aided by the deeper glass, vast windscreen and lower seating. The latter allows for a wide range of adjustment that’s especially helpful for taller folk.

Now, while dashboard styling themes remain similar (save for that odd V-shaped centre console angle), a closer look reveals a wholesale adoption of the far-more contemporary instrumentation and multimedia systems first seen in the other TNGA vehicles.

A classy set of analogue items, the dials are among Toyota’s best, backed up by a handy digital speedo in the top right-hand corner. There’s a detailed display nestled in front of the driver for fast access to driving modes, entertainment, safety and vehicle set-up info. The same applies to the central touchscreen, with sensibly sited buttons and knobs so eyes don’t need to stray from the road for too long. Are you listening Renault, Honda and Suzuki?This mixture of freshness and familiarity augers well for users, as it means the Camry feels welcoming yet different enough to keep things interesting.

Other plus points include the handsome three-spoke wheel, micro-climate-like cooling/heating, easy-access USB ports, layers of storage, super-sized exterior mirrors, faultless build quality and big new seating front and rear that is immediately inviting and comfortable. And at last! The foot-operated park brake has been ditched in favour of an electronic unit.

Back-seat occupants can enjoy true three-abreast accommodation (even if the middle passenger is perched up high and straddling the curiously wide transmission hump) with face-level vents, door-mounted bottle holders, a wide centre armrest (that falls too low for some elbows), overhead grab handles, map pockets, cupholders and Isofix child-seat restraint points. Future Uber users will be well catered for.

The rear backrest folds of course (though with the narrower half on the offside, reflecting the Camry’s US-prioritising since when in use the remaining two occupants have to enter/egress from the road side) the boot is disappointingly shallow for a front-drive sedan of this size (despite the mandatory space-saver spare), though it is wide and long enough to be properly useful. Capacity is 524 litres.

Staying in the back seat, getting out can be a painful affair for lanky legs thanks to the jutting door card structure. Ouch! Strangely the rear headrests are fixed tombstone-style (why?), so block rear vision. The front passenger seat is set too high. The centre console trim is too-readily scratchable. And the latter’s plastics and other materials seem more American than Japanese in their (perceived) quality. Just a bit cheap and sheeny.

Still, we’re nit-picking here, highlighting how hard Toyota has worked to improve this solid, spacious, comfortable, practical and functional interior.

Perfect tool for task stuff then.

Engine and transmission

In other Mk8 Camrys, substantially modified powertrains abound, from the re-engineered (and more compact) Hybrid to the revised 3.5-litre V6 and eight-speed auto combo lifted from last year’s Kluger SUV facelift.

In the bread-and-butter 2.5-litre petrol, however, we’re talking incremental changes. This carryover Euro 5-compliant naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine pumps out 135kW of power and 235Nm of torque, which is 2kW/4Nm more than the base Ascent because it employs a more sophisticated exhaust system.

Now in its newfound TNGA environs, this powertrain is a bit of a belter, even if the old six-speed torque-converter auto also returns with only small updates. It’s worth remembering that the engine was all-new in the late 2000s, and so is far from being an anchor.

Acceleration is never less than brisk, with front wheel spin possible if you’re lead footed smooth and eager to rev, there’s plenty of mid-range torque for fast overtaking and the car will happily cruise quietly well beyond the legal freeway limits, with the tacho barely hovering above 1500rpm in sixth.

There is a big four-pot muscularity about this particular motor that torque-hungry Aussies ought to appreciate. Gutless she ain’t.

Aided by a natty little lever, the revised transmission is a cinch to manipulate in manual mode (there are three in all – Normal, Sport and Eco), but the paddle shifters offered in the more up-spec SX and SL variants aren’t available in the Ascent Sport. But that’s no real loss as there’s more than sufficient flexibility as well as refinement on offer here.

We managed less than 10 litres per 100km (with an 8.9L/100km indicated), and that’s a pleasing result.

Ride and handling

New platform, new suspension, new brakes, new everything. Here the Camry’s architecture provides a dynamic capability far above what came before from Toyota in the medium class.

Keeping in mind what this car is designed to be (and for whom), the one-tune-fits-all global chassis tune offers surprising if not world-beating bandwidth, providing flat and controlled handling combined with a pleasing degree of suspension softness.

What this means is if you’re a keen driver, the Ascent Sport responds with nicely weighted steering, will turn-in through fast corners concisely, keep the body control well in check should sudden changes in direction be necessary, soak up bumps without them jolting through inside, and stop immediately if required. No fuss, no drama and no tears.

Relaxing progress is now possible in a Camry – at least in the 2.5 version.

Hurrah! A Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and ZB Holden Commodore might be more involving dynamically and suppler comfort-wise, but no longer is the Camry slightly unsettled by rough roads and tiresomely tetchy to travel in.

Our only comment is that the quality 215/55R17 Michelin tyres do transmit some tyre roar on certain coarse bitumen surfaces, but then most cars nowadays do too.

Safety and servicing

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has given the Mk8 Camry a five-star rating.

Toyota’s three-year/100,000km warranty now lags behind most of its similarly priced competitors. The Camry is offered with a five-year published-price servicing regime on all regular maintenance items, capped to $195 each.

Intervals are at every 12 months or 15,000km.

Verdict

The latest Camry is no longer just affordable, practical, reliable and easy transportation.

The wholesale upgrades that arrive with the TNGA platform have also really lifted the sedan significantly in areas of refinement, comfort, handling, safety and usability, backed up by keen pricing. Particularly in value-packed Ascent Sport guise as tested.

Previously we struggled to recommend this series against its many and varied talented rivals. Able, confident and inviting, now the Toyota is a much more rounded proposition. We haven’t said that about the Camry in years.

Rivals

Ford Mondeo Ambiente from $33,190 plus on-road costs
The sportiest base mid-sized family car also happens to be the most comfortable, delivering exceptional handling and ride qualities. A huge cabin and liftback also provide heaps of practicality. Lovely and underrated.

Mazda 6 Sport from $32,490 plus on-road costs
The stylish, low-slung 6 is a real driver’s machine, offering sharp steering and stirring performance. The interior is also appealingly presented, though rear headroom is restricted and this isn’t the quietest car around.

Subaru Liberty 2.5i from $30,240 plus on-road costs
With all-wheel drive and a horizontally opposed engine, the Liberty brings both extra all-weather grip and distinctive character to its class, though the rest of the package is surprisingly conservative. A solid if dull choice.

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