Car reviews - Toyota - Camry - range
Enjoyable to drive, ride and handling, price and positioning, gutsy V6, classy cabin, super comfy seats
Room for improvement
Underpowered four-cylinder engine, auto transmission holds gears, overdone styling on higher grade variants
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23 Nov 2017
IT HAS been 30 years since Toyota sold a Camry in Australia that wasn’t built here, but the new-generation, Japanese-built mid-size sedan has landed.
There’s been a lot of nostalgia in the past couple of months relating to the closure of Toyota Australia’s manufacturing operations, but the car-maker is now determined to look forward not backwards.
The Camry is all new from the ground up and, after threatening to build a more dynamic, driver-friendly Camry for the past couple of generations, it looks like Toyota has finally achieved its goal.
Last month marked the end of an era when Toyota closed its Australian manufacturing operations after 54 years of building cars here.
Of all of the models it has produced here, it is probably the Camry mid-sizer that local buyers know best, and it has certainly been the company’s most successful Aussie-built car, with more than two million units sold over 30 years.
While the country has mourned the closure of Australian manufacturing, Toyota Australia is now focused on its new role as an importer, with its first point of business to launch the all-new eighth-generation Camry, this time imported from Japan.
As reported, Toyota has kept recommended retail prices at basically the same level as the outgoing Australian-built car, although that doesn’t take into account the driveaway deals the company has been pushing for the past couple of years on both Camry and the V6 Aurion.
Using the company’s scalable Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) that already underpins the C-HR crossover and Prius hybrid hatch has given Toyota engineers room to play around. In a good way.
The wheelbase is 55mm longer, while the stance and seating position are both lower.
The Camry’s new exterior design is polarising. Like a lot of cars, it looks better in the metal than in press images, but there are some hits and some misses.
From a couple of angles, its design is reminiscent of the sixth-generation Camry that ran from 2006 to 2011.
On mid to higher spec model grades, its features busy front end styling, with a criss-cross theme seen on other recent Toyotas and a high-set upper grille that looks tacked on.
And at the rear, these same variants have a fake slimline air outlet that flows down from the tail-lights. It looks naff. Also, does a four-cylinder Camry really need quad exhausts?
The Camry’s silhouette is a winner, looking sportier than any previous model, with a wider squat stance. In the base Ascent, the front end is toned down and looks sharp, while the fake intakes at the rear are gone, making for a much cleaner look.
Some people will love the chunkier, sporty look of the upper grades – and it does look pretty cool with the razzy black exterior paint, especially with the black alloy wheels on the SX – but traditional Camry buyers might prefer the understated design of the entry variants.
Inside, the Camry takes a huge step forward, with the dull but functional cabin of the outgoing model ditched in favour of a modern, stylish look.
The touchscreen and all air-con and audio functions are now neatly housed in a striking new centre stack.
New soft-touch materials features across the range, and there is a lovely new steering wheel, but the big news is that the awful foot-operated park brake is gone in favour of an electric unit.
The instrument cowl is smaller, the A-pillars are narrower and the bonnet sits 40mm lower to aid visibility. These measures have worked forward and side vision is excellent.
The Camry’s seats, particularly in high spec SX and SL guises, are super comfortable, with excellent cushioning and adequate support.
The cloth seats in the base variant look smart, but SX can be optioned with eye-catching red leather-appointed seats, although black is also available.
Whatever the colour, they look and feel high end.
Despite the more dynamic design and roofline, the Camry has similar space in the back seat, with head, leg and shoulder room feeling no different than the outgoing car.
During the media launch, we sampled a couple of four-cylinder petrol variants and, briefly, a V6, but we missed out on a drive in the petrol-electric hybrid, so that will have to wait for an upcoming road test.
First up was a four-cylinder SL that – priced from $39,990 plus on-road costs – is the flagship grade.
The Camry SL’s cabin is not just plush and premium, but also quiet. Toyota said its engineers improved noise, vibration and harshness levels over the outgoing model, and it has paid off. It’s not quite Lexus levels of refinement in this area but getting close.
Road noise was evident in the SX which uses 19-inch wheels, but the 18s on the SL were fine.
More time was spent in the $33,290 SX which pumps out 135kW/235Nm from the carry over 2.5-litre four. Interestingly, the new-gen hybrid system is paired with an all-new 2.5-litre four-pot, but for some reason (we are still not sure), Toyota is using the older unit in petrol variants.
The old 2.5 is still a solid unit, but this might not be the variant for people who want zippy acceleration.
Weight has increased marginally in the four-pot Camry and it feels underpowered. Flooring it on a slight incline produced yawn-inducing response and unpleasant engine roar. You would need to plan your overtaking in the four-pot.
It is a shame that Toyota isn’t using the new 2.5 or the Toyota/Lexus 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder.
The six-speed auto has a tendency to hold gears at weird times, occasionally shifting up or down when it shouldn’t.
Thankfully, the rest of the drive experience is positive.
The lower seating position in the Camry and the lower bonnet gives the cabin a cockpit like feel.
Toyota’s new electric power steering system is a big improvement over the old unit. It feels sharper and more direct than before and is nicely weighted without feeling too artificial.
But it is the dynamic ability of the new Camry that impresses most.
The roads around Coffs Harbour in New South Wales were perfect for highlighting the differences between the new and old Camry.
Blasting through twisty roads and sweeping bends, the Camry feels planted and corners in a way that it never has before.
It coped well with tighter bends and never lost traction, even when pushed hard.
The suspension includes a new fully independent rear and a MacPherson strut front setup, new dampers and revised geometry, all of which combines for a well-balanced car that runs flat through corners.
Only the deepest of potholes produced a loud and shocking thud – and there were plenty on the roads following a lot of rain – but all other bumps and corrugations were dealt with without fuss and without skipping.
This new-found dynamism was evident on all grades we drove, including the V6 SX that uses a 224kW/362Nm unit – an up-rated version of the engine from the Kluger – paired with an eight-speed auto.
Like the six-speed unit, it has a tendency to hold gears, but not as much.
Unsurprisingly, the V6 has more punch than the four-pot and pulls away quickly.
It has a nicer engine note, but mostly matches the engaging drive experience of the four.
Until we drive the hybrid, it is difficult to make a final judgement on the whole range.
Anyone after more grunt should look at the V6, and despite feeling slightly underdone in terms of power, the four-pot is a joy to drive.
Toyota has finally made good on its promise to build a Camry that driving enthusiasts can enjoy.
It will be interesting to see a comparison between the new Camry and the upcoming Commodore, given it is now a mid-sizer that moves to a front/all-wheel drive drivetrain and has the choice of four-cylinder and V6 engines.
Toyota expects the Camry will remain the best-selling mid-size car in Australia for a while yet and given the build quality, reputation for reliability, value for money and, now, level of driving enjoyment, we think they are probably right.
Take off the cardigan and put on your driving gloves. The driver’s Camry has arrived.
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