Car reviews - Toyota - Camry - sedan range
Quietness, ride and handling, steering, packaging, price
Room for improvement
Auto dulls performance, lack of sequential shift function, handbrake lever position, sports seats need more support, no stability control beneath Grande
28 Jul 2006
INITIALLY Toyota’s decision to make the Camry a four-cylinder only sedan was greeted by the motoring media with some healthy scepticism.
The company decided that rather than offer four and V6 engines in the car – like the previous generation Camry – it would splice off the V6, call it the Aurion and give it some distinctive styling but essentially the same packaging as the Camry. It was called a two-tier strategy.
Both cars share much in the way of body architecture but the Aurion, we’re told, will be more upmarket when it hits our roads in September.
In theory it sounded like a good idea.
But since petrol has skyrocketed to almost $1.50 a litre it has become an excellent idea, particularly as oil analysts are now suggesting that petrol will surge even higher over the next 18 months.
The Camry four suddenly becomes a strategy with some degree of clarity.
Toyota’s thinking is that fleets may prefer a big four. It’ll help at resale time and bolster residuals.
The same will go for private customers, those families who need a bigger car but not necessarily a fuel-guzzling six-cylinder.
But the fuel story in Camry needs to be clarified.
Toyota’s official figures present a fuel economy (combined) usage of 9.9L/100km for the automatic – the bulk of sales with be with the auto.
This compares to the base model figure on the VE Commodore Omega of 10.9L/100km, exactly the same as the Ford Falcon XT.
Perhaps even more relevant is the Mitsubishi 380, a fellow front driver that achieves 10.8L/100km in automatic form.
With numbers like that the choice between a four and a six becomes blurred.
If you look at fuel costs only, the V6s present a better option as the petrol price differential between the pair over a whole year is minimal.
That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Camry’s four, particularly given that the new car is slightly heavier than the previous generation, with more safety gear and a stronger body. Fuel consumption has remained static.
We like the silkiness of the 2.4-litre VVT-i engine, which develops 117kW at 5700rpm and 218Nm at 4000rpm, and it will happily sing right up to the redline.
It’s more than a match for the Camry’s target four-cylinder rivals in the Subaru Liberty, Honda Accord Euro and Mazda6.
However, in the Sportivo five-speed auto we drove, the car required plenty of liberal massaging of the accelerator to get moving, which must surely dent fuel consumption.
The auto is a smooth changer and new intelligent software mapping means it will hold gears going up hill as well as down hill for greater engine braking.
However, unlike its rivals, the five-speed auto does not have a sequential-shift function.
The car’s wide stance and wheel-at-each-corner look is not only a visual improvement over the old car but ultimately aids the on-road dynamics.
A big plus with the local Camry is the amount of thought that has gone into the car’s steering, ride and handling. It is designed to meet Aussie tastes and does so particularly well.
The Camry steers beautifully, with the right amount of feedback and linear "feel" from the steering. It’s crisp and communicative with good turn-in.
Likewise, the ride is well sorted and deals with all manner of poor Australian roads. It absorbs minor and major bumps with the similar levels of composure.
The suspension is what Toyota calls a "long travel, coil-over suspension package" with MacPherson-strut style front suspension and dual-link struts at the rear.
A sure sign that the suspension chaps have achieved the impossible is the fact that the car’s low-speed ride is as good as its high-speed ride.
The Sportivo, in keeping with its "sporty" nature, gains some extra stiffening and a slightly beefier suspension tune. On a brief drive around Sydney, there appeared to be no deterioration in ride quality as the roads became choppy.
Visually, we also like the fact that the car appears to have grown into its body. The on-road stance is better courtesy of the wider front and rear track, longer wheelbase and more integrated approach to the car’s design.
The Sportivo, in keeping with its name, gains some distinctive body enhancements to make it stand out from the other models.
On the outside, there are 17-inch alloys, a sports mesh radiator grille, bodykit, chrome exhaust diffuser, front foglights and metallic paint.
Inside the sports theme carries over with more dished power sports seats, trip computer, leather gearshift, steering wheel and handbrake lever, and alloy sports pedals.
The standard Sportivo kit rounds out to dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS with brake assist, cruise control, dual-zone air conditioning, automatic headlights, electric windows/mirrors and six-speaker in-dash six-stacker CD stereo.
In true Toyota thoroughness, the Sportivo package is well thought out and well presented, even though prices have risen $1350 for the manual and $1850 for the new five-speed auto.
Unfortunately, VSC is restricted to the Grande luxury model only – at this stage.
Like all the Camrys, the Sportivo’s quality levels are very high.
Fit and finish is demonstrably better than the previous car, which itself was good. The car’s shut-lines are tighter and the quality of the cabin plastics, switchgear and cabin ambience is as good as anything out of Japan.
Being a global car, there is little to distinguish "Aussie" Camrys from the five other Camrys sold elsewhere in the world.
The Sportivo’s overall styling is contemporary but slim headlights and bulbous nose give the front a heavy look that is at odds with the chunky profile.
Surprisingly, the rounded rear BMW 7 Series-style bootline actually works well.
The bodykit does provide some definition on the Sportivo, but from certain angles accentuates the car’s slabbiness.
Styling aside, most drivers will quickly feel at ease behind the reach and height-adjustable steering wheel – despite the handbrake being on the left of the centre console - and rear passengers have plenty of leg and headroom.
There is also 20mm more front seat fore/aft adjustment from the power adjustable front seats.
The interior gains have come about because the wheelbase is up 55mm, while Toyota has moved the rear seat 30mm reward and the front cowl panel 75mm forward.
The only downside with the Sportivo’s stiffer body – there’s an extra V-brace behind the rear seats - is that the 60/40-split folding rear seat has been sacrificed to make way for a smaller load-through facility for the 504 litre boot.
Occupants will discover new-found levels of interior quietness in the cabin too.
At 110km/h freeway speeds there is virtually no wind noise from the A-pillars or external rear view mirrors and very little road noise, thanks to extensive work by Toyota engineers for the Middle East market, which equates quality with exceptionally low noise levels.
Although we only drove it relatively briefly, the Camry – and more specifically Sportivo - is up there with the Mitsubishi 380 as one of the best handling front-drivers around.
However, the arrival of the VE Commodore and Aurion are sure to stimulate the big-six market because of their keen pricing and equipment. Whether the Camry can pick up a few crumbs here and there remains to be seen.
It will come down to how much you value a four over a six.
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