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Car reviews - Toyota - Camry - Sportivo V6 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Interior space, smooth and quiet driveline, improved steering, sporty chassis
Room for improvement
Lack of power compared to rivals, not quite as well balanced as Sportivo four

Toyota logo28 Nov 2002

TOYOTA isn't exactly renowned as a sports sedan maker in this country. But it is trying to change that perception.

The Sportivo range is now a full-blown member of the Camry line-up, offered as both a four-cylinder and the 3.0-litre V6 we've tested here.

Previously Toyota mucked about at the edge of the sport sedan scene with the Touring, an on-and-off model whose name and looks were only a little more pedestrian than its performance.

Sportivo is meant to change that - and to an extent it does.

There's a far more aggressive bodykit adorning the new 380N generation's bulky but pleasant sheetmetal and a more sporty interior finish with metal-look plastic splashed about.

Under the skin Toyota's been unable to do much with the drivetrain. The 1MZ-FE scissor-gear DOHC V6 is carry-over from the old 660T generation.

By scissor-gear we mean the exhaust cams drive the inlet cams via gears, rather than the latter working off the timing belt driven by the crankshaft.

The only change to the engine is the addition of a variable valve muffler - borrowed from the Avalon sister car - which pumps power from 141kW to 145kW at 5200rpm and torque from 279Nm to 284Nm at 4400rpm.

It's a difference that is completely unnoticeable on the road. It's more a crowing point than anything else, because the cheaper Altise and Ateva V6 models miss out on it.

But don't shout too loudly because an Altise manual V6 owner can quickly point out that Toyota claims identical 0-100km/h acceleration times for their car and the Sportivo V6 manual - 8.3 seconds. The optional four-speed auto is a whole second slower.

They also get those identical straight-line "thrills" for around $8000 less. Hmmm.

But get to the chassis and that's where the Sportivo driver has some fair dinkum advantages over drivers of the "cooking" model Camry.

You see, Toyota Australia wanted to put more emphasis on handling and grip with the 380N Camry than its predecessor without skimping on ride quality.

To do that it split the suspension set-up into two streams, the Altise and Ateva gaining a set-up approximating the old Touring model, while the Sportivo and Azura went firmer and more focussed again.

The suspension design across the Camry range is the same - MacPherson struts up front and parallel dual links at the rear.

But for Sportivo spring rates have been increased by 17 per cent at the front and 21 per cent at the rear compared with the Touring, while compression damping has been doubled at some velocities.

The Sportivo chassis is completed by 16-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Vivacy tyres, and a strut brace between the front suspension towers to increase body strength.

It's worth remembering these changes have to also take into account the increased kerb weight of Camry, which compared to the old Touring is up 85kg.

It's also worth remembering there are some differences between Sportivo 4 and V6 set-up as well.

The power steering pump flow rate is seven per cent more in the V6, the springs are heavier up front to cope with the 60kg heavier engine, and the front subframe is stiffer in the lateral and vertical directions because of the increased engine mass as well. Shocks and stabiliser bars stay the same.

You may have already read our Sportivo 4 road test - if not just go back to the Toyota file and look it up - and we rated that as a very well balanced car with a chassis that was capable of coping with far more power than the 2.4-litre engine dished out.

And to an extent the V6 is familiar, albeit quicker and with not quite the same amount of finesse.

There's a bit more torque steer out of the new Delphi steering rack and even some inside front tyre wheelspin as you accelerate hard around tighter corners.

And the suspension starts losing its compliance a bit sooner than the 4, becoming a bit jouncy and bouncy on rougher sporting roads.

But the grip levels are higher than any garden variety Camry we've experienced and the car sits flat and firm, dispensing with the mushiness of Altise and Ateva. The steering, too, is vastly improved from the old car, with steering feel rather than kickback.

Get on the dirt and the V6 Sportivo again apes its little brother - an oversteering blast that's testament to a well-sorted chassis.

It leaves you wanting more power and, in the end, the V6 is simply not able to provide the straight-line thrills of, say, the Falcon XR6, Commodore S or even the Magna Sports.

And the manual gearbox. Well, it's a typically stiff, two-stage Toyota effort, which is reliable enough.

But in sporting mode second and third gear are too far apart to work with the torque and power spread, which means you're either buzzing in second or lagging in third. Give us a close-ratio six-speed box, or better yet, more power and torque!

The rest of the package is pure Camry. The interior is now huge and the presentation improved albeit in a conservative way over the old car.

In terms of equipment the V6 adds quite a bit of gear over the four-cylinder Sportivo, including three-in-one audio with a six-speaker in-dash CD (the 4 gets radio and a single CD player) and six speakers instead of four, alcantara (fake suede) seat inserts, side airbags, additional metal-look finish on the centre console and armrests, security alarm, front passenger seat lumbar adjustment and climate control air-conditioning.

There's also beaut new heavily bolstered sports seats and a lengthy list of standard features that includes the comprehensive trip computer. The latter informed us we managed an average 13.0L100km in our week in Sportivo, which should prove a bit more than you'll use on average for most daily commuting.

This is a car that ably fills that role as well as being an enjoyable blaster. The improvement in noise, vibration and harshness over the old model is substantial, rode comfort is commendable despite the sports tune and the behaviour of the drivetrain is as good as ever, which is understandable, really.

This is not the car with which Toyota can truly stake a claim to be a sports sedan maker. The Sportivo 4 is probably a quicker and more enjoyable car point-to-point on a winding road. But for Toyota, it's a sporting step in the right direction.

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