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First drive: New Toyota Camry gets true-blue stamp
Aussie engineers help bring Toyota's seventh-gen Camry to global production
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8 Dec 2011
TOYOTA says its seventh-generation Camry is more ‘Australian’ than any previous model, with local engineers playing a key role in development of the ‘core’ global vehicle for the first time.
Elements of the body, chassis and electrical systems were developed in secret by members of the 160-strong Toyota Technical Centre Australia (TTC-AU) team based at the Melbourne suburb of Notting Hill, where work on the just-released NG Camry started five years ago, right at the start of the international program controlled from Japan – a first for the local Toyota team.
TTC-AU president Max Gillard revealed at this week’s Camry launch in Victoria that 37 Australian engineers spent up to two years in Japan, working alongside their Japanese counterparts and suppliers on core engineering elements such as the car’s wiring harness, circuit design, manual heater control, doors – including the locks, handles and hinges – and cowl sheet-metal.
In Australia, the TTC-AU engineers collaborated with Hella on the front and rear lamps, and with Adelaide’s SMR on the new-look exterior mirrors with integrated turn lamps.
When the Camry Hybrid arrives in the first quarter of 2012, hybrid motor generator control software will come courtesy of the Australian team.
Vehicles made and sold in Japan, China, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, South America and Australia have also benefitted from Australian engineering or design touches, with the latter being done by Toyota Style Australia – the company’s small design studio in Port Melbourne.
The Australian input in the new Camry reflects the importance of the model in this market – the fourth biggest consumer of Camrys in the world behind the United States, China and Saudi Arabia.
So far this year, Toyota has sold 17,637 Camrys – despite calamitous conditions that include production shutdowns due to the Japanese earthquake and local factory strikes – setting up the mid-sized car’s 18th successive victory in the medium car segment this year.
Critically for Australia, the local engineers were responsible for the ride and handling development of the Australian-made Camry destined not only for local showrooms but 20 export markets.
The latest Camry, which enters showrooms in late December, has effectively been split into two models – the fleet-friendly, entry-level Altise and sportier-looking, better equipped Atara (meaning crown in Hebrew) aimed at private buyers, especially families and lease customers.
The upstream Atara itself comes in three spec levels, with S replacing the previous Ateva, SX replacing the Sportivo and SL taking over from Grande.
Price of entry to the range has been held at the previous level, with the Altise starting at the same $30,490 (plus on-roads) as the previous model.
The mid-range variants get a small price lift to reflect new equipment levels, with the Atara S priced at $33,490 (up $1000 over the Ateva) and the Atara SX now priced at $35,990 (up $2000 over Sportivo).
The flagship Atara SL remains at $39,990, thereby keeping the list prices under the psychological $40k mark.
The new Camry gets fresh sheetmetal and an all-new powertrain that includes the latest, more powerful but more efficient 2AR-FE-series 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that ultimately will be produced for the locally made Camry at a new $300 million engine plant next to the car factory at Altona.
The engine comes in two states of tune: 133kW of power at 6000rpm and 231Nm of torque at 4100rpm in the entry-level Altise, and 135kW and 235Nm in the more upmarket Atara, thanks to a free-breathing twin exhaust system on Atara – a first for Camry.
This represents a lift of between 13 and 15 per cent in power and around six per cent in torque, compared with the previous AZ-series engine.
Among the main enhancements to the engine are variable valve control on the exhaust valves (as well as inlet valves), and a variable inlet system that generates more mid-range torque.
The old five-speed automatic transmission makes way for a new six-speed with sequential shift, including steering-wheel paddles on the Atara variants.
No manual gearbox is offered, due to low sales of the self-shifter in the previous model.
With more power, a slicker transmission and 35kg less bulk – thanks to more liberal use of high-strength steel – the sprint from zero to 100km/h is said to take 9.3 seconds, which is 0.1 seconds quicker than the discontinued Camry manual and two-tenths better than the old Camry auto.
One of the headline acts for the new Camry range is its improved fuel consumption, said to be 7.8 litres per 100km – a full 1.0L/100km better than the previous model’s 8.8L/100km.
This eclipses petrol automatic rivals such as the Mazda6 (8.5), Ford Mondeo (8.0) and Holden Commodore 3.0-litre SIDI (8.9).
The Hybrid Camry will turn the screws even further, although no figures for the new model have been released.
Part of the fuel economy improvement can be sheeted home to the adoption of electric power-assisted steering in place of the old hydraulic system on the petrol Camry (the system is already in use on the hybrid), eliminating pump drag on the engine, while low-resistance parts such as roller rockers have been included.
Although the body appears to be a re-working of the previous generation Camry under the totally new skin – the identical 2775mm wheelbase is a giveaway – Toyota says major changes have been wrought to improve almost every element of the car, from noise, vibration and harshness to safety and comfort.
Panel gaps are tighter, as is dust sealing, while noise suppression measures have been ramped up to make the Camry up to 3dB quieter across the racket range.
Narrower pillars contribute to safer vision, while rear-seat room has been enhanced 45mm by moving the seats further apart and sculpting the back of the front seats,Overall body dimensions are basically the same as the previous model, with an identical 4815mm length and 1470mm height, although width has grown 5mm to 1825mm.
Boot space remains generous at 515 litres, even though Camry retains a full-sized spare wheel.
The suspension design is a carry-over MacPherson strut design up front and a dual-link independent system at the rear, with major revisions by the Australian engineers for better ride quality and handling.
Safety has gone up a notch with the addition of a driver’s knee airbag across the range, bringing the airbag count to seven, and seatbelt warning devices for all five seating positions.
Hi-tech safety systems on range-topping models include a reversing camera, a blind-spot radar warning system and an automatic headlight dipping system that had to be calibrated to allow for Australia’s roadside reflectors.
The system uses a detector mounted high on the windscreen to dip the lights when a car approaches at about 800 metres, or when the Camry closes to within 600 metres of another vehicle from behind. The lights switch back to high beam as the other vehicle passes.
The blind-spot warning system comes into play above 50km/h, with a warning icon lighting up in the exterior wing mirror when another vehicle is in the danger zone.
A new seat design with a taller seatback contributes to greater driver comfort, as does a realigned steering wheel that Toyota says is now in a “more natural position”.
The steering column, which is adjustable for both reach and height, gets an extra 10mm of upwards adjustment.
The entry-level Altise rides on 16-inch alloy wheels with 215/60 tyres, while the Atara steps up to 17-alloys with lower-profile 215/55 tyres.
While the Altise comes with cloth seats, an old-style ignition key, plastic steering wheel and manual air controls, it does get the new upmarket-looking stitched upper dash treatment.
Apart from the Atara’s sportier front bumper and grille, foglights and the twin tailpipes, the S gets a reversing camera, electric-adjust seats, paddle-shifter transmission, keyless entry and starting, dual-zone climate-control, 6.1-inch touch-screen audio and metallic paint at no extra cost.
The Atara SX has all that, and gains a leather interior, sports rear body treatment including a lip spoiler, sports suspension and sports pedals.
The flagship SL gains a JBL 10-speaker audio system, seven-inch touch-screen, sat-nav, DAB+ digital radio, RDS live traffic updates, reversing camera with guide monitor, blind-spot monitor, automatic high-beam dipper, driver’s seat memory, rain-sensing wipers, electric rear sunshade and exterior mirrors that dip when reverse is selected.
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