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New Camry: Driven to new heights

Home on the range: Azura (foreground), Sportivo and Altise (rear left) and Ateva comprise the new Camry range.

Toyota's claiming much-improved dynamics for the new Camry, and our first impressions say they've delivered

4 Sep 2002

IT takes only a short drive in the all-new Camry, due in showrooms on September 18, to appreciate how much has changed.

Quieter, smoother and more refined on the open road, it delivers when the going gets twisty too, cornering with far less of the bodyroll, suspension crashing and steering kickback the outgoing Camry was famous for.

In fact, the locally developed steering, ride/handling package and impressive body control are highlights of this much sportier Camry. It's no sports car, but no longer is Camry the epitome of automotive mediocrity.

Even before exploring the Camry's improved dynamics, just sitting in the new interior is enough to tell you the new car has moved further upstream from its predecessor.

Even the entry level Altise interior is warm and welcoming, its light coloured lower half contrasting with the darker, textured upper dashboard. Some hard, cheap looking plastic still surrounds the new central control panel, which is common to all 380N Camrys, but overall the presentation is classier and more sophisticated.

The new locally developed seats are a big improvement too, even if they are still blandly trimmed, a little hard and flat, and positioned fairly high in the cabin. The boot is 9.5 per cent or 50 litres bigger at a big 567 litres - bigger, Toyota says, than Statesman. It's clearly deeper but not nearly as wide or long, and there's a useful split-folding rear seat too.

The slipperier (0.29Cd aerodynamic factor compared with the current Camry's 0.30) new shape delivers clever packaging solutions too.

Sitting on a 50mm-longer wheelbase but measuring only 35mm longer in total, plus 10mm wider and a big 70mm higher, the new body is said to offer 98mm more rear legroom - aided also by the 40mm higher hip point and therefore more upright seating positions - plus big gains in head and shoulder room.

In base Altise specification, the information display at the top of the centre console houses a digital clock and speed alert, below which is the standard single-CD only four-speaker audio unit (flanked by two large air vents).

At the bottom of the console is the standard air-conditioning unit, which now includes venting for rear seat passengers and features two large rotary dials for fresh/recirculate and temperature outboard of smaller rotary dials for fan speed and mode.

Other standard Altise items include twin front airbags, four power windows including illuminated auto driver's up/down, power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers and auto headlights off.

But the steering wheel is still height adjustable only and Camry buyers must shell out for the medium level Ateva if they desire body colour mirrors, doorhandles and rub strips, three adjustable rear headrests, cruise control, alloy wheels instead of similarly sized (205/65 R15) steel wheels and ABS. Side airbags and a sunroof are not available on Altise.

Ateva also offers a slightly more luxurious circular knit fabric seat trim, a chrome grille surround, woodgrain switchplates and console, a six-speaker audio system with cassette player, driver's vanity mirror, glovebox illumination, front map lights and a centre rear armrest with twin cupholders. The Ateva V6 also gets standard side airbags and a six-CD stacker.

Sportivo and Azura models get a sportier interior, including a light coloured bottom contrasting with a black, textured upper dash material, plus automatic climate control with push buttons and LCD display, sports leather seats, leather door inserts, gearknob, steering wheel and handbrake, a full woodgrain centre console, illuminated passenger vanity mirror, rear sun blind and metallic instruments and switch plates.

Externally, Azura and Sportivo models feature a full sports bodykit with fog lights (a delete option for Azura), blacked-out headlights, 16-inch alloys and sports suspension, though the four-cylinder Sportivo misses out on a cassette player and trip computer, and gets just four speakers.

Only the Azura gets a sunroof, power front seats and Toyota's DVD-based satellite navigation system with touch screen operation as standard, making it the most highly specified Camry ever.

Azura and Sportivo's sports leather seats are a big step up from lesser models' regular seats, offering greater lateral support and more adjustment, including lumbar, while the stylish metallic-look speedo and tacho incorporate fuel and temperature gauges respectively and perpetuate the sporty look well, but can reflect sunlight.

But if the interior has improved, the dynamics are worlds apart. Camry's use of the Avalon derived Toyota Modular Platform gave local engineers the chance to make a quantum leap in terms of chassis development, instead of taking the traditional Toyota approach of achieving only incremental gains between models.

And, using research that showed Australian driving techniques to be more aggressive than both Europeans and Americans, they have made the most of the opportunity.

The new Camry's sandwich-construction chassis delivers significant gains in both torsional rigidity and noise, vibration and harshness, so local chassis development started with a product that was already more refined and prestige feeling than before. But the addition of locally developed suspension, steering and brakes adds a further level of sophistication.

Using the current Camry Touring as a benchmark and after testing about 50 Monroe suspension iterations for Sportivo and Azura's sports suspension - and 40 for the basic suspension system - Toyota engineers settled on a set-up that is both firmer and much more tightly damped.

Compared with the previous base suspension, the new car is 10 to 15 per cent firmer, while the Sportivo's spring rates have increased 17 per cent at the front and 21 per cent at rear, compared with the outgoing Touring system.

After 60,000km of real world testing, low to midrange damping rates were increased a massive 100 per cent for both the compression and rebound strokes.

After testing an 18mm anti-roll bar up front, which was found to deliver excessive understeer and potential durability issues, engineers stuck with the current Camry's 17mm anti-roll bar arrangement at both ends. The sports suspension also includes a front strut tower brace.

The result is an excellent level of body control and the flattest ride ever seen in a Camry thanks to increased roll stiffness. The reduced focus on ride means coarse chip bitumen will reveal a level of tyre roar in sports suspension models that is probably only a little improved, but the base system offers an accomplished ride with only a small trade-off in bodyroll.

Even more immediately noticeable is the vastly improved steering. The new rack and pinion system, produced by Delphi at a purpose built Victorian plant, features engine speed-sensitive variable power assistance for the first time in Camry.

Switching progressively to a lower level of steering assistance above 2500rpm, the new steering is light enough at parking speeds yet offers good weighting and response at speed.

But the best part is the huge gains made in virtually eliminating kick-back from the Camry equation.

The Delphi system employs the same mechanical ratio as before but has completely different power assistance curves, making it firmer, more responsive and less prone to torque steer. Close attention to increasing its self-drive characteristic, or Camry's ability to track straight regardless of road camber changes, has also paid off.

Most importantly, however, a new check valve is incorporated, specifically designed to reduce flow back into the system when wheels are deflected by bumps. Mild kickback can still be provoked over rippled surfaces, but it's now much harder to find.

The new Camry is no 3 Series, but the massive reduction in steering kickback, without any loss of feel, is a big step forward for Camry. However, new Camry's turning circle has increased markedly, to a big 11.6 metres.

The final piece of the local development package is brakes. Using standard BTR components said to be specified to Toyota standard, the locally sourced discs and single-piston callipers combine with Toyota's own master cylinder and booster to produce a noticeably improved braking system.

Featuring reduced idle stroke, higher jump-in feel and higher initial and overall effectiveness, the increased braking ability is a product of local parts sourcing and development.

To powertrains - and it's clear the new 2.4-litre DOHC VVTi four-cylinder engine produced by Toyota Australia - only the third country to manufacture it - is a cracker.

Offering plenty of urge off the line and at the top-end, but feeling just a little flat in the mid-range, the new engine is said to have been benchmarked against similar engines from Honda and even Mercedes-Benz, and at 117kg is said to be the world's lightest 2.4-litre passenger car engine.

Available with a new four-speed auto - which shifts more quickly than before but can hunt and features no power mode or manual shift function - in Altise ($1500), Ateva ($1000) and Sportivo (no cost) models only, the VVTi engine delivers an unsurprising peak of 112kW at 5600rpm and 218Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

Still, that's 19 per cent more power than the previous 2.2, along with 16 per cent more torque. Most impressive is the new five-speed manual, which is slicker, more positive and with a shorter throw, but is not available in Ateva or the V6-only Azura.

The V6, now with peak power of 145kW instead of 141 but with the same 279Nm of torque for Azura and Sportivo models, is available across the range with both the carry-over four-speed auto and new five-speed manual, except in the auto-only Ateva and Azura.

Like the four-cylinder, the V6 revs freely beyond 6000rpm, but what it lacks in the VVTi's top-end performance, it makes up for with better low to mid-range torque.

Prone to perhaps a little more understeer at the limit than the lighter four-cylinder - but just as grippy and determined not to be thrown off-line by mid-corner irregularities - the V6 also offers all of the four's body control, settling quickly after impacts instead of floating like the superseded Camry.

The four-cylinder's extra performance propels the new Camry, still a paltry 1390kg in manual form (up 35kg), to 100km/h almost two full seconds quicker than before - the new claimed 0-100 figure of 9.3 seconds eclipsing its predecessor's 11.2 - while the auto is relatively slower at 10.6 seconds versus the old car's 12.2.

V6 performance remains similar at 8.3 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint. Despite the extra performance, the four's fuel economy has improved by 0.5litres/100km to 9.5litres/100km on the city cycle, while the V6 is similarly more frugal at 10.5litres/100km.


HERE are some of the key features specific to each of the four Camry model grades.

This is not a complete guide to each model as some equipment, like dual airbags and ABS, is shared across either all or most model grades.

Altise 4-cyl
Five-speed or four-speed automatic transmission
Dual airbags
Front seatbelt pretensioners
Radio and CD player with four speakers
Power windows
Remote central locking
V6 adds:
Six-speaker audioAteva 4-cyl
Four-speed automatic transmission only
Metallic paint
15-inch alloy wheels
Three height adjustable rear headrests
Faux wood grain
Trip computer with speed alert
Security alarm
Cruise control
3-in-1 radio, single-CD/ cassette with six speakers
V6 adds:
Front side airbags
3-in-1 radio, multi-CD/cassette with six speakersSportivo
Five-speed or four-speed automatic transmission
Sport suspension
Body kit
16-inch alloy wheels
Michelin Vivacy tyres
Front foglights
Chrome exhaust diffuser
Front sports seats
Leather steering wheel and shift knob
Sports instrumentation
A/T indicator in dash
V6 adds:
Front side airbags
Sports "metal finish" interior trim items
Security alarm
3-in-1 radio, multi CD/cassette with six speakers
Auto air-conditioning
Variable back pressure muffler
Leather park brake lever
A/T indicator in dashAzura V6
Leather seat trim
Faux wood grain
Satellite navigation
Power-operated front seats
Moon roofFor full examination of Camry development and pricing, check out our accompanying story in the New Models section, "New Camry: Four takes the floor".

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