TO DISTORT A QUOTE FROM A WELL-KNOWN BRITISH SPY: THE TOYOTA CAMRY RZ IS "STIRRED NOT SHAKEN". So while it's not the full-blown TRD-enhanced projectile, the RZ's sporty exterior still manages to get some looks in the carpark.
It emerges from Toyota’s production line in Altona, Victoria, and, dig a little, and you’ll discover there are some suspension mods down below and a smidge of extra grunt to round-out this special edition.
Sales? You want to talk sales? Well, this year, like any of the previous 23 years, Toyota Camry will pocket Australia’s numero-uno ranking for mid-size cars at a doddle – already, year-to-date to the end of August, we’re talking sales of 14,535 units, a market share of 46.9 percent and a lead over second-best Mazda6 of 11,526.
Of course Toyota's Camry (including the hybrid version) dominates government and fleet sales – in fact Mazda doesn’t compete in that area – but, hey, sales are sales.
As for post-2017 when Toyota shutters its Port Melbourne assembly plant, well, there’s nothing official but you’d get short odds on the Toyota plant in Thailand (which already supplies the HiLux and Fortuner here) taking over as supplier to the Australian market.
Vehicle Style: Mid-sized Sedan
Price: $28,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 135kW/235Nm 2.5 litre 4cyl petrol | 6-spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.9 l/100km | tested: 9.0 l/100km
As we write, spy photos of the all-new Toyota Camry – said to be due in North America early next year as a 2018 model – point to a more muscled-up look in-line with company President Akio Toyoda’s directive to put more passion into the brand.
With the RZ, Toyota Australia has beaten the rest of the Camry world to the punch – exterior enhancements (mesh grille, halogen headlight inserts, door mirror casings, rear diffuser and bootlid spoiler all in black), 18-inch alloy wheels with low-profile 45-series tyres as well as sports suspension, sharper steering and twin exhausts certainly give the limited edition model some pep.
Parking sensors front and rear and some boosts for the interior complete the picture.
Normally those extras would amount to an additional $4000 on the bottom line, but, when you’re talking the Camry RZ, you’re paying a little more than $2000 over the regular retail price of the base model Altise.
In the previous model generation, Toyota offered the RZ based on the Camry Atara SX or optional on Atara SL.
- Standard features: Leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, 4.2-inch colour multi-function display, cruise control, reversing camera
- Infotainment: 6-speaker radio/CD with colour touchscreen
While the Toyota Camry RZ gets ‘the look’ on the outside, interior enhancements are light-on - perhaps not surprising given its value-for-money equation.
Oh there’s a thick leather-wrapped steering wheel (albeit a bit too large to be labeled ‘sporty') and RZ-branded floor mats up-front, but otherwise Camry’s sporting model picks-up just a 4.2-inch multi-function screen for the driver and dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning.
The reversing camera is welcome in a car at this price, as are the parking sensors front and rear.
We would have like some form of sports seats, not least because Camry’s standard seats, while undoubtedly comfortable, are found wanting when the road gets twisty – naturally exaggerated by the RZ model’s firm sports suspension and grippy tyres.
Of course Camry’s big plus is space – noticeable up-front but highlighted in the rear (the latter helped in comparisons with other locals by the lack of a tailshaft tunnel as Camry is a front-driver).
The boot too is big and wide, offers..... litres of cargo space, and can easily swallow a family-sized load.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine/transmission: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol and 6-spd automatic
- Power/torque: 135kW @ 6000rpm/235Nm @ 4100rpm
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear
- Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion (turning circle 10.8-metres)
- Brakes: Four-wheel discs
So we have a Toyota Camry with a few extra kilowatts and Newton-metres on-tap, 45-series tyres, firmer sports suspension and slightly-quicker-ratio power steering.
Doesn’t make for a Toyota 86, we know, but for just $2,000 more than the base model Camry Altise, it does make for great value in a car that is solidly-engineered and a more capable drive than some commentators will concede.
And the point is, when you hustle along over some twisty roads, the RZ really does feel like a sporty Camry – the ride is noticeably firmer, the steering is noticeably sharper and turn-in is noticeably more direct.
In fact we’ve read some criticism of the Toyota Camry RZ saying its suspension is too firm. We don’t entirely agree – buyers of 'sports' models expect a bit of firmness (it's a trade-off familiar to buyers of European cars), and, if you want soft, choose the cheaper Camry Altise model with 16-inch wheels and taller rubber.
As we know, Toyota has the 2.5-litre four-cylinder geared for V6-like throttle response and the Camry RZ does get away rapidly from a standing start. It is certainly "quick enough", but nonetheless beaten in the zero to 100km/h sprint by the Mazda6.
It is entirely at home on the highway, has ample power to flatten hills (and overtake quickly) and effortlessly swallows long Aussie kilometres.
As for points deductions, ours stems from road noise - we think Toyota might have done better here (and it drops half-a-point). Perhaps exaggerated by low levels of mechanical noise, those bigger wheels and low-profile tyres create a kerfuffle on all road surfaces we encountered.
SAFETY | RATING: 5/5
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.27 out of 37 possible points.
Safety Features: Six airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, traction and stability control reversing camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Service intervals nine months/15,000kms/ capped-price servicing $130 for the first five services
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Ford's EcoBoost-powered Mondeo - big, fast and smooth as silk - is more the drivers' car than the Camry, and, really, a contender that's underrated by buyers. Honda's Accord is also a rival though it has lost its sporting pretensions and that lively European feel that once typified the brand.
Mazda6, the segment benchmark across most measures, delivers the excellent GT model in sedan and wagon from $42,690 (plus on-road charges). The big wheels look the part and the interior is classier than Camry.
Possibly the best rival is the Skoda Octavia RS, which can also be had in a wagon, and which is stickered from $37,590 (plus on-road charges).
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There has been a massive philosophical change at Toyota predicated by President Akio Toyoda demanding more personality for the brand.
And, yes, the RZ model does provide a much-needed personality boost for the Camry. While no fire-breather, it is brisk on-road and, thanks to Toyota Australia's suspension engineering work, offers a little more zing and well-balanced steering and handling - if a little firm for some.
The RZ styling package sets it apart from the 'common rung' Camry; it looks quite ok on the 18-inch alloys and there is a bit of substance behind those wheels.
In fact, for $28,490, there is a lot of car here. At that price, this Camry is very good buying.
Here’s the thing: when the company fleet manager says your next car is a Camry, all is not lost – move fast and snare one of the RZs before they disappear and you’ve still got some street cred.
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