Before 2017 is up Australian automotive manufacturing will have come to a halt, and while there’s plenty of tears for the Holden Commodore, the other casualty that’s less likely to muster any kind of significant emotional response is the Toyota Camry.
It should matter though, it’s Australia’s best-selling medium car at the moment. In February it celebrated 30 years of local production, and there’s a pretty good chance that nearly every backside in Australia has taken a seat in a Camry at some point.
That’s all set to change later this year - the Camry will still exist, but Toyota will revert to importing it from Japan as it did in the early 1980s, which has the potential to drive a major shift in how Australian buy and use the humble Camry.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Engine/trans: 133kW/231Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol, 155kW/221Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol-electric hybrid, 225kW/360Nm 3.5-litre 6cyl petrol | 6sp automatic, CVT automatic, 8sp automatic
The 2018 Toyota Camry that goes on sale locally later this year won’t be a continuation of the current series, instead the changeover coincides with Toyota's all-new Camry, one imbued with new-found passion, dynamism, and appeal under the direction of Toyota president Akio Toyoda,
Toyota’s new-generation TNGA chassis (Toyota New Global Architecture) will underpin the new car, it already appears under the Prius and C-HR, and promises a set of building blocks that will deliver more engaging cars to drive.
The engineering-led focus of the TNGA systems results in a 30 percent more rigid platform which delivers better handling as well as providing a safer structure. The overall length is similar to the outgoing model, but the wheelbase has been stretched out by 50mm for greater interior space, and the roofline has been dropped for a lower centre of gravity without reduced headroom.
Before the new Camry arrives in Australia in November this year Toyota invited TMR to the United States, the world’s largest market for the Camry, to try it out and put the ‘new and improved’ claims to the test.
Despite its current position as something of a fleet-darling, Toyota is set to move away from the current simple interior designs and finishes of the outgoing model, and push into a far more upmarket and modern area.
The most obvious change is the new, dramatically swooping dash design with a more neatly integrated and advanced-looking infotainment system than currently available for Camry.
Trim elements also take a trip upmarket - Toyota’s American line-up features standard and sport ranges, not unlike Australia, with an obvious difference in styling thanks to the standard model’s faux wood, and the more handsome look of fake aluminium trimming in the sport model.
Although the roofline is now slightly lower, the seats have also been lowered to compensate, yet there’s been no significant impact on forward visibility. The redesigned seats themselves feel good to sit in, and the new Camry should be a good fit for drivers of all sizes.
In the case of the Camry Hybrid, packaging changes see the batteries move to beneath the boot floor, meaning a 60:40 split folding rear seat for the first time on hybrid models, as well as allowing an extra 30 litres of luggage space.
ON THE ROAD
Australian buyers will have a choice of three powertrain options, headlined by the return of the V6-powered Camry, to fill the void left by the Aussie-built Aurion, and matched to a version of the eight-speed automatic already used in the Toyota Kluger.
As well as the 3.5-litre V6 a carry-over 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and six-speed automatic combo will be available, but Toyota believes that its newly developed hybrid model with a direct-injection version of the 2.5-litre four-pot paired with an electric motor and CVT auto will become the most popular choice amongst buyers.
Engine outputs won’t vary wildly from what’s currently available with an unchanged 133kW power and 231Nm of torque from the 2.5-litre petrol engine, and small increase to 155kW and 221Nm from the hybrid.
The V6 Camry will significantly set up outputs compared to those variants, with a more eager 225kW and 360Nm in its US specification, though final figures for Australia are yet to be set in stone, but shouldn’t differ significantly.
Toyota has also revisited its suspension systems. The front retains a MacPherson strut setup, but at the rear a more advanced double wishbone arrangement has been used for more accurate handling.
As expected the standard and sport models feature different suspension tuning, with the sport tune utilising stiffer springs and dampers for a slightly more direct ride and handling package.
Only the Camry Hybrid was available for Australia’s media to test, in line with Toyota Australia’s belief that the hybrid will be the best-selling engine of the range. Both the standard and sport models were available to test to give an idea of the differences between the two.
On the road the hybrid powertrain gives a positive impression. Although it does without the outright urge of a V6 it still offers more-than-adequate performance, with strong pulling power from standstill thanks to the electric motor's assistance.
In general usage the hybrid system operates smoothly and quietly, but should you call for a sudden surge of acceleration the CVT will hold a point high in the rev range, causing a loud in-cabin drone but lacking the the kick you expect from such noise.
While it’s unlikely buyers would pick the hybrid as any kind of sports sedan, savvy owners looking to trim fuel costs will find it far more agreeable. Official fuel consumption is another area Toyota Australia is yet to confirm, but a 4.5 l/100km target is on the agenda, bringing a decent drop compared to the current model’s 5.2 l/100km figure.
The most significant change that previous Camry driver are likely to notice is the change to on-road feel. While earlier generations have always been comfortable and easy to drive, they have also fallen short in the excitement stakes.
This new model hasn’t suddenly been transformed into a pin-sharp sports car at the expensive of driver comfort, but now both the standard and sport variants steer with greater confidence, providing more feedback and sharper response to driver inputs.
The ride has also moved ahead in leaps and bounds - the comfort of the current generation has been maintained, but with better body control giving a greater sense of sportiness. Even through bends a more stable and planted feel helps boost that feeling of confidence.
While first impressions of the 2018 Camry are promising, and Toyota has worked hard to improve the medium sedan’s driver engagement the new Camry still faces a tough fight against competitors like the Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo.
That battle will intensify once the car arrives locally and can be driven on local roads, not helped by the fact that Toyota admits the new Camry won’t be priced as sharply as the current model - although better specification should help balance the difference.
The full details of specifications and models grades are still to be confirmed, although Toyota Australia’s executive director of sales and market, Tony Cramb did reveal to TMR that the majority of advanced safety systems will be standard across the range meaning autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure with steering assist and automatic high beam should feature on all models.
The sales figures for the new model are yet to be established, but even if the new Camry sells a quarter of the volumes the current model does, it would potentially still lead Australia’s medium car segment comfortably, not only that but with sharper looks and better handling the Camry has the potential to lure private buyers away from brands like Mazda and Ford more convincingly.
No matter what the outcome though, Toyota hasn’t simply rested on its laurels with the new Camry, preparing its fittest fighter yet to go into Australia’s medium sedan arena.