Toyota finds itself in a somewhat peculiar place with the new Camry. Like Holden and Ford the brand has ceased Australian manufacturing, but has somehow managed to escape the backlash that comes with that decision.
Much of that likely has to do with the fact Camry doesn’t quite excite the same passion in Aussie motoring fans as Commodore and Falcon did, and as a result Camry has a lot less to lose.
As time goes on sales will drop as Government and council fleets no longer need to uphold Australian-made buying quotas, but to counter that Toyota has well and truly made its best Camry yet.
That’s not a reflection on the Australian-made Camry, it was never a bad thing, but it shows that Toyota has more than ever to fight for to keep Camry sales strong around the world, and for the thousands of drivers who will end up with one as a company car, or choose one as family transport, that can only be good news.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Price: $29,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 160kW/221Nm (combined 2.5-litre petrol 4cyl/electric motor | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.2 l/100km | Tested: 6.1 l/100km
The new Camry brings a slew of new model names, like this entry-level Ascent, which step in for the previous Altise and conveniently lines up with the base-grade Corolla Ascent.
There’s also been big engineering revisions, like an all new chassis beneath the car, a high-tech modular system (much like Volkswagen uses) which already underpins cars like the C-HR small SUV and Prius hybrid hatch.
The changes mean the new Camry can be more dymanic than ever before, but don’t be alarmed; soft, quiet, and comfortable cruising are still a given. Safety also gets a big boost with essential autonomous emergency braking added along with lane departure warning. Even on the base model.
The focus of this review is the hybrid model, with Toyota expecting the miserly petrol-electric model to make up the bulk of its sales. Overall it's now a touch more powerful, but more importantly the battery moves from in the boot to beneath the back seat making the new Camry hybrid no less practical than any other variant in the range.
Pricing for the Ascent hybrid starts from a keen $29,990, a $2300 step-up over the regular four-cylinder but with a more flexible engine and the lure of long-term fuel savings it’s not hard to see why Toyota pictures Australia’s only mainstream mid-size hybrid model cementing itself in the local market.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth trim, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, rear seat air vents, keyless entry and start, adaptive cruise control,17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/DAB radio, CD player, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 493 litres
The interior of the new Camry is a big step up of the the last model - in part because Australia missed a series of trim and upgrades applied to the mid-life update of the last Camry overseas as part of that model’s evolution.
Long-time Camry drivers will immediately appreciate improved materials, with a higher quality look and feel to the dash, door trims, and centre console to go with small detail changes like the addition of real stitching to the padded dash and a premium looking metal-finish in front of the passenger.
Most importantly though, and despite being classed as a medium car, space inside the Camry is huge. There’s real large-car space in any seat, and the broad front seats will accomodate occupants of most sizes in long-range comfort.
Toyota has bucked the trend of a shallow glasshouse for the new model, which means tall side windows and low beltline, making the new model feel more roomy than many competitors.
The driver sits a little higher than might otherwise be expected, but the driving position works well and along with the very slim (by modern standards) windscreen pillars, forward visibility is excellent.
The new asymmetric dash design won’t be to all tastes, but thanks to features like a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and a colour instrument cluster display, the Ascent feels more upmarket than any base model Camry before it.
The Ascent Hybrid also come with keyless entry and start and dual-zone climate control when compared to the petrol Ascent. Adaptive cruise control is now standard, as are little touches that often get overlooked like auto-up/down windows for all position, and rear seat face-level ventilation.
Boot space measures 493 litres, matching the petrol Camry for the first time (although higher grades feature a larger boot depending on specification), thanks to a hybrid battery pack that has been relocated to beneath the rear seats.
The rear seat now has full 60:40 fold functionality for the first time too, removing any of practicality the drawbacks of the previous model.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol, 131kW @5700rpm, 221Nm @3600rpm plus synchronous electric motor 88kW and 202Nm maximum - 160kW and 221Nm combined
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic transmission, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: 305mm vented front discs, 281mm solid rear discs
- Steering: electric power steering, 12.2m turning circle (kerb to kerb)
- Towing Capacity: 400kg braked, 400kg unbraked
Now that the Camry is the biggest and heaviest it’s ever been, the hybrid drivetrain makes more sense than ever.
If you’ve not experienced one before, the electric motor works to give the petrol engine a boost - particularly helpful when moving off from a standstill thanks to big torque available immediately.
Under low load like gentle acceleration, or when cruising the electric motor can work solo, and over all the electric side of things helps drive the Camry hybrid’s fuel consumption down. Way down.
There’s also a new 2.5-litre petrol engine with improved power and thermal efficiency - plus improvements to noise and vibration for even quieter running.
Toyota has also deployed a new continuously variable automatic transmission, in relaxed cruising it can still demonstrate some of the stretchy acceleration feel that characterises CVTs, but becomes more fluent in demanding conditions.
Toyota has also added a three mode controller with Normal, Eco and EV drive modes, with Eco numbing pedal response for greater economy, and EV locking the car into electric running only unless extreme acceleration is called for.
On the road the new Camry is as Camry as ever - that might sound like faint praise, but it’s really good news, as it means the comfort, and easy driving nature that defined Toyota’s mid-sizer are still intact.
Toyota understands that not every car needs to ride like a track-ready sportster, but even though the supple ride is as it should be, the Camry can keep its composure over corrugations and mid-corner upsets without resorting to excessive body roll and pitch.
The base model car now rides on 17-inch wheels (hard to believe buy as recently as 2015 Toyota wouldn’t but anything bigger than 17s under a Camry from factory, now wheel options stretch all the way to 19-inch depending on the model). The spare is a space saver on the hybrid model, but you get a full-size wheel on the petrol model Ascent.
The only major issue we could find in our time with the Camry Hybrid was an unusual tendency for the stability control system to initiate a full emergency stop every time it detected a difference in weight across the front wheels.
The result was involuntary hard-stops in low-speed driving, like trying to enter a driveway, or braking to a stop facing downhill on an uneven surface. Previous experience tell us it’s a hybrid-only issue, and it’s a properly annoying one at that.
Another bugbear we discovered was a rough changeover as the hybrid model changes from regenerative braking (used to replenish the hybrid battery) to friction braking, leading to an inconsistent pedal feel accompanied by a grinding yelp from the brakes
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Toyota Camry scored 36.16 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.
Safety Features: All Camry models come standard with seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking, front seatbelt pretensioners, lane departure alert, reverse park sensors and reversing camera, electronic stability, traction, and trailer sway control, ABS brakes, and adaptive cruise control.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Toyota Service Advantage capped price servicing offers very competitive fixed price servicing at 12 month/15,000km intervals (whichever comes first) up to five years or 75,000. Each service is priced at $195 - conditionals and exclusions apply, your Toyota dealer can explain the full program in detail.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
If you need a car with room for the family and a frugal engine, maybe the new-generation Holden Commodore diesel is for you - it’s not the same budget buy as the Camry, but promises new levels of technology, and refinement. Like Toyota Holden has moved production offshore but that doesn’t seem to have had a negative effect on the finished vehicle.
A recent restyle gives the new Hyundai Sonata a bold face, but at its core this is a decent family car with a strong features list and room for the whole family. The petrol engine might be a little more thirsty than the hybrid Camry but there’s otherwise little to dislike about the Hyundai.
It feels a little bit like even Hyundai has forgotten about the i40 - a little smaller than most recent plus-sized medium cars, the i40 sedan and its diesel engine, could be just the right fit for some buyers - but once again it’s not a dollar-for-dollar match against the Camry which really is stellar value.
The Subaru Liberty is the only car in its segment to offer all wheel drive grip on the entry-level model which is sure to come in handy for regional buyers travelling gravel, damp, or snowy roads - it’s also a big, roomy and comfortable family hauler.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4/5
Even though traditional medium-sized passenger car sales continue to slide in Australia, it’s good to see Toyota isn’t prepared to give up just yet - nor should it, last year Camry was Australia’s favourite mid-sizer by a long shot.
While Camry’s massive lead is expected to slide back a little this year, this is still an important market for Toyota. Production may have changed from Australia to Japan, but the Camry’s evolution continues to be a positive one.
With frugal fuel usage and almost compromise-free useability the new Camry Hybrid - sure to continue to be the darling of fleets around the country - is certainly no penalty box
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