You might know the Toyota Camry as a fleet car, the kind of thing that fills the carpark at work, or maybe it’s the thing you ended up with when you booked a rental car on your last holiday.
Toyota would also like you to think of the Camry as an ideal family companion. Reliable, spacious, and fuel efficient though it may be, the Camry has always been a little bit conservative.
In its latest iteration, Toyota has tried to learn from more exciting mid-size rivals, like the Mazda6, applying a more intricate look and less benign dynamics to help keep the Camry in the fight against more adventurous rivals.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Price: $29,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 135kW/235Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.8 l/100km | Tested: 10.2 l/100km
In the four-step Camry hierarchy, the Ascent Sport model tested here sits one rung up from the base model Ascent.
Despite the Sport moniker this isn’t the most athletic Camry you’ll find, limited to a choice of four-cylinder petrol or hybrid engines (we’re testing the pure petrol model) and stuck with the same soft suspension and 17-inch wheels as the base model.
The Ascent Sport does however come with some extra visual panache with a more aggressive set of bumpers and side skirts, plus a few little extra toys, like dual-zone climate control and keyless entry and start.
There’s plenty for family buyers to like, especially given that this version looks a lot less like every other fleet-special model. But the Camry Ascent Sport won’t break the bank, from a very attractive $29,990 plus on road costs.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth trim, leather-look steering wheel and gear knob, 7.0-inch full-colour instrument cluster display, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, rear seat air vents, keyless entry and start, adaptive cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, AM/FM/DAB radio, CD player, Aux and USB inputs, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 524 litres to rear seats
Even though the Camry is still officially a ‘medium’ car, the space inside the latest model is incredibly generous. The front seats are big and broad with plenty of adjustability and the rear will comfortably fit three adults.
Similarly, Toyota has been just as generous with interior storage thanks to a massive centre console and glovebox. There’s also a smaller driver’s glovebox, hidden storage under the centre stack, and door pockets that can cleverly hold bottles and secure a street directory - if you still have one.
The instrument panel is far more modern than the previous Camry, with neat premium details like real stitching on the padded dash and a fancy looking metallic strip ahead of the passenger. Look hard, and details like the door handles that flow into metal strips show Toyota has been paying attention.
Compared to the petrol Ascent, the Ascent Sport adds features like dual-zone climate control, keyless entry a powered driver’s seat, ‘premium’ steering wheel and gear knob (it looks and feels a lot like leather but Toyota doesn’t use the L-word), and a huge 7.0-inch display between the gauges.
The infotainment system also steps up with a larger 8.0-inch display (up from 7.0-inches) with a flush-fitted screen for a neater look, and standard satellite navigation although Toyota still stubbornly refuses to add appealing features like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but at least digital radio is a standard inclusion.
Boot space in the Ascent Sport is rated at 524 litres - slightly larger than that of the Ascent due to a space-saver spare tyre - plus there’s folding rear seats to boost space, and bag hooks on each side of the boot for added versatility.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol, 135kW @6000rpm, 235Nm @4100rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, 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: 1200kg braked, 500kg unbraked
Under the bonnet of the new Camry is a carry-over version of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine from the previous model, linked to a similarly carried-over (with minor revisions) six-speed automatic that sends power to the front wheels.
If you’re a careful Camry anorak you’ll notice that the Ascent Sport, at 135kW and 235Nm also has higher outputs than the regular Ascent - 4kW and 4Nm more - thanks to a less-restrictive dual outlet exhaust (finished almost comically with quad tips).
Rather than downsizing the engine and adding a turbo is as fast becoming the norm, Toyota has stuck with a tried and true set up. It may not have the punch of some competitors, especially from low in the rev range, but the Camry delivers the dependability expected of it.
Tootling around the ‘burbs is a relaxed affair, with subtle acceleration that's just enough to get the job done.
Out on the open road, the Camry can struggle to race to the speed limit, but once there has enough rolling urge to keep pace with traffic and deal with rolling undulations, though fast overtaking or steep hills will work it hard.
On the plus side, the smaller diameter wheels, tall sidewall tires, and standard suspension tune give the Camry decent long-range touring comfort able to endure Australia’s rough-paved roads quietly and comfortably.
Steering is more alert and reactive than ever before in a Camry, though worrying on some rougher roads there’s rack rattle and kickback though the wheel that weren’t so noticeable in the last generation car.
Overall refinement, wind noise, and tyre-roar are all kept low, bolstering the Camry’s position as an excellent A to B conveyance rather than an emotive family car choice.
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
Often held as a benchmark for handling and driver engagement, the Mazda6 puts forward a near-premium presentation, even as it advances in age. Well equipped and spacious, but despite a series of improvements it can’t match the Camry for refinement or value.
Holden’s newest Commodore moves philosophically closer to the Camry with a four-cylinder front wheel drive model, but from $33,690 the cheapest Commodore is no budget battler. For that you do get a turbo engine, nine-speed automatic, and hatchback practicality.
Technically the Skoda Octavia straddles Australia’s small and medium car classes, but its more compact size might be a better fit for some urban dwellers. It gives up nothing in terms of interior size, and comes with a matching $29,990 price with an auto in Sport guise and even with a small 1.4-litre 110kW engine the Octavia out-torques the Camry.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Even though Toyota may not ever match the headline-grabbing rear wheel drive specification of something like the Kia Stinger, the backing of Australia’s biggest automotive brand means that the Camry is certain to enjoy far greater success from its mid-sizer than any competitor could hope to.
It may still be conservative, especially when it comes to powertrain specification, but the Camry’s all-round skill set means that it’s likely to offend few, while meeting the needs of many thanks to sensible dynamics and a comfortable interior.
While it may be the most controversial looking Camry yet, give it a few months and the gaping front end will likely fade into the background like every Camry before it.
A little extra turbo punch might be something for the wishlist, but as it is right now, the four-cylinder Camry should no longer elicit apathetic groans when it’s your turn to take the work car home on the weekend, or when your friendly car rental agency hands you a Camry key fob.
That alone is enough to call Toyota’s efforts with the newest Camry a success.
MORE: Toyota News and Reviews
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