The Toyota Camry has almost become part of the Australian landscape, having first arrived here from Japan in the early 1980s before switching to Australian production from 1987 until 2017.
History repeats as the new model reverts back to an imported model from Japan, though ironically the Camry is a rare sight on Japanese roads, having been honed over the years to fulfil the needs of American and Australian consumers.
Often labeled as conservative, the Camry is carefully aimed at the mainstream in a bid to create mass-appeal that’s perhaps more often favoured by fleet managers than private buyers - part of the reason the humble Camry has been Australia's best-selling medium sedan for the past 23 years.
Recently however buyers are making their biggest shift yet away from the humble sedan and into suburban SUVs, which is why Toyota is fighting back with its with its biggest and boldest new model in decades.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Price: $27,690-$43,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 135kW/235Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl, 160kW/221Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl hybrid, 224kW/362Nm 3.5-litre 6cyl | 6spd automatic, CVT automatic, 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.5-8.6 l/100km
The biggest change to the new Camry (from an auto-industry perspective at least) is the return to being a imported model after 30 years of production at Altona, Melbourne but Camry buyers are perhaps more likely to notice the return of a V6 engine option to take the place of the discontinued Aurion.
The new range encompasses nine variants with a choice three powertrains including a carryover 2.5-litre four-cylinder, an upgraded petrol-electric hybrid and the newly added 3.5-litre V6.
This latest Camry also boasts more space, additional equipment and the fitment of autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance and a reverse camera on all models.
Toyota claims the extra safety kit alone compensates for a higher entry point on the base-level Ascent, which now costs $1200 more than before at $27,990 (plus on-roads), and marginal increases on the range-topping SL four-cylinder and Hybrid variants.
Toyota says the Camry, as an entire range, is significantly better value than before with the remaining six models all cheaper than the cars they replace - the flagship V6 versions by as much as $6700.
There's even the full-time inclusion of a sportier SX model that is offered only with the conventional petrol engine options and has lowered suspension, 19-inch alloys (the largest ever fitted on a Camry), a body kit and the option of bright red leather interior trim.
- Ascent: Cloth trim, LED headlights, manual air conditioning, rear seat air vents, adaptive cruise control,17-inch alloy wheels (Hybrid adds dual-zone climate control and proximity key with push-button start)
- Ascent Sport: Cloth trim, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, proximity key with push-button start, power-adjustable front seats, sports body kit
- SX: Leather accented trim, sports front seats, wireless phone charging, rear USB ports, steering wheel paddle shifters, 19-inch alloy wheels
- SL: Panoramic roof (2.5 and V6), ambient interior lighting, power-adjustable steering column, ventilated front seats, colour head-up display, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0 or 8.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/DAB radio, CD player, Aux and USB inputs, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 493 litres (ascent with full-size spare) or 524 litres (all other variants with temporary spare)
Thanks to the Camry’s all-new underpinnings, part of the TNGA or Toyota New Global Architecture family shared with cars as diverse as the new Prius and C-HR, the new version sits on a larger footprint than before freeing up additional space in the cabin making it a genuine five-seat family machine.
Beyond its space, the cockpit marries the Camry's bold exterior design with an equally striking asymmetrical dashboard design that incorporates a 7.0-inch (Ascent) or 8.0-inch (Ascent Sport and up) colour touchscreen in the area that intersects in the middle.
From the passenger side, one line flows upwards and twists above the glovebox while the other line meets the instrument cluster in front of the driver that has a low-set cowl for optimum forward vision out of the expansive windscreen.
It's an interesting design that not only presents well with higher-quality materials, especially in the lower grades compared to their predecessors, but one that offers plenty of practical small-item storage spaces too.
Elsewhere, the front seats are wide and comfortable with decent flexibility in their positioning, the steering wheel has both reach and tilt adjustment (power adjusted for range-topping SX), the instruments are clear and there's excellent vision for all occupants, even kids in the back seat, thanks to the lowered window line.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 135kW/235Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, 160kW/221Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid, 224kW/362Nm 3.5-litre V6 petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed auto (2.5) CVT auto (Hybrid) Eight-speed auto (V6), front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double wishbone independent rear
- Brakes: 305mm vented front discs, 281mm solid rear discs
- Steering: (type, electrically assisted, variable-ratio rack, etc, turning circle)
- Towing Capacity: 1200kg (2.5 and hybrid) 1600kg (V6) braked, 750kg unbraked
As well as being bigger, TNGA construction allows the new-gen Camry to be both lighter and stronger. As the first sedan to utilise the structure, it is longer and wider than the Camry it replaces but sits lower.
Under the skin, there's a new double-wishbone suspension set-up at the rear, revised damper and steering settings and larger alloy wheels which, along with the stiffer construction, are designed to improve the Camry's dynamics.
Toyota even goes so far as to claim some might enjoy driving it enthusiastically on a twisty mountain road - but the company has been making that claim since the Camry Sportivo first appeared in 2002 - all the while without diminishing its reputation for basic comfort and convenience.
As for how they drive, we had the chance to sample a trio of variants - a four-cylinder SX, a hybrid in Ascent Sport grade and a range-topping V6 SL - during the Camry's local launch program this week on challenging, often patchy, roads in the hinterland behind Coffs Harbour on the mid-north coast of New South Wales.
All three build on the Camry's reputation as a solid, dependable and spacious family car with a greater degree of refinement and comfort.
The base-level 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine has come in for a minor upgrade that lifts peak outputs to 133Kw and 235Nm and continues to drive the front wheels through a six-speed automatic with a claimed average fuel consumption of 7.8L/100km.
It won't win any green light grands prix in terms of its outright performance and it's not all that sporty in its overall character as it needs to be revved hard to get the best out of it - and it sounds a little uncouth near the top of the rev range when you do - but it does a commendable job of getting around when driven leisurely, both within city limits and out on the open road.
The six-speed automatic shifts smoother than before and is more intuitive in keeping the engine in the sweet spot, whether it is loping along or quickly reacting to a dip on the throttle for overtaking.
The SX package, with suspension that is 10mm lower than normal settings and riding on the larger 19-inch wheels, offers a good stance on the road with sure-footed and predictable front-drive handling while the steering has a linear weighting across the ratio. It even looks the part, both inside and out, and the red leather interior treatment will be a bold choice for those Camry buyers who are more adventurous than usual.
The Camry Hybrid, however, is the most convincing of the three powertrain options and perfectly suits the nature of the car and its more conservative audience.
It teams a newer-generation 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and a Nickel-Metal Hydride battery (now mounted under the rear seat so it doesn't compromise boot space) to generate a combined maximum output of 160kW and improved fuel consumption figures as low as 4.2L/100km.
While it remains hooked up to a continuously variable transmission, it feels much perkier than the base-level engine with greater low-rev pulling power and a fizzier top-end. The petrol and electric motors work together seamlessly, offering the ability to move away and at slow speeds on battery power alone.
Even though the Ascent Sport trim isn't as daring to look at as the sporty SX model, it doesn't feel as though it lacks much from behind the wheel.
It also has more comfortable on-road manners with excellent compliance over bumpy surfaces and there's excellent noise suppression on all variants, although there is a little bit of turbulence coming off the wing mirrors at highway speeds.
At the other end of the spectrum, the flagship SL has a more luxurious ambience about its cabin, especially with the optional ivory leather in the test vehicle we sampled.
Powered by an upgraded version of Toyota's venerable 3.5-litre V6 that produces 224kW and 362Nm and driving through an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, the engine has a more effortless character to it than the four-cylinder thanks to its greater low-rev pulling power while also using the broader spread of ratios to great effect.
It is reasonably quick when you step on it, bringing a surge of acceleration past 3500rpm on to its redline as well as a throaty exhaust note. But the increased output does introduce some torque steer (where the steering wheel tugs in your hands) under heavy acceleration.
ANCAP Rating: 5/5 Stars - the 2018 Toyota Camry scored 36.16 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.
Safety Features: All Camry variants come with seven airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain, and driver’s knee), electronic stability and traction control, seatbelt pretensioners for front and outboard rear seat occupants, driver fatigue detection, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Despite recent efforts to boost the appeal of medium sedans by numerous competitors, the market still errs on the side of conservatism.
As the most popular car in its class, the Toyota Camry couldn’t possibly risk alienating buyers that it’s accumulated over the last thirty years, resulting in a new model that is improved, but still very much a Camry.
The eighth-generation model has a greater degree of style in its looks - both inside and out - and is even more charming to drive than before.
If anything, it's all the car most will ever need. It's spacious, comfortable, affordable, safe and dependable. Just like it's always been.
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