New Toyota Camry burns the cardigan styling tag
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I once called the Toyota Camry a “cardigan car”, a little dig at the ageing private buyer who was then the car’s most ardent fan after taxi companies. Well, I can now report that the Camry has slung that woolly no-style tag on the nearest bonfire.
The new designed-in-America, made-in-Japan Camry is everything the old Aussie-built car wasn’t, particularly in the two top model range leaders, the $47,990 V6 and the $49,490 ZR Hybrid.
The new Camrys arrive in New Zealand with success already snapping at their heels. Last year, the Honda Civic looked like it was going to finally topple the Camry from its perennial title of being “America’s favourite sedan”.
Then, this new version was launched in December and Americans quickly began to form orderly queues at US Toyota dealerships to buy one. By year’s end, more than 400,000 Camrys had been sold stateside. The four-door Civic had to settle for the bridesmaid’s role once again.
More accolades went the new Camry’s way in 2017. It was a finalist in the World Car of the Year awards, and the series-hybrid powertrain likely to form the backbone of the car’s sales in New Zealand made the prestigious list of Ward’s Top 10 engines.
The new cars are such huge improvements over their made-in-Victoria forebears, that it’s easy to predict the Camry will be a serious player in the full-size sedan segment.
Toyota NZ sold 908 Camrys in 2017, a drop from the 1340 it sold in 2016. This all-new Camry possibly has enough nous and pizzazz to generate 2000 sales in its debut year, and would therefore pick a sales fight with our most popular largish family cars – the Holden Commodore, Mazda6, and Ford Mondeo.
Business fleets and taxi companies have been the strongest supporters of the Camry in recent years, and there are two models in the new range that’ll continue to appeal to business buyers in the form of the $35,990 Camry GL (powered by a 135kW/231Nm 2.5 litre four and six-speed automatic gearbox that are the only carry-over Camry components from the past); and the entry model to the 155kW hybrid powertrain, the $41,490 Camry GX.
Spending the extra on the GX can be justified by the reduced fuel consumption of the hybrid, especially in urban use. Lab test results show it sipping the fuel at a rate of 4.2 litres/100km instead of the 7.8litres/100km of the GL.
The catch with the G-models of the range is that they’re not so interesting to look at as the hybrid SX ($42,990) and ZR models, and the 224kW/362Nm V6 (8.9 litres/100km).
That’s because these three get different fascias and rear bumpers, the latter shaped like the diffuser of a race car. These are the finishing touches on the new Camry’s exterior design, and they make the GL and GX look like poor cousins.
More important is the underbody of the new Camry rather than the new dress-metal/plastic. The new Toyotas are built on sturdier new underpinnings, courtesy of a new platform.
There’s more reinforcement and less flex, and a tow rating of 1200kg is knocking on SUV territory. The body has a 50mm wheelbase extension that creates more room in a car already noted for its spaciousness.
The wheels are also spaced wider apart across the car, enlarging the car’s “footprint” on the road.
This, along with the suspension tune that’s more determined to keep the tyres in contact with the road, and steering assistance that firms up nicely when the “sports” mode is selected has turned what was once the blandest Toyota into something close to a “driver’s car”.
Naturally, the two most powerful powertrains, the hybrid and the V6, are the best companions for this chassis performance. Then transmissions decide which is the best drive in the V6’s favour.
It gets an eight-speed automatic where the hybrid gets a CVT that isn’t quite as adept at transferring motive force to the front wheels of the Camry.
The V6, meanwhile, will fry those tyres momentarily if you give it too much Jandal exiting a corner, waking the electronic stability sentries.
New clothes, new bones, new engines, what’s not to like about the Camry now? The overhead sunglasses holder in the cabin feels flimsy and cheap, reminding that there’s no Lexus badge on the grille. But overall, Camry’s now a far classier act.
The cardigan brigade, meanwhile, will have to seek their desired blandness elsewhere.
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