Toyota Camry review – returning saloon wants to challenge the big boys

Toyota Camry review – returning saloon wants to challenge the big boys
Toyota Camry review – returning saloon wants to challenge the big boys

Hello again. Where have you been for the past 15 years?

The name Camry will ring a bell to those with a memory of Toyotas of the past but it hasn’t been attached to one of the brand’s models, in the UK at least, since 2004.

Its disappearance reflected the changing market from mid-size saloons to smaller hatchbacks or city cars, but now the pendulum has started to swing back again and it seems we are being attracted back to larger five-door cruisers once again.

Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry Hybrid Excel

Price: £31,295
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol plus electric motor
Power: 176 bhp
Torque: 2163lb/ft
Transmission: E-CVT
Top speed: 112 mph
0-62 mph: 8.3 seconds
Economy: 53mpg
CO2 emissions: 101 g/km

What’s also made the difference are the huge advances made in hybrid technology which by combining a petrol engine with a self-charging electric powertrain makes a big car a more economical and efficient prospect.

So Toyota have revived the Camry name and attached it to a very impressive large saloon which is the latest in the brand’s hybrid electric range of eight vehicles in Europe and will be their new flagship.

It’s also as a result of the company’s fresh design and engineering philosophy TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) which puts the emphasis on driving dynamics and styling along with its established reputation for build quality, reliability and safety – and meets the company president’s commitment to “no more boring cars”.

Toyota Camry

In the case of the new Camry – the eighth generation to bear the name and after clocking up 19 million sales in 100 countries – he’s been true to his word.

Being based on a new platform has given the designers and engineers the opportunity to re-evaluate every aspect of a car of this size from the ground up.

This has led to the biggest change ever for a model from one generation to another. Virtually nothing has been carried over from the previous model, which wasn’t even sold in the UK, and the latest car is light years ahead of the last Camry we saw in the early 2000s.

Toyota Camry interior

First of all, it’s a lot bigger, similar in size – and specification – to the BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E Class but is aimed at competing more with the likes of the more straightforward Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia or Mazda 6.

To my mind, it’s won that contest even before going on sale in July. Having said that, Toyota say sales are expected to be little more than 500 or 600 a year to discerning customers who will recognise just what a good buy it is.

The hybrid technology is first class, delivering great economy of around 53 mpg and low emissions with sub-100g/kms CO2 levels which for such a big car with a 2.5-litre petrol engine is quite remarkable.

Toyota Camry

The system includes a silky smooth CVT gearbox which can be shifted manually using a lever on the central console to mimic a conventional six-speed automatic. My only gripe is that it would have been even better with steering wheel-mounted paddles which sadly aren’t an option.

The ride is beautifully smooth and very quiet, thanks a lot to a lot of work to combat noise and vibration. That includes insulation in the bonnet and front wings to absorb sound from the engine, a thicker dash silencer mat and vibration-damping coating on the underfloor.

The interior design is a big departure from what we’ve come to expect from the Japanese brands which in the past have been simple and functional with little panache.

It has a nice flowing look with a curved dash and driver-focused display through two seven-inch screens but I wasn’t taken with the “tiger-eye” trim in the Excel version test car.

Toyota Camry interior

The most noticeable feature of the exterior is the huge seven-rowed lower grille which dominates the front end across the full width of the bumper. It’s largely cosmetic but also helps with aerodynamics and in some hotter climate markets incorporates additional cooling vents. It’s certainly dramatic and I suspect it’s going to be a Marmite piece of styling, which customers will either love or be completely turned off by.

Where the car scores, apart from its efficiency credentials, is in its space for passengers and luggage. The boot is one of the most cavernous I’ve seen and swallows cargo with ease into its deep void.
The seats have been designed for great support to reduce fatigue on long journeys – an essential element for a marathon cruiser like this.

There are acres of legroom all round and especially for rear passengers who can spread out with plenty of space, including headroom.

Toyota Camry rear seats

There are only two trim levels, Design and Excel, and they share the same powertrain and running gear. The lower level is a fiver off £30,000 and comes with 17-inch, nine-spoke alloys, heated and powered leather seats, reversing camera, parking sensors, satnav, Bluetooth, DAB radio and a catalogue of safety features.

Excel is £1,300 more and upgrades to 18-inch twenty-spoke alloys, LED lights, blind spot monitor, wireless phone charging tray and Intelligent Clearance Senor to warn of hidden obstacles to the front, rear and side.

Sadly a head-up display which is available elsewhere in Europe, is not offered on the UK models.

Both versions also have Toyota’s new dual-zone ventilation system which purifies the air by releasing particles of negatively-charged ions wrapped in water molecules through the dashboard vents.
The designers claim it has a gently moisturising effect on skin and hair and creates a refreshing cabin atmosphere.

I’m not sure I noticed the difference but the cabin – and the whole car itself – is a great place to be and I’m not sure why anyone would be tempted to look at the equivalent model from Toyota’s upmarket brand, Lexus….and pay many thousands of pounds more for the privilege.

Toyota Camry

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