Toyota Camry gets major makeover
THE new Toyota Camry imported from Japan is the most technically advanced iteration to date - with radar cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assistance as standard.
Its much bolder styling is designed to stem the tide of buyers moving to SUVs and perhaps even appeal to some Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon customers.
However, Toyota concedes fewer Australians will get behind the wheel of the new Camry than the previous locally made model, which sold more than a million examples since 1983. The price has gone up now the discounts that kept the Melbourne factory running are gone.
Toyota says "dealer list prices" have risen by as little as $1200 and some have even dropped by as much as $6700.
However, the Camry hasn't been sold at dealer list prices for the better part of three years and when the drive-away deals on the new model went live this week after the media preview drive there was a stark difference.
The starting price for the most popular four-cylinder version is up by $4500 to $31,500 drive-away.
The Camry V6 - previously known as the Aurion - has increased by $11,575 to $41,565 drive-away and the Hybrid is up by $900 to $33,800 drive-away.
Should Toyota charge more for a better equipped and more advanced car? Absolutely.
Will buyers be prepared to stump up the money? Let's wait and see.
Toyota forecasts a sales downturn but not enough to threaten its status as Australia's top selling medium sedan, a title it has held for 23 years.
As other car brands have switched to sleeker, coupe-like bodies to broaden appeal and stop the mass defection from sedans, Toyota has maintained as much cabin and boot space as possible.
The roof and bonnet are lower to give the new Camry a more sporty stance yet in the cabin the room for head, shoulders, knees and toes has been trimmed only slightly.
The optional full-length sunroof does, however, impede headroom for taller occupants.
The boot of the base model is slightly smaller than before (493L, down from 515L) but retains a full-size spare tyre on a matching 17-inch alloy wheel. The rest of the range has more cargo space (524L) but now packs a skinny space-saver tyre under the boot floor.
Welcome news for Uber and taxi drivers, the biggest buyers of hybrid models: the petrol-electric Camry has the same size boot as the regular sedan because the battery pack and control unit are now hidden under the rear seat.
The central audio touchscreen screen is bigger in all models although, frustratingly, it still lacks Apple Car Play and Android Auto while Toyota continues its negotiations with the tech giants over who owns the data.
The screen itself is also not as clear or as high in resolution as the likes of Mazda and Volkswagen.
All grades now get a digital speedo, if rather small and tucked away in the top right corner of the display between analog dials.
All come with seven airbags, radar cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane wander warning, lane-keeping assistance, LED headlights, electric park brake, dusk-sensing headlights, rear camera, and 'auto-up' power windows on all four doors.
As the grades climb, extra equipment includes built-in navigation, dual zone aircon, power adjustment for the front seats, front and rear parking sensors, sensor key with push button start, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.
Flagship models gain ventilated front seats, head-up display in the windscreen, paddle-shifters on the steering wheel, larger wheels and tyres, auto levelling LED headlights and wireless phone charging. (The latter worked sporadically in the cars we tested yet works fine in numerous other car brands.)
Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km and capped price servicing - at $195 a visit - now lasts five years, although the warranty is still three years/100,000km.
ON THE ROAD
The new line-up has three power options: four-cylinder with six-speed auto, hybrid with CVT auto and V6 paired with an eight-speed auto.
The new model has gained a little weight - about 30kg on average - and Toyota has fitted bigger brakes across the range.
There are 17-, 18- and 19-inch alloy wheels, depending on the grade. Ride comfort is largely impressive although the suspension feels as if it runs out of travel on some sharp bumps.
The body's lower centre of gravity and better tyre grip inspire a little more confidence in corners, although all three wheel-tyre combinations we sampled were noisier than average.
Engines are smooth operators although the V6 didn't have as much grunt as I was expecting. That said, Camry drivers prefer to be pampered rather than set a lap time and the new model will probably satisfy their needs.
Inside, it doesn't feel that much smaller than the outgoing model (sunroof aside) and the extra range of adjustment for steering wheel reach and height makes it easier to find the ideal driving position.
Other welcome news: Toyota has kept the volume knob on the radio, so you can adjust the volume quickly without taking your eyes of the road. And there's still a CD player in the dash.
VERDICT: 3.5 STARS OUT OF 5
The new Camry is better than the old one and will continue to appeal to loyal buyers. But based on our preview drive the Mazda6 and Volkswagen Passat are still the benchmarks of the class.
PRICE: The starting price for the four-cylinder Camry has risen from $26,990 drive-away to $31,500 drive-away, the hybrid is up $900 to $33,800 drive-away and the V6 starts from $41,565 drive-away, $11,575 more than the $29,990 Aurion V6.
TECH: Radar cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and lane wander warning, LED headlights, seven airbags are standard. Optional: wireless phone charging, blind zone warning, rear cross traffic alert.
PERFORMANCE: The four-cylinder, hybrid and V6 models all have new engines with more grunt than before and better fuel economy ratings, but we're yet to test consumption in the real world. Some of the power improvements are blunted by the slight weight increase of the car.
DRIVING : Completely new rear suspension - and all-new body with a lower centre of gravity - aim to give the Camry better road holding in corners. Tyres we tested were noisy by class standards but the engines were quiet.
DESIGN: This new generation body has been redesigned from the wheels up. It's longer and wider than the predecessor, but has a lower roof and bonnet. Toyota says the seats have been lowered by the same margin so there's no impact on headroom.
FAST FACTS: AT A GLANCE
PRICE: $31,500 to $48,500 drive-away (dearer than before, but cheaper than rivals)
WARRANTY/SERVICE: 3 years/100,000km warranty (average), 12 month/15,000km service intervals (average), $195 for each capped price service for five years (cheap)
ENGINE: 2.5 4-cyl 133kW/231Nm, Hybrid 131kW/221Nm, 3.5 V6 224kW/362Nm (good)
SAFETY: 5-star rating, 7 airbags, AEB, radar cruise, lane keeping (good)
THIRST: 4-cyl: 7.8-8.3L/100km regular unleaded (thirsty), hybrid: 4.2-4.5L/100km 95 premium unleaded (frugal), V6: 8.7-8.9L/100km 95 premium unleaded (thirsty)
SPARE: Full size spare tyre on the base model (excellent), space saver on all other models (not ideal)
BOOT: 493L (base model), 524L (all other models)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling