Forget about describing it as an “uncle’s” car – the striking new Toyota Camry is no longer a fuddy-duddy.
THE Toyota Camry has always been renowned as a spacious and reliable saloon. But image-wise, it has also always been seen a relatively safe (read: boring) choice for folks who aren’t into cars. These are the drivers who are not concerned with design, performance or handling. The latest Camry, however, is going to polarise opinions. It is by far the most striking one that Toyota has ever produced. Indeed, the adjectives “conservative” and “staid” no longer apply to this model. We subject this newcomer to a comprehensive review by three Torque regulars: writer Wong Kai Yi, along with our key contributors Lynn Tan and Tony Tan.
The 2.5-litre unit pumps out 206hp and 250Nm, giving the Camry a relatively decent century sprint time of 9.2 seconds.
Lynn will draw on her expertise as an architect to rate the Camry’s design, while Tony will focus on the car’s practicality and user-friendliness. Kai Yi, on the other hand, will analyse the Camry’s performance and handling attributes.
THE LATEST CAMRY HAS UNDERGONE A TOTAL DESIGN TRANSFORMATION AND IT HAS NEVER LOOKED BETTER.
Feels more luxurious and has a more harmonious design than before, too.
The Design Factor
Where design is concerned, it is often the good and the bad that get our attention. Copacetic tends to be as exciting as say, onigiri.
The Toyota Camry has always been quite like the onigiri – loaded with good stuff such as quality, space and comfort on the inside, but the plain ol’ rice and seaweed exterior is simply not as visually captivating as the extensive varieties of sushi or maki, with their mouth-watering displays of fresh and colourful ingredients.
However, the conservative formula has worked well for the mid-size sedan, going by its worldwide success since the first generation was introduced in 1982.
Throwing out a tried and tested design template that has worked for almost four decades seems like a huge risk.
But it would appear that the gamble has paid off. The new Camry has undergone a total design transformation and it has never looked better.
Sculpted contours, sleek lines and a dynamic stance redefine an all-new persona. The oversized grille makes the biggest impact. It extends all the way down to the bottom of the front bumper and stretches almost fender to fender.
This black sport mesh grille joins the ranks of spindle, kidney and diamond grilles, all of which achieve the same effect of conveying a premium, sporty and youthful look.
Lines on the bonnet converge towards the Toyota badge like pleats of fabric. They suggest fluidity and movement and imbue the Camry with a sinuous grace.
Slim and upward-tapering headlamps greet onlookers with a purposeful and steely glare, accompanied by a truncated boomerang-shaped element on the front bumper that cradles the badge to resemble flared nostrils.
These give the Camry just the right dose of aggression; a look that says, “watch out” and a face to remember.
The wider stance and lower centre of gravity can be attributed to the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), which give the car more personality and more style. Its streamlined silhouette and elongated side profile showcase the Camry’s elegant presence.
The rear is one of my favourite angles. Distinct haunching on either side of the car where the top of the boot lid meets the taillights suggest strength and robustness like in arched structures and bridge constructions.
The pinched edge of the boot lid looks like an integrated spoiler that further accentuates the Camry’s sportiness even from behind.
It gets even better inside, like being bowled over by a beautifully wrapped gift, only to unbox it and discover that more pleasant surprises await.
There is a lot of leather all around the cabin, which is always a welcome whether in cars or handbags.
The steering wheel, gear knob, centre armrest, inside of the door panels (although not completely) are all luxuriously clad in leather, most of it a light beige colour that gives the interior a premium look and feel that can rival luxury brands.
It also makes the cabin appear even more spacious than it already is.
The pinched edge of the boot lid looks like an integrated spoiler that accentuates the Camry’s sportiness.
The piece de resistance is the centre console, which can be regarded as a work of art. The asymmetrical design breaks away from Camry tradition.
Sweeping lines converge towards the centre stack like an overlapping kimono fold, framing a 9-inch infotainment display.
The palette of materials and finishes – from the gunmetal trim on the driver’s side, the aluminium-like delineation on the passenger side that wraps its way around the air-conditioning vent, the glossy, piano black housing around the head unit, and the unique copper-tone surfaces that seem to come alive against the light, are individually articulated, yet seamlessly brought together in a composition that is harmonious and which feels luxurious.
The climate control dials and buttons, as well as the digital clock, however, seem slightly incongruous with this masterpiece, as if someone used plastic bits on a luxury handbag instead of gold-plated hardware.
I wonder if this is a deliberate move on Toyota’s part to differentiate the Camry from its more premium sibling – the Lexus ES, with whom it shares the same wheelbase?
Another thing that the Camry shares with many a Lexus are the deep pile floor mats that make me want to caress them with my fingers. They even come with specially designed Camry insignia.
As far as design is concerned, the Camry belongs in the premium league and looks good enough to turn more than a few heads, including those of design junkies like me.
The Practical Factor
For as long as I have been a motoring writer, when it comes to family saloons which are practical, i.e. spacious, frugal, lots of storage, myriad of safety features and reasonably priced, two Japanese models always came to mind – the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The former is no longer sold here. The Camry, however, is not only still around – it is still selling extremely well, too. And this is despite fierce competition from the Mazda 6.
The latest Camry is still as practical as ever. But before I get into the reasons why, I must also first praise the designers for its styling.
The exterior designs of previous models were pretty much run-of-the-mill and “conventional” but the new Camry is so eye-catching, I would say it is almost “avant-garde”.
Now back to the subject of practicality. With a wheelbase of 2825mm, almost on par with the Lexus ES250, and being just four percent shorter than the larger and more expensive Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class saloons, the interior of the Camry is really roomy.
I am 1.8m tall and I had my equally tall friend sit behind me while I was in the driver’s seat. He still had ample knee room to move his legs around if he needed to.
If he moved over to the other side of the car and there wasn’t anyone seated in the front passenger seat, he could simply depress the rocker switch located at the side to move the seat further forward. After doing so, he can lounge, with outstretched legs, towkay-style.
The rear seats have been designed to accommodate two extremely comfortably, with blower vents for the rear air-con and two 2.1A USB sockets for charging smartphones and tablets.
IT IS ARGUABLY ONE OF THE MOST PRACTICAL NEW FAMILY SALOONS OF 2019.
And on a sunny day (which is every day in Singapore), the powered rear sunshade for the windscreen will block out the heat and glare.
If you have an additional passenger at the rear, all three occupants can still seat cosily but the one in the centre will have to sit with legs slightly apart.
Storage-wise, there are ample cubbyholes, cup holders, door pockets and a 493-litre boot, which “swallows” up to four golf bags.
If you have a long object to stow, like a rolled-up carpet or fishing rod, simply pop open the lid behind the centre armrest at the rear and voila, an opening appears.
Up front, the electrically adjustable driver’s seat (with memory function) supports the body so well that it wouldn’t look out of place in a luxury saloon. The wider area for the shoulder deserves special mention for making you feel secure and cossetted.
Backseat occupants stay cool and connected, with a pair of air-con vents and USB charging ports.
The 9-inch display of the head unit is a tad small when compared to the latest units found in other cars, and it’s a pity there is no Apple CarPlay and wireless charging.
However, the menu is user-friendly and easy to navigate. The 4.2-inch screen in between the tachometer and speedometer is just as simple to use, but I wished it were a little larger too. Maybe it’s time for an all-digital instrument panel.
On the topic of driving, practicality is synonymous with fuel economy. I covered 256km and achieved 12.6km/L over three days of driving. I spent about 60 percent of that distance on expressways and the rest in the city.
That’s a decent figure for a 1.55-tonne car propelled by a 2.5-litre inline-4 producing 206hp and 250Nm. The 8-speed automatic transmission, with its optimally spaced gear ratios, probably contributed to this.
Parking was made fuss-free thanks to the factory-fitted reverse camera, while features such as keyless entry and ignition made the car even easier to live with.
The Toyota Camry is roomy, has a decent list of standard features, and is relatively frugal.
Priced at around $160,000 (including COE) for the 2.5 variant, it’s practically a shoo-in for a nomination if there was an award for “Most Practical Family Saloon of the Year”.
Feels more luxurious and has a more harmonious design than before, too.
The Performance Factor
If I were a titan of industry who normally wears bespoke Savile Row suits, my choice of car would be clear.
I’d either be driving (driven in, if we’re honest) a buttery-smooth Rolls-Royce Phantom or a V12 Mercedes-Maybach superlimo if I were a bit of a maverick.
Climbing down (quite a few) more rungs on the corporate totem pole, we come to the executive who thinks nothing about wearing just a shirt and trousers and turns up to work punctually every day without complaint.
He or she would have a namecard that said they were the purchasing manager of a small engineering services firm, tucked away in an industrial estate in Woodlands.
The Toyota Camry would be the car for that person. Years the preserve of individuals who wanted to fly under the radar, the Camry has served as dependable, inoffensive transport for those who want a car that just does everything right.
Which isn’t to say that Toyota hasn’t tried to make the eighth-generation Camry better to drive. In 2.5-litre guise, it accelerates briskly with the transmission seamlessly blending its eight cogs together, kicking down responsively when you need it to.
Moving off from the lights is a fuss-free affair, with no awkward jumps or starts from the transmission, making for a very relaxed driving experience.
But if you show it a set of bends, the Camry responds better than you expect it to, transforming into a decent corner-carver up and down the twisty roads of Mount Faber Loop.
It turns neatly and tidily into sweeping corners without much body roll and happily scoots out of them with plenty of grip from the 18-inch Bridgestone Turanzas.
Toyota could have made the steering ultra-light to make it an effortless one-finger twirler but decided to inject a reassuring heft to it, which correspondingly gives you confidence to point the nose exactly in the desired direction.
New Camry 2.5 handles better and is more secure than its predecessor, thanks to the standard Toyota Safety Sense package.
Activating sport mode, however, makes the steering unnecessarily heavy and is best used if you missed your gym workout after a long day in the boardroom.
Built on the same Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) GA-K platform as the delectable Lexus ES, the Camry doesn’t have quite the same levels of refinement as its more prestigious sibling, but it’s darn close.
Much like the ES, the Camry’s ride quality is relaxed and refined, with its supple suspension easily soaking up expansion joints and speed bumps without the usual “thud-thud” jolt.
But it’s not entirely a smooth operator. Wind and tyre noise seeps into the cabin at expressway speeds, which I suspect boils down to Toyota shedding some sound insulation in the Camry to keep it from being too Lexus-like. It’s not too problematic, though.
THE CAMRY’S RIDE QUALITY IS RELAXED AND REFINED, WITH ITS SUPPLE SUSPENSION EASILY SOAKING UP EXPANSION JOINTS AND SPEED BUMPS WITHOUT THE USUAL ‘THUD-THUD’ JOLT.
At least you won’t be distracted by other drivers’ horrendous road antics, which are kept at bay with the 2.5-litre’s standard fitment of Toyota Safety Sense which includes pre-collision detection, automatic high beam, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning with steering guidance.
Looking better than it has in years, the new Camry is like the uncle who ditched his Giordano for Uniqlo and bought some funky Adidas sneakers to match. Crossovers and SUVs might be all the rage at the moment, but there’s something to be said about a honest-to-goodness sedan that ticks all the essentials. It might have competition from the supremely stylish Mazda 6 and Volkswagen Passat, but the Camry’s blend of safety tech, competent handling and comfortable ride means the original king can hold its own against the young upstarts.
PHOTOS VERNON WONG
ART DIRECTION MICHAEL CHIAN