This week I had the opportunity to drive the new Toyota Camry, and what was particularly memorable about this drive was the fact that this Camry is the last generation we’ll see in production in Australia.

Now when factories are producing their final model, you might be lucky if that model gets a few improvements here and there, minor things maybe, but with only two years to go until Toyota’s Altona factory downs tools, the Camry surprises with almost completely overhauled sheet metal. The car is sporting a new design only three and a half years into the previous model’s run, and to top it off, there are huge price reductions across the range. I’ll get into the details of the price reductions shortly but first, let’s take a look at the design.

In my own humble opinion, this is the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, where the Camry has looked sharp enough to have both sporty and refined elements. The front of the car now adopts the trapezoidal grille common in Toyota’s range today, but in the Camry it gives the car a mostly sporty appearance, with curved headlamps, fog-lamps and other areas adding to the flowing, sculpted look. The theme continues around the car and to the back, where the taillights adopt a curved-strip look that again looks both sporty and elegant at the same time.

Jumping inside the Camry, the interior has sadly received much less attention than the exterior. The dashboard design is mostly carryover from the 2012 generation, and what should have been a completely new interior was reserved for the V6-powered Aurion. One exception to this is the instrument cluster, which on the most expensive Camry variant is upgraded to a dual-gauge design with LCD screen in the centre. It’s the same look you can find in competing cars and is not all that revolutionary in 2015, but still, it’s great to find it in the Camry. Cheaper variants resort to a more traditional three-gauge setup with monochrome element LCD display.

In any case, the interior is still as roomy as ever, with large amounts of rear legroom making long family trips comfortable and relaxing. Both cloth and leather seat trims are available, while the boot can take a respectable 515 litres of cargo; down to 421 litres in the hybrid version thanks to the hybrid battery being stored there.

Drivetrains – there’s only two to choose from and they’re the same as before – 2.5 litre four cylinder petrol engine, or the same engine paired with electric motors in a hybrid configuration. The 2.5 litre engine on its own produces between 133 to 135 kW of power and 231 to 235 Nm of torque depending on the variant. In the hybrid package, the engine itself has a slightly lower 118 kW output thanks to its more efficient Atkinson cycle, but the electric motor backs this up to make a final 151 kW when you’ve got your foot down. The petrol engine gets a six speed automatic gearbox, while the hybrid gets Toyota’s usual planetary gear CVT system. Both of them power the front wheels only.

So that’s the numbers out of the way, how does it feel? In a word – right. In two words – just right. For everyday driving, both drivetrains are simply just fine.

The petrol drivetrain reacts quickly off the mark and builds up torque swiftly. The six speed auto is calibrated towards saving fuel and aggressively upshifts as soon as it can, but it will detect if you hit an incline and quickly downshift for the sake of it, so getting up hills isn’t a problem at all. If you need to floor it, the gearbox quickly gets the right gear and has you on your way to motorway speeds very swiftly.

The hybrid is slightly different, and in my experience, slightly more refined. The car will choose between the petrol and electric motors for the situation, turning on the petrol engine when accelerating, but otherwise keeping it off and relying on the electric motor for low to mid speed cruising, deceleration and when you’re stopped. The CVT gearbox means there’s no shift shock, with torque being delivered smoothly and linearly. It also means the engine will hold its revs as speed builds up – it might be a problem for some, but not for me. If you need to floor it, the electric motor power comes on instantly but it’s quite limited. The petrol engine produces the bulk of the power, but it needs around two seconds to get to maximum revs for some reason. Quite a bit slow sadly, so you’ll need to plan ahead for those times where you need to jump ahead of a car quickly. Finally, when slowing down, the electric motor becomes a generator, producing electricity to store in the battery, in return for slowing the car down to a stop.

The biggest comparison to be made between the standard petrol drivetrain and the hybrid one is fuel economy. The standard petrol drivetrain officially scores 7.8 L/100km in combined city / highway driving, while the hybrid gets 5.2 L/100km. So this means the hybrid officially consumes 33 percent less fuel than that petrol drivetrain, which is pretty significant. Real world figures? I averaged 9.5 L/100km with the petrol drivetrain and 6.5 L/100km with the hybrid – slightly more than the official figures but right around the same difference between them. Of course, your driving style makes all the difference and when I made an effort to drive less aggressively for the sake of fuel economy, I got the petrol drivetrain down to 8.6 L/100km. The hybrid? Even better – 5.7 L/100km. Driving style can make all the difference.

In terms of handling, the Camry has a soft, but balanced setup that’s oriented towards comfort. The car rides just fine with supple suspension and a well-weighted steering wheel. It goes around corners with confidence at usual speeds and that’s enough for me, but if you want a little more sportiness, the Camry Atara SX variant has a specially-designed suspension package by Toyota Australia that gives the car a firmer ride as well as more direct steering. It definitely creates even more confidence around the corners, at the cost of slightly more jiggling over the little bumps and corrugations we have on our roads.

The Camry is reasonably well refined, keeping out the noise and vibrations of driving, but the hybrid also gets an acoustic windscreen that noticeably reduced the noise levels in the cabin.

The Camry can be had in four grades – Altise, Atara S, Atara SX and Atara SL. The Altise comes with 16 inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, cruise control and a six speaker sound system with USB and Bluetooth support. If you get the hybrid drivetrain, you’ll also get climate control air conditioning, proximity keyless entry and the dual gauges with LCD screen instrument cluster. The Atara S adds rear parking sensors, bigger 17 inch alloys, electrically adjustable driver’s seat and the Toyota Link apps system. The top of the range Atara SL also gets satellite navigation, leather seats, 10 speaker sound system and a range of modern safety technologies including automatic high beam, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert.

The Atara SX is a sporty offshoot of the Atara S with the sports suspension I mentioned earlier. It also gets a rear lip spoiler, sports driving pedals and hot 18 inch black alloy wheels.

The Camry starts from $28,990 driveaway for a Petrol Altise, while a hybrid Altise is $32,990. The range tops out at the hybrid Atara SL which is $42,490 driveaway.

This is definitely Toyota’s best Camry ever – it looks very sharp and fashionable, it’s practical and well equipped, it’s now very good value for money and I’m sure it will have Toyota’s legendary reliability as well. Definitely a worthwhile choice in your car shopping.

3 October 2015
Albert Malik