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Forget the emotion: the Toyota Camry saloon, tweaked for reintroduction in Europe, is a smooth and refined operator
  • First Drive

    Toyota Camry 2018 review

    Forget the emotion: the Toyota Camry saloon, tweaked for reintroduction in Europe, is a smooth and refined operator

What is it?

This is the European version of what you get if you order an online cab from Los Angeles airport. The Toyota Camry is the most successful big saloon car in the world, and it was a nameplate you could get in the UK until 2004, when it was canned because the European big saloon market was going big on diesel and the Camry didn’t offer one.

Now? The big saloon market is going nowhere particularly fast, and it's particularly ordinary for the Avensis. So, the Avensis is being dropped and the Camry, available in Europe only with a hybrid powertrain, is being reintroduced.

The internal combustion component of its powertrain is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit with some fancy straight inlet ports (making the fuel swirl and therefore burn more efficiently) and both port and direct injection – each has different advantages at different revs and throttle openings. The overall thermal efficiency is 41%, says Toyota, which is rubbish compared to an electric motor’s 90-odd per cent but good for a petrol unit.

It drives the front wheels through Toyota’s hybrid system, which uses the drive engine, a starter motor and a drive motor (motor generators 1 and 2 in Toyota speak) with a planetary gearset linking them. This allows the drive motor and engine to run at any speed, regardless of the wheel speed, because the starter-generator will be there to make up the difference.

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It’s a brilliantly simple concept with, presumably, brilliantly complicated control software, which is why Toyota engineers get the hump if someone calls it a continuously variable transmission. Combined, maximum power is 215bhp, with fuel consumption likely to be confirmed at an official 61mpg (although we saw 40+ mpg on the trip computer).

All of those drive shenanigans aside, it’d also be slightly disingenuous to say Camry replaces Avensis, because, as befits a car they sell more than 400,000 of per year in the US alone, it's bigger. At 4.89m long, it’s between Ford Mondeo and BMW 5 Series in length, while at 1840mm wide across the doors, it's just narrower than a Mondeo, but at the top end of the D-segment either way.

It's based on Toyota’s recently introduced TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, whose advantages, Toyota says, include a low engine location, which allows a low dashboard, thus lowering (improving) the centre of gravity. There’s also lots of high-strength steel in the body, apparently meaning the A-pillars are thin and the body stiff, while the battery for the hybrid system fits beneath the back seats, as does the fuel tank. And the rear suspension is by fancy double wishbones, doncha know.

Not that it’ll matter, because big saloons are big and boring to drive. But hark! Here’s Masato Katsumata, Toyota’s global chief engineer for the Camry. His first gig in the company was as a handling engineer, while he’s also been senior vice president for R&D in Europe. And he owns an early Celica.

“We want to create emotion in a hybrid system,” he says. The rigid body, particularly where the steering is mounted, “contributes to realising dynamic performance”. This, it’s fair to say, would be a bit of a departure for the Camry, no? But European models get different dampers from US cars, plus bespoke tuning of damping, springing, anti-roll bars and steering. So let’s see.

What's it like?

Inside, it's large, comfortable, all of the things you expect of a Camry and some things you wouldn’t.

Among ‘things you wouldn’t’ are that the driving position can be really quite low-slung if you want, with a dropped seating position and a wheel that reaches a long way towards you. Or not, if you prefer.

Among the things you would expect are a generous amount of rear leg room and a non-European version of pseudo luxury. Soft-feel materials, yes, but a mixed array of them along with some overly polished hard surfaces (is it meant to be wood? Copper? Both?) an old-school mechanical auto gear selector and smallish infotainment touchscreen.

It doesn’t take long to be impressed by the way the Camry steers. Colloquially, engineers throughout the industry talk about a 50-metre test – how a car feels as soon as you get in it. Its control weights and low-speed steering and ride tell you quite a lot about how much you’ll like it later on. And the Camry’s smooth, accurate, if relatively weighty steering and easy responses mark it out as a pleasing companion in those first yards.

It rides pretty well at all times. You can sense that the centre of gravity is low; there’s limited roll and pitch but it can also feel like it’s carrying a fair degree of weight low down. It’s solid, secure and stable, but it lopes along, un-fleet of foot as a 1670-1735kg, near five-metre-long saloon is bound to be. It’s agreeable, capable and comfortable transport, but it’s not, like, say, a Kia Stinger, shockingly dynamic transport.

Neither is the engine/motor combination quite as ‘emotional’ as it’s claimed it is. But, you know, that’s actually fine. What the Camry does is bring you internal combustion and electric power and meld the two in expertly seamless fashion. Ask for a lot of acceleration and you get it, accompanied by a monotonous engine drone, but in general driving, the petrol unit is far more muted, mooching between power sources with genuine skill. I’m not sure anybody else does that better.

This all compounds to make the Camry an excellent cruiser. The kind of car you could get out of three hours while barely registering that you’d been in it at all.

Should I buy one?

Think, then, of the Camry not quite as the dynamic new entrant to the D-segment that some might lead you to believe. But know that it’s capable, spacious, quiet and very comfortable.

It won't arrive in the UK until next spring, so Toyota is still to decide on the pricing. High twenties to early thirties is where you get a big ordinary hybrid D-segment saloon elsewhere, so let’s call it £30,000. And three-and-a-half stars, with the potential to move half a star either way, depending on the final specification. Regardless of whether you end up sitting in the front or the back.

Toyota Camry specification

Where Barcelona, Spain Price £30,000 (est) On sale Spring 2019 Engine 4cyls in line, 2.5-litre, petrol, plus electric motor Power 215bhp Torque not stated Gearbox Variable planetary gearbox Kerb weight 1670-1735kg Top speed 112mph 0-62mph 8.3sec Fuel economy 61mpg CO2 100g/km Rivals Ford Mondeo, Skoda Superb

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Comments
11

13 July 2018

I approve of a car not designed to be sporty. Comfort is a priority, but decent enough to drive. It sounds like it hit the spot. But i am not so sure about the gearbox. By all means offer the hybrid, its just a pitty the other versions wont make it over here

13 July 2018

The Camry gets very good reviews in the US and Australia. Won’t sell well here because people won’t look past the generic German badged cars

13 July 2018
Jimbbobw1977 wrote:

The Camry gets very good reviews in the US and Australia. Won’t sell well here because people won’t look past the generic German badged cars

 

Not to mention the fact that in the UK, large Japanese saloons have an emphatic reputation for depreciating faster than Turkish Lira.

13 July 2018

I'm sure that the taxicab operators will love it. They want value, comfort, reliability and low running costs more than a prestige nameplate and a soft-touch interior.

And what better than a modern hybrid that's proven to work? 

13 July 2018

No touch screen plonked on top of the dash, looking like an afterthought.

Neat, innofensive looking car (even with a Bangle Boot). Never mind the Avensis, this could be the car that replaces Oliver - my trusty, ever so dependable LS430

Take no notice... I'm only here for the biscuits

13 July 2018

Done a lot of miles in Camry's in the US, they are comfortable, competent and get the job done. I'd have one in the UK. This might miss the mark though, it's in fleet car territory with emissions that are too high. 100+ Co2 is a deal breaker, needs to be a plug in and down in the 30's. 

13 July 2018
Rich boy spanners wrote:

Done a lot of miles in Camry's in the US, they are comfortable, competent and get the job done. I'd have one in the UK. This might miss the mark though, it's in fleet car territory with emissions that are too high. 100+ Co2 is a deal breaker, needs to be a plug in and down in the 30's. 

 

Interior materials quality is abysmal however, and even the latest iteration falls short compared to the smaller Corolla.

13 July 2018

Don't know how you got that impression about the interior materials

My wife drives one in the USA as a fleet car, utterly dependable quality car with a hard wearing interior that lasts and lasts.

The Germans we have over there have all kinds of niggly problems too long to list here,

There is a reason it's the top selling large sedan in the world.

13 July 2018

A lot of what you can see on the photo is carried over from the previous model. Screen position, switches and centre console were there on 2016 SE+ model.

13 July 2018

I have been bitten by Toyota 3 times over the years. A new Corona which had miss set timing that the agent never fixed, and the valves burnt out just out of guarantee!. A Yaris (Echo body) that was simply too dangerous to drive over 50 mph, not that you could without ear protection. And lastly just got rid of a Camry SE+. With its "chattering" or "shimmering" back axle, lazy auto and ever changing brake feedback. Plus, a terribly uncomfortable drivers seat.

They can claim anything they like for the new one, but having to drive 3 useless examples over the years means I will never return.

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