2019 Toyota Camry Review: First Drive
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In a sea of options including some very tempting SUVs, should you put your money on a petrol-hybrid sedan?
Let’s address the elephant in the room right at the outset. Toyota’s Camry costs Rs 36.95 lakh. Yes, it’s Rs 27,000 LESS compared to the car it replaces. But, by no stretch of imagination, can it be called affordable. On one end you’ve got the Superb from Skoda that’s throwing heavy punches and undercutting the Camry heavily on price, on the other there’s the Honda Accord that’s desirable but priced in a way that hurts your property buying decisions. Let’s not forget that the Camry faces a very credible threat from within the stable in the form of the Toyota Fortuner. We know we’re talking of apples and oranges. But if the questions on our weekly #CarDekhoFridays YouTube live session are anything to go by, buyers want bang for buck, and seldom shop from a single segment.
It’s an uphill task for the Camry, sure. We drive the latest generation of what’s a global favourite, and widely hailed as among the most reliable cars you can ever buy, to answer just one question: Should you even consider buying one?
‘This can’t be a Camry!’ were our first thoughts when we saw the suave sedan roll up on the fancy 5-star hotel porch. Forgive us for being blunt, but the outgoing generation wasn’t exactly a sight for sore eyes. This, on the other hand, looks good enough for you to want it. We don’t really remember the last time the design on a Toyota car was such a strong point.
It’s grown bigger in size and it shows. With an added 35mm in length, 15mm in width and a whopping 50mm in wheelbase, the Camry looks fitter than ever to be the Saaheb-mobile. With the 25mm drop in height and bigger, 18-inch alloy wheels filling up the large wheel wells, it looks, dare we say, sporty!
Of course, there are bits that we’re not too fond of. For starters, the airdam grille up front makes you wonder if there’s any bumper at all. Then there’s the C-pillar that appears unnecessarily bulky.
Rounding the package off are LED everything. You get bi-beam full-LED headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, LED foglamps as well as LED tail lamps. It’s like Toyota wanted to save energy here too! We also see chrome being used in a thoughtfully restrained manner. A small splash on the grille, a little dollop around the window line and some more garnishing on the tailgate (with embossed C A M R Y lettering, no less) seal the deal.
Toyota’s Camry then, doesn’t look like the straight-cut textbook luxury sedan anymore. Now, it seems, that it has a personality. And that’s always a fantastic starting point!
‘This can’t be a Camry!’ No, you’re not reading the same paragraph again. For someone used to the old Camry, the interior will come as a pleasant surprise. While the old one felt a bit too Corolla from every way you looked at it, this feels unique. And, just like the exterior, you sense Toyota has actually put some thought into design instead of following a textbook.
With the lower height, you now sit down into the cabin. Elders, please note. Once you’re nestled in, you’d enjoy the sense of comfort the front seats exude. It’s draped in good quality leather, and offers solid support - wherever you might need it. Both front seats can be adjusted 10 ways electrically, and the driver’s seat additionally features memory settings as well. Seat ventilation tops the experience off, a feature we always thank our stars for.
Cocooned by the seats, it’s easier to take in the in-cabin experience of the Camry. A prominent Y-shaped accent on the dash immediately grabs attention. Finished in a sombre dull grey, it underscores the gloss-black panel (that houses the touchscreen) above it while complimenting the subtle, light-coloured wood finish that’s around the car. While the gloss black surface looks appealing, we can’t help but wonder how it will hold up to dust and cloth wipes over the years. It looks like a soft target for fingerprints as well as swirl marks. Ice blue ambient lighting strongly contributes to the sense of opulence in the cabin.
As far as storage is concerned, we feel the front door pads are hilariously small to hold anything significant. But Toyota has made up for it big time by offering a massive storage box under the central armrest. You also get a couple of cupholders next to the gear lever and a cubby under the wireless charging dock that can be used to park your phone.
Move to the rear bench and you’d immediately notice better kneeroom. The stretch in wheelbase is definitely paying dividends. Headroom should be adequate for the average Indian. But if you’re 6ft or above, you’ll feel a bit close to the roof and would want a little more support for the under-thigh as well. There’s enough width here to seat three. But the armrest doesn’t sit completely flush, nor feels likes a comfortable place to rest your back against — so we’d suggest using the Camry as a four-seater lounge.
Flipping the central armrest down into use also lets you use the pop-out cupholders. And while it seems like it does, the central portion of the armrest doesn’t open up like the old car. You’ll need to use the storage space in the door pads or the seat back pockets to store your knick-knacks. Since we’re talking seat-backs, it’d have been nice to see a fold-out tray here. You know, when you want to grab a quick meal or work on the go.
At 524 litres, the boot is smaller than the one found on the outgoing car that had a 587-litre boot. That said, it’s more than you’d ever need. There’s enough room in there to fit a full-sized adult. We tried.
Summing up, the Camry’s interior is a huge step up compared to the old car. It looks deservedly swanky, and quality levels are perceptibly better too.
Technology and Features
There’s plenty of equipment here to be kicked about. Let’s start with the 8-inch touchscreen that takes up most of the real estate on the dash. That said, the layout is intuitive to use with physical keys for practically everything being well within reach from the driver’s seat. Touch response isn’t anything out of the ordinary, and the user interface is easy to grasp as well. Issues? Well, there’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay on offer here. And the quality of the video feed from the parking camera could be better.
Paired with this touchscreen is a 9-speaker JBL sound system. Sound isn’t bombastic as the maker’s label would lead you to believe. It feels pleasant and crisp at higher volumes. But at lower levels, it sounds a bit hollow. The tiny subwoofer placed on the parcel shelf manages to just about add some thump to the output. That said, this doesn’t come close to the output from the Superb’s 12-speaker Canton audio system.
You also get a secondary screen sandwiched between two dials in the instrument cluster that functions as the MID. This will tell you practically everything from which door is open, what your tyre pressures are and even how the hybrid drivetrain is functioning. The display is crisp and right in your peripheral vision so you aren’t distracted by it at any point in time. And if you wish to not be distracted even that much, there’s a heads-up display too. This 10-inch horizontal display gives you information about the current speed and engine rpm along with some nice additions such as a compass, cruise control information and current music track. Pretty cool!
We like how usual features are amped up in the Camry. There’s steering adjust, but it’s electric. What’s more, when you save your seat settings, the car will remember the steering and ORVM position too. When you switch the car off, the steering will also tilt up to let you get down easily.
You also get automatic climate control. But this too has been dialled up a notch. There’s not one, not two but three zones of climate control. While there’s no hiccup for the front passenger, the rear occupant might find the small central AC vents a bit inadequate. This might feel amplified in the torturous Indian summers.
….and before we move over to the features at the rear, there’s a sunroof too.
Now, what does the Boss get treated to? For starters, the co-driver’s seat can be adjusted by a pair of buttons on the shoulder. The boss can get comfortable or squish an annoying intern into the dash if they please. Adding to the sense of authority are the touch-sensitive controls on the central armrest. This is a feature not even the Camry’s expensive platform-mate, the Lexus ES, gets. You can control the infotainment, shuffle between sources and tracks, and set volume from the comfort of the rear seat.
And, speaking of comfort, you can also roll up the powered rear sunshade and recline the seats using the controls on the armrest. The theatre-dimming effect here really makes every occasion you use it special.
Engine and Performance
Toyota is offering the Camry with a single drivetrain option. There’s a 2.5-litre petrol engine paired with an electric motor and a battery pack under that swanky body. Yes, it sounds identical to the old setup, but it’s completely new down to every single nut and bolt. At least that’s what Toyota told us.
The petrol engine makes 178PS of power and 221Nm of torque. That’s a solid 18PS and 8Nm extra compared to the older engine. On the electric end of things, the system has moved from a 650V to a 245V setup. Power output from the electric motor has reduced, from 143PS to 120PS. Torque too is lower than before — 202Nm vs 270Nm. That said, the combined output of the hybrid drivetrain is higher than before at 218PS (vs 202PS).
Also, yes, the Camry has gained a negligible 30kg compared to the old car. That said, it feels ages better to drive. Much like the old Camry you first need to get used to the sheer silence when you start it up. The pin-drop silence is because the Camry starts up in EV mode. Look for the small ‘Ready’ light on the instrument cluster for your cue. Get going and it’s only the electric motor that drives the front wheel. It feels at ease pushing the car along upto 35-40kmph, under low load conditions. Prod a bit further on the throttle and the 2.5-litre petrol engine comes to life with a small gargle.
It also happens to be the only time you’ll hear the engine if you’re driving calmly. And for the most part you can’t really tell when the car is being propelled by hybrid power or on pure electricity. Driving in this manner will also see you get very close to Toyota’s claimed 23.27kmpl. The previous-generation Camry managed about 14kmpl inside the city and 18kmpl on the highway in our real-world tests. So we’ve got enough reason to believe the new Camry would be as efficient, if not more. Switch to Eco mode and it’d help you eke out even more efficiency. But bear in mind it’ll dull out throttle response a fair bit.
Switching to Sport mode makes the throttle snappier, and the petrol engine is on song more often. This is the mode to be in if you like fast-paced highway cruising. Overtaking takes nothing more than a dab of the throttle, and maintaining triple digit speeds feels like second nature to the Camry.
Piecing this experience together is the e-CVT. This too feels more polished than before, responding to part-throttle inputs better. That said, you will hear the engine revving its way to glory for a second or two before you actually see progress. It still doesn’t like being hurried, and would prefer you had predictable inputs on the throttle.
Ride and Handling
The Camry has made the most significant leap forward in this department. Where the old one wallowed and wafted its way over road imperfections, this one tackles it head on. You could call the overall setup stiff too. But it doesn’t have that harsh rebound that Euro cars usually have. It cushions bumps well and doesn’t let occupants get thrown around at all.
Feel from the steering wheel too is a lot better compared to the older car. Switching between drive modes also changes the ferocity of the steering, so you can choose between the city-friendly Eco to the corner-friendly Sport. Sure, it’s not outright sporty but it’s predictable and almost never requires corrections. You can dunk the Camry hard into a bend and be certain you won’t understeer hard towards the barricade like you once would.
To keep you safe, Toyota is offering 9 airbags on the Camry. There’s anti-lock braking, brake assist, vehicle stability control and traction control as well. You also get front and rear parking sensors that lets you park this behemoth without breaking a sweat.
Yes, the Rs 36.95 lakh sticker price isn’t something you’d say yes to in a heartbeat. And, admittedly, it might not immediately appeal to anyone hunting for a big badge to show off to his pals at the golf club.
But Toyota’s Camry is all grown up. With the new generation, it brings a promise of amplified luxury, amplified driving experience, and if Toyota’s to be believed, amplified efficiency as well. Toyota seems to have armed the Camry with so much that the fabled reliability and dependability become a bonus.