– Good economical engine
– Cabin space and features
– Fairly comfortable ride
– High base price
– Some hard cabin plastics
– Some rivals more fun to drive
There isn’t much remaining to be said about the Toyota Camry’s history. Born in the 1980s and introduced here only in the 1990s after the demise of the Cressida, the Camry became the best-selling midsize sedan in the GCC, hated by enthusiasts and loved by everyone else. However, with the 2012 model, it may be the first time that Toyota attempts to cater to the haters as well.
There was a sportier Camry in the previous generation though. Called the Camry SE, it came with a body kit and credible sports suspension, but sold few. Now for 2012, there are four trim levels, and the attractive “sports” body kit is standard on all but the base model, but there is no mention of actual sports suspension on even the top Sport-badged version. Overall though, Toyota has improved the dynamics on all the versions, but we’ll get to that later.
First we took a look inside what really matters. We drove the model one step above the base version, dubbed the Camry SE in the UAE, but also known as the GLX in Oman and Saudi Arabia. As such, this is the model with the sporty body kit, cloth interior, dual exhaust tips and even 16-inch alloy wheels, so the somewhat-high price almost seems worth it. The car is attractive, despite what detractors say, although we wish the wheels were spaced more “outside” instead of looking so recessed within the wheel wells.
It is interesting to see that the Camry now comes with a leatherette-padded dash, complete with real stitching, so it feels more premium. The cabin’s fake wood trim, padded upper-door sills and beige colour scheme ups that effect, although the fake “stitching” moulded into the plastic centre-console flanks as well as hard plastics on the rear upper-door sills brought us back down to reality quickly.
The Camry is a winner on space though. We compared it to the old version, and Toyota has actually managed to eke out an extra inch of legroom front and back, as well as a hair’s worth of extra headroom in the back, all while keeping the same dimensions. The cabin space was massive to begin with, with a huge boot, split-folding rear seats, some small cubbies, and enough exposed cup-holders to store an entire menu of drinks in the car.
The gadgetry, for a car that is only one step above basic, is pretty satisfying. With a touchscreen stereo, six half-decent speakers, USB ports, Bluetooth phone, power windows and electric mirrors, power-adjustable driver’s seat, ABS, keyless entry, fog lamps, cruise control, rear camera with sensors and even a strong dual-zone auto a/c with rear vents, most buyers will be happy with this spec, even if it comes with only two airbags. The next trim level is a fair bit more expensive, and adds side-curtain airbags, stability control, sunroof, leather, navigation, keyless start and what not.
We were most impressed by the engine however. Finally receiving the 2.5-litre 4-cylinder motor that has been available elsewhere already, it makes 181 hp at 6000 rpm, 3 horses more than the base model thanks to the dual exhaust system. It also makes 235 Nm of torque at 4100 rpm, sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic with manual capability. And for once, we can say we didn’t mind driving the Camry on the road, because it finally has adequate power to not be just a roadblock. We clocked a 0-100 kph time of 8.8 seconds with wheelspin during our January test, impressive compared to the Honda Accord and closer to the Nissan Altima. In fact, we beat the official manufacturer figure, a rarity in our part of the world. We also managed a fuel consumption figure of 9.3 litres/100 km, again very impressive, although there was a fair bit of highway driving involved. Either way, it’s better than the old model.
It is also safe to say that the Camry handles better now too. Taking sharp corners fast, there is still moderate body roll, but the real difference is in direction changes in the middle of a fast turn, which used to upset the old car. This new one doesn’t get unsettled easily, and there are no untoward rebounds once a turn is complete. The steering feel is also a bit better, which is odd because the Camry now uses an electric power-steering system to save fuel.
The ABS-assisted brakes do the job well on hard stops, although the light pedal feel and initial response in casual driving make it feel rather poor in daily use. And it’s easy to make the 215/60 tyres squeal in understeer on fast sharp turns, though the rubbers do put up a good fight. And the manual mode on the tranny isn’t exactly quick. The Camry isn’t a sports sedan yet, nor even a handling class-leader, if that’s what you were hoping for.
In terms of ride comfort, the Camry remains a smooth cruiser, silent up to 100 kph and progressively louder as the speed inches towards 140 kph. Forward visibility is excellent, while parking is easy thanks to the rear camera and mildly-weighted steering. The ride is fairly smooth, flattening big bumps with ease, though making some rough road surfaces obvious sometimes. Of course, the hint of firmness is a small price to pay for getting rid of the excessive floatiness that plagued the old model.
The Camry is definitely better than the old model, in every possible way. In an age when carmakers sometimes take a step backwards when it gets redone, we are glad to see a car that improves in a major way, and when the only thing we can whine about is the change to hard-plastics on the rear door sills. Lose a little, gain a lot.
Current Model Introduced in:
Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
Observed Test Fuel Economy: