It’s been 17 years since the Toyota Camry was first introduced in India, and over the years, it has gone through three generations changes, with total sales of 11,425 units. It has soldiered on since 2002, carving a niche for itself, despite the growing onslaught from the SUV segment and from the German marques.
Toyota has now launched the fourth avatar of the Camry in India and this all-new car has grown in dimensions and appeal. Its dynamics are more sorted now and it also gets an all-new hybrid powertrain. Priced at Rs 36.95 lakh (ex-showroom), it is placed higher than its natural competitors – the Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Passat.
What is it?
This is the eighth generation of the Camry globally, and it’s based on the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) modular platform, which uses a greater percentage of high-tensile steel. Not only is the structure lighter in weight, but its structural rigidity has been improved by around 30 percent. It is also longer and wider than the older car by 35mm and 15mm respectively, and its wheelbase has gone up by 50mm. Despite its larger dimensions, its kerb weight has gone up by just 30kg. What’s more is that it is powered by an all-new 2.5-litre petrol engine mated to a fourth-generation hybrid system, so both power output and efficiency have improved.
Toyota designs, in recent times, haven't exactly been subtle, with some sharp cuts and creases, and bold design cues, and the new Camry isn’t an exception. Take, for instance, the oversized front grille that makes quite a statement and stands out in lighter colours. The V-shaped front grille looks quite smart and so do the headlamps with LED DRLs on the edges. The sloping roofline, confident waistline, 18-inch multi-spoke alloy mean the car has a balanced and sporty stance. The rear has rather interesting elements like an integrated spoiler and stretched-out tail-lamps with clear-lens inserts.
What is it like inside?
The interiors have a beige colour theme and feel bright and spacious right from the moment you open the door. The design of the dashboard is typical Toyota with a massive ‘Y’-shaped kink on the central console and onyx trim inserts in certain areas. Materials used are largely good, and the soft-touch plastics and leather feel high quality. The touchscreen, however, could have been better, as the one here is feels quite fiddly to use, and it even misses out on Apple or Android connectivity. For those who enjoy their music, there is a 9-speaker JBL sound system, and while it sounds quite nice, it’s worth noting that the outgoing version had a 12-speaker JBL unit.
The front seats are large, cooled and comfortable. To aid visibility, the bonnet of the Camry is 40mm lower, the A-pillar is narrower than before and the outside mirrors are mounted on the doors to eliminate blind spots. Most owners, however, would be seated at the rear, and is the place to be. The seat here is large and almost sofa-like with good support, and although it is a bit low-set, the space is so good, you can really stretch out. The front passenger seat can be slid forward electrically (via buttons on its backrest), to free up more room. The backrest can recline up to eight degrees, and while that might not seem much, it does the trick. The coolest bit at the back though is the touch-operated controls in the rear armrest; these include controls for the rear sunshade, audio, rear air-con and the backrest recline.
In terms of equipment, the Camry is well loaded with kit like nine airbags, ESP, 18-inch alloys, auto LED headlamps, LED fog lamps, leather upholstery, front seat cooling, electric steering adjust, head-up display, cruise control, electric reclining rear seat, three-zone climate control and tyre pressure monitor.
What is it like to drive?
The new Camry hybrid is now powered by an all-new, 2,487cc, four-cylinder petrol engine that makes 178hp and 221Nm of torque, an improvement of 18hp and 8Nm compared to the older engine, and this one boasts a more efficient combustion system as well. In addition to the petrol engine, there’s a 245V Nickel Hydride battery pack and an all-new, fourth-generation hybrid system motor generator that’s lighter and has an output of 120hp and 202Nm (23hp and 68Nm lesser than before). In synergy though, the combined output of the hybrid system (petrol plus battery) is 218hp – an increase of 13hp. What’s also improved is its fuel efficiency, which is rated at an impressive 23.27kpl.
There’s absolutely no sound or vibration on start-up and as long as there is enough charge, it will run entirely on battery power (in EV mode) at low speeds, in complete silence. When the petrol motor fires up, the transition isn’t seamless. Cabin insulation is great and there are no vibrations to speak of, but when the four-cylinder engine kicks in, there is a bit of a surge.
The naturally aspirated petrol motor is quite refined on its own and at town or cruising speeds, it’s barely audible. The refined nature urges the driver to adopt a relaxed, efficient driving style and, in return, it offers a serene drive experience and tall fuel economy. There’s ample power available on demand, which it delivers in a smooth, linear manner. Put your foot down to close in a gap in traffic or overtake on the highway, and responses are almost instantaneous as the electric motor provides an additional boost to the petrol.
Mated to this engine is an e-CVT which delivers the engine’s power in an effortless manner. Under hard acceleration, however, the rubber-band effect is present as the transmission holds on to the max revs as the car builds speed. And it is at such times that it gets vocal but still never to the point of being too loud or intrusive. And in ‘Sport’ using the paddles for a downshift now actually gets some engine braking.
Toyota has taken several measures to lower the centre of gravity and improve the balance of this car – its overall height has reduced by 25mm, the wheelbase is now longer by 50mm, and the battery pack, which earlier sat behind the rear seat, is now placed beneath it (for a better balance and lower centre of gravity), within the wheelbase. The other significant change is the new independent rear suspension, which has resulted in a wider rear track. Sure enough, all these drastically improve the car’s dynamics. It is still a softly sprung, comfortable cruiser, but it now glides over potholes and imperfections with a sense of poise and composure. Yes, there’s a bit of initial firmness due to the large 18-inch wheels, noticeable over sharper bumps, but the suspension does a competent job of soaking up most road shocks. At higher speeds, though, it can tend to float over expansion joints or wavy surfaces but, still, vertical movements are kept in check.
There’s also newfound confidence in the way the Camry drives. Body roll is present around corners, but grip levels are good, and it feels far more capable and willing to change directions. The steering column is all new; it is a lot more direct and predictable, and it weighs up consistently. Turning radius has increased from 5.5 to 5.8m. The Camry Hybrid, of course, gets regenerative braking, and the pedal is quite sensitive, so even the lightest of dabs result in rapid deceleration.
Should I buy one?
Like before, the new Toyota Camry Hybrid will appeal to the chauffeur-driven lot. It has a very comfortable and spacious backseat, a hushed cabin and a cushy suspension, all of which add to its relaxed and refined character. What also impresses is that its new construction and dynamics make it lot more confidence-inspiring and willing from behind the wheel. And while it's still not exciting to drive per se, what it does offers is a degree of engagement that was sorely lacking in the older generation. At Rs 36.95 lakh (ex-showroom, India), this car isn’t cheap, but then it offers a lot in terms of equipment and safety kit. And then there’s the fact that this car will be far less polluting and as efficient as petrol hatchbacks, thus making a strong case for itself.