A success in America but a damp squib in India, the fully imported and completely built-up Toyota Camry failed to make an impact here because of its exorbitant price. But there is no denying that it was one of the best cars to be chauffeur-driven in.
Unlike the old Camry however, the new one is assembled at Toyota’s Bidadi facility and hence, attracts lower duties. It’s surprising then that Toyota has chosen not to pass this advantage onto its customers. The Camry remains one of the most expensive cars in its class.
There is no diesel engine on offer, which puts the Camry at a natural disadvantage. And, at Rs 23.8 lakh for this 2.5 G version, it is Rs 2.3 lakh more expensive than its next rival, the Skoda Superb. However, Toyota seems confident about the Camry’s appeal, what with the new engine, revamped looks and overhauled interiors and equipment. But is it worth the asking price?
Under the hood is a new 2.5-litre, all-aluminium, four-cylinder petrol motor. Known internally as the 2AR-FE, it’s from Toyota’s AR four-cylinder engine family. It has variable valve timing, on both intake and exhaust camshafts, a variable length intake tract and new tumble control valves that enhances combustion when the engine is cold and helps bring the catalytic converters up to operating temperature faster. Power and torque are up to 178bhp and 23.75kgm – a significant improvement over the old car’s 165bhp and 22.8kgm.
Thumb the start button and the engine comes to life and settles into a barely perceptible idle. Press the throttle and the way the Camry glides off the line sets the tone for the rest of the driving experience. Performance is measured and linear with no sharp spikes in the power delivery, the six-speed automatic slurs through its ratios, and the engine is impressively smooth and quiet.
It can be quick though. Floor the throttle and wait a bit as the gearbox kicks down. There’s strong performance as the engine crosses 3000rpm, and it pulls with growing eagerness right up to 6000rpm, where the gearbox will execute another smooth shift and repeat the process. It doesn’t have the ballistic top-end of the Honda Accord motor or the buttery smoothness of the Superb’s TSI, but manages to find a nice balance between the two.
The Camry hits 100kph in 9.2sec, which is just 0.1sec slower than the fastest-in-class, the Skoda Superb. This tells you how it behaves when you are decisive with the throttle; there’s enough responsiveness and grunt for effortless overtaking as well. Part of this is down to the Camry’s impressive 1475kg weight. The Camry is the lightest car in its class by a fair margin.
You can get more out of the engine by sliding the gear lever into manual mode. Here, you can hold the engine till its 6200rpm redline and it does give you slightly more control over gearshifts. Know that the engine gets a bit thrashy when it revs beyond 5000rpm – it’s never as smooth as a six-cylinder motor – and the Camry feels best when you gather pace in a relaxed manner. It’s undoubtedly the best way to drive it.
Five minutes in the back seat is all it takes to know the focus of the Camry’s dynamics. The Camry isolates you beautifully from even the sharpest of bumps. The suspension is silent, bump-absorption is simply fantastic and the Camry rides like there are pillows between the tyres and the road. It comes with relatively high-profile 215/60 R16 tyres and these play a big part in the way it rides. The best part though is that this soft ride doesn’t come at the expense of stability. Rebound damping is excellent, and the Camry settles down almost immediately after it hits a bump, and it doesn’t bob about. Sure, it’s not as rock solid as a Superb at high speeds, but Toyota has found a very nice compromise nonetheless. Worth mentioning is how little road noise enters the cabin – there’s barely any tyre and wind noise, and the suspension works very silently too.
Show it a set of corners though and the Camry fails to engage. The electrically-assisted steering is numb and there is quite a lot of roll. Turn into a corner enthusiastically and the car will run wide, there’s plenty of tyre squeal and the absence of traction control becomes apparent, as there’s no electronic nanny to cut power and keep the car in line.
As expected, it’s not particularly nimble in town, but the light steering does help, and visibility isn’t too bad either. We just wish a reverse camera was part of the equipment list. It is rather necessary as the Camry’s rear overhang is quite long.
The Camry’s 8.2kpl in the city and 12kpl on the highway are really reasonable, considering the size of the car. It is better than most of its rivals and this is partly down to the light weight of the car.