Tito Car No More
Midsize executive sedans are facing declines no thanks to SUVs, especially 7-seater PPVs. For the same price, many would rather stick to a Toyota Fortuner that can wade through floods and carry seven people rather than something that seats five people but in much greater luxury and comfort. It also means that as SUVs have become mainstream, midsize executive sedans have truly become a more aspirational purchase. At the forefront of this aspirational shift is the all-new Toyota Camry, the first mainstream Toyota in the Philippines to utilize the brand’s all-new modular and highly rigid Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform.
Camrys are generally known to be nondescript or even borderline boring to look at. That is so not the case with this new car. Whereas driving a Camry used to mean that it’s something you borrowed from your dad or even your tito, this new one projects a much more youthful and dynamic image, one that a young executive would fancy owning nowadays. The front fascia is characterized by a long hood with the slim main grille housing the Toyota badge intercepting the wide lower grille right at its middle. The Camry is also one of the first few cars at its price point to have full LED lighting on the exterior, down to the reverse lights and turn signals. This is however only for the V variant. The dynamic silhouette is further seen on the side profile, while the 18-inch alloy wheels blend nicely with the proportions of the vehicle. Lastly, the rear fascia looks dynamic and sporty with its faux rear diffuser and C-shaped LED tail lights that cast a striking glow at night.
Like the exterior, the interior of the Camry has a newfound sportiness to it. There’s a driver-focused layout never before seen in any Camry before it, thanks to an S-shaped design element that creates a canopy to separate the driver and front passenger. The colors and materials are all tastefully executed, with matte finished faux wood trims, satin silver finishes, and plenty of soft-touch materials. Subtle blue LED lighting is strategically placed in the creases and door handles of the interior, creating a very relaxing atmosphere, especially at night. Plus all the buttons, switchgear, and storage places have a crisp and damped feel.
The driver-focused layout is also evident with the controls and displays. A large color head-up display is standard for this 2.5 V variant. Also standard is an electronically adjustable driver’s seat that automatically slides back and an electronically adjustable steering column that automatically tilts up accordingly when you switch off the vehicle for easy entry and exit. These are touches that you expect not just from a high-end Toyota, but even from a Lexus ES that costs more than P4 million.
Of course, the Camry experience isn’t complete without its sumptuous back seats and its amenities. Whereas cars like the Mazda 6 and Honda Accord have a higher focus on sportiness, which makes it more of a driver’s car, the Toyota Camry is a car you’d best appreciate with a chauffeur. The boss sitting at the rear right seat gets the benefit of a front passenger seat that can be electronically moved forward for infinite amounts of legroom, though at its default position, the rear legroom is already so generous in the first place. Moreover, both rear passengers enjoy electronically reclining rear seats with a cushion mounted on the headrest as well as their own climate control system. Of course, a luxury car experience would not be complete without sunshades for all rear windows, with the one at the rear windshield being electronically activated.
The Camry also scores well in terms of practicality. There are plenty of storage places, plus all the door bins are large enough to hold a one-liter bottle of water. The electronically adjustable rear seats can’t be folded at all, though there’s a ski pass through in the middle of the rear seats. Lastly, the trunk itself is spacious, which is more than enough for the people who intend to use this as executive transport and not a Toyota Hilux replacement.
Where the interior slightly falls apart is with the locally-sourced 7-inch infotainment. It looks out of sync with the rest of the stylish and elegant interior design, plus the user experience isn’t great. The menus are convoluted and hard to understand, plus connecting a smartphone via Bluetooth is quite difficult to figure out.
Under the hood of the Toyota Camry is a 2.5-liter inline-4 Dual VVT-i petrol engine producing 184 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 231 Nm @ 4,100 rpm. This is a carry-over engine from the previous generation (XV50) model. Power is sent through the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission.
With an all-new TNGA platform but a carry-over engine, how does the Camry fare out on the open road? You can think of it as having the physical aspects of Kim Kardashian but with the heart and soul of Kris Jenner. The Camry’s got the fresh looks and the youthful moves, but with a more mature persona, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fuel economy is decent at 8.5 km/l, but when the entire package is considered as a whole, you wouldn’t be able to tell it has a carry-over engine. The powerband of the 2.5-liter Dual VVT-i engine is quite nice and linear, providing excellent thrust at the mid to high rev range, and the 6-speed automatic that it’s mated to has a strong willingness to downshift in pure automatic mode. If you ever so wish, the Camry even has a Sport mode, which lets the transmission sort-of rev-match when using the +/- on the shifter. Toyota calls this Blipping Downshift Control, which is supposed to make the Camry downshift much more smoothly, but any car enthusiast will be satisfied with the snarl the engine makes when it does that.
And that’s the surprising fact about this new Camry. For the first time ever, Toyota’s renowned executive sedan has become a somewhat sporty and fun car to drive. Granted, a Mazda 6 is still the class benchmark when it comes to all-out handling, mainly due to an overall more responsive powertrain and steering, but the Camry certainly does not disappoint. In fact, I’m surprised that I find the new Camry even more enjoyable to drive than the outgoing (ninth generation) Honda Accord. The steering is pleasantly weighty and precise yet it lightens up during city drives and parking maneuvers. Additionally, the suspension is surprisingly able to deal with body roll pretty well, keeping the body flat through corners. Being an executive sedan, the Camry’s suspension is tuned to smooth directional changes rather than all-out agility, and that’s a good thing for its target market.
The Camry is, of course, meant for the executive, and it still more than delivers in that aspect. The extremely rigid TNGA platform gives a host of improvements to the Camry’s structural rigidity, especially with how delicately the structure doesn’t transmit a lot of vibrations and other road nuances into the cabin. Bigger bumps are well absorbed by the suspension, and that’s despite rolling on 18-inch wheels and being able to control body roll much better than its predecessor. And then there’s NVH suppression, which is class leading in my opinion. Closing the solidly-built doors is enough to isolate you from the outside world. It’s simply remarkable how quiet the cabin remains regardless of the speed and road surface. If you’ve always dreamed of owning a Lexus ES, this is as close as anyone can get for under P2 million.
For all the excellence in how the all-new Camry drives and rides, it does lack a few convenience features for the driver. In this day and age, a rear camera is almost a universal offering, so it’s surprising to know that the Camry has this as a dealer installed option. Oh, and it does not have the active driver safety features expected at the Camry’s price point, such as blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and so on. At least it has the fundamental safety features such as front and rear parking sensors, 7 airbags, hill start assist, and electronic stability control.
Midsize executive sedans have become an aspirational segment in our market, and the Toyota Camry is at the forefront of this shift. Sure, it may lack some of the toys expected for the driver, such as a rearview camera and other active driver assist features, but what it makes up for are the toys that an executive sitting in the back seat expects. In the end, the Toyota Camry will surely end up being driven by chauffeurs, and that’s exactly the reason why Toyota decided to concentrate on offering all the features for those sitting in the back seat. This time around, however, the Camry is not just a car you would want to be driven in, but a car you would also want to drive yourself. This is the best Toyota Camry ever released, and it fundamentally changes what any executive should expect in Toyota’s bread and butter midsize sedan.
Pricing and Rating
Exterior Design: ★★★★★
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★☆
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4.3 out of 5
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