Toyota is turning into a company of comebacks.
First we had Corolla, back after 13 years on gardening leave, and now the Camry has been given a second chance 15 years in exile.
It’s a strange one because Camry was loved the world over – a staggering 19 million sold since 1982 – yet it couldn’t do the numbers in Britain. Thirty years ago this was the sort of car most people aspired to, downsizing hadn’t entered our vocabulary, but we preferred our Ford Sierras, Vauxhall Cavaliers, and Volkswagen Passats to a Camry or Mazda 626.
Bringing Corolla back made total sense because people are still buying family hatchbacks, but Camry? It is in the same league as Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia etc where sales have plummeted as customers turn to SUVs and smaller cars.
Premium models like Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series are coasting along but Camry is not in that league and wouldn’t you buy a Lexus, the luxury arm of Toyota, instead?
Not everyone thinks that way so here are a few positives to get us in the mood with Camry. It’s well built, roomy with space aplenty front and back, and it’s a hybrid. Mark my words there will be plenty of action on the hybrid and electric fronts in 2020.
Yet my first impressions of Camry were a bit dulled. There was a dated look to the dashboard, a mixture of the future (touchscreen) and past (big switches). Then I drove and did not like the feel of the brakes. The pedal did not have the usual progressive feel; all a bit too sharp and took a while to produce smooth braking. Minor stuff in the scheme of things although I believe first impressions count for a lot, particularly when parting with big money for a car.
Oddly enough I got to like the big, clearly marked illuminated switches because it harked back to the days when life was easy. You got straight on with it rather than spending 10 minutes, or more, trying to fathom the touchscreen just to get some heat or change the radio station.
Readers may recall my silly rant a few weeks ago with the voice control on the Lexus UX. As a sister car the Camry uses much the same technology and although our friend rejected my request to change the radio station she did manage to input a post code for navigation so let’s just leave it at that.
Go for the top of the range Excel and you will get a decent amount of kit for your money. Toyota has weighed in heavily on safety so there is a full range of features to keep you safe. I was particularly grateful for the rear cross traffic alert when warned of an approaching car when reversing out of a parking space with a van alongside blocking my view.
Excel sits on 18in alloy rims with low profile tyres so road thumps are often felt although generally the ride is all you would expect from a large family saloon where the emphasis is on comfort rather than sharp handling.
Which brings us on to the hybrid engine. Camry gets the larger 2.5 litre petrol which combined with the electric motor pumps out a healthy 215bhp. It is the only choice and a drawback for fleet sales where there is still a market for diesel but Toyota is sticking to its guns.
The surprise is that in spite of its size economy is good and engine emissions exceptionally low. It never fell below 46mpg and there were trips when I averaged better than 50mpg so as far as hybrid goes I am finally convinced this is a viable alternative to diesel.
I hear fellow motoring scribes digging the knife into the electric CVT transmission – I’ve done the same in the past – but Toyota has refined the system down the years and I had no complaints this time round. Acceleration is brisk, mid range pick up adequate, and as long as you don’t thrash the engine, when it doesn’t sound happy, everything is smooth and refined.
Batteries for the electric motor are housed under the back seat which means boot space is not compromised and is a good size.
If hybrid is your bag then you have to look at Camry because Toyota has pedigree and knows what it is doing.
Is Camry set to make the big comeback? It is going to be difficult, the market for big saloons is declining, and Camry is not making it into my top five.
Camry Excel hybrid
2.5 litre petrol; 215bhp
0-62mph 8.3secs; 112mph
101g/km. 1st year tax £140
Insurance group 32
Boot: 524 litres