From £29,0947
Big, clever and should last a lifetime, but there’s no ignoring the fact that it lacks the outright polish of its European rivals
Neil Winn - Autocar
16 April 2019

What is it?

Dunkin’ Donuts, late-night chat shows, Twinkies, Sketchers, Seinfeld and the Toyota Camry – all concepts that, while proving widely popular in good ol’ US of A, haven’t transferred particularly well when they’ve been brought over to the UK. 

While American buyers have always loved the idea of large, comfortable, petrol-powered saloons (Toyota sells more than 400,000 Camrys a year in the US alone), British buyers have typically favoured smaller, more nimble diesel cars from ‘premium’ manufacturers. That's why the Camry was canned back in 2004; while the European big saloon market went mad for diesel, Toyota didn’t offer one and sales predictably slumped.

But now, in an ironic turn of events, the Camry name is about to make a return to British dealers, due to – yup, you guessed it – a downturn in diesel sales.

Available exclusively with a hybrid powertrain consisting of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and an electric motor, the new Camry is bang on trend and is perfectly placed to compete with other ‘self-charging’ (cars that top up their batteries automatically when you decelerate) rivals such as the Ford Mondeo Hybrid, as well as plug-hybrids (hybrids that benefit from being charged up overnight), such as the Volkswagen Passat GTE.

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What's it like?

Toyota claims the Camry has been ‘tuned for Europe’, which could be interpreted to suggest that UK-bound cars benefit from sharper handling than their American counterparts. In reality, though, the Camry feels like a car designed to cruise rather than excite. The steering has a nice heft and responds in a smooth and linear manner, but once the soft suspension and corresponding body roll in corners remind you that this is no BMW 3 Series rival.

But of course, the benefit of soft suspension is increased pliancy, and it’s here where the Camry impresses. The standard suspension deals with undulations very well without ever feeling floaty or uncontrolled. Even our range-topping test car, on 18in wheels, was very agreeable, smoothing out patchy sections of road with little more than a shudder through the base of your seat.

Indeed, the whole car is impressively refined; both wind and road noise are well suppressed and the engine is virtually inaudible at constant motorway speeds. That said, it's paired, as is something of a Toyota tradition, to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which lends a tendency for the engine to rev frantically when you demand full acceleration. And, with less low-down torque to call upon than diesel rivals can summon, such soaring revs are a fairly common occurrence when overtaking on country roads or merging onto fast flowing motorways.

Inside, there’s no doubt that the Camry feels more solid than a Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport, but it simply lacks the sophistication of its closest German competitors. Yes, there are soft-touch materials scattered around the interior, but few of them are located in areas that you’d regularly come into contact with. The small (7.0in) infotainment screen is also disappointing, with slow response times, poor graphics and no availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.

That said, the Camry does have a party trick up its sleeve: space. Put simply, unless you’re Shaquille O'Neal, you should have plenty of room to spread out in both the front and rear. A clever rear suspension design, along with the positioning of the car’s batteries beneath the rear seats, minimises intrusion into the boot, too, resulting in impressive luggage capacity – more than you’ll find in a Mondeo Hybrid or Passat GTE.

Should I buy one?

Well, there’s no doubt that the Camry is an impressively accomplished hybrid saloon. It’s comfortable, quiet at a cruise and relatively spacious. It’s also well equipped and should prove cheap to run.

However, the hybrid system that makes the Camry so economical lacks the outright flexibility of a diesel engine, and, although the interior feels well screwed together, its infotainment system frustrates and the mixed quality of the materials is disappointing.

Therefore, we reckon the Camry - a bit like Hershey's chocolate - will remain something of a plain but perfectly acceptable American preoccupation.

Toyota Camry Excel specification

Where Split, Croatia Price £29,995 On sale July Engine 4 cyls, 2487cc, petrol, plus electric motor Power 215bhp (combined) Torque 163lb ft at 3600-5200rpm (engine), 149lb ft (electric motor) Gearbox CVT automatic Kerb weight 1595kg Top speed 120mph 0-62mph 8.3sec Fuel economy 53.3mpg (WLTP combined) CO2, tax band 101g/km, 24% Rivals Ford Mondeo Hybrid, Volkswagen Passat GTE

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Comments
43

16 April 2019

You say it lacks polish, then I read that it rides well and is impressively refined; that's my idea of "polish" in a car.  I am also a great admirer of the extremely clever transmission system on its hybrid cars - so efficient and mechanically simple and a pleasure to use on our crowded stop-start roads.

17 April 2019
Luxury is not being crammed in the back of a little hatchback.

16 April 2019
I agree with comment above. We've had 3 different generations of Prius,coveing 250k miles and have never neeeded to rev manically. On the contrary they are smooth, refined and relaxing to drive. Certainly much better than conventional automatics such as that in the GTE which constantly lurches about looking for the right gear.

It says more about the road testers' inability to adapt to different types of car. They just seem to drive everywhere with their foot flat down. Funny as they must have to adapt their technique for driving supercars.

16 April 2019

This car gets great reviews in the US and AUS I believe.. 

16 April 2019

I am another fan of CVT which is in many respects the perfect transmission. If we'd all been brought up with CVTs, no one would remotely consider a stepped gearbox, least of all a manual one which requires a driver's constant attention to select the best ratio for any given situation.

And, of course the engine of a CVT car revs frantically under full throttle. It's designed to maintain the engine at its power peak, just as a spirited driver will rev out the engine in each gear to eek out the best performance. There is of course a simple solution for those who don't like the noise, just back off the throttle a little - and some of the time, at least, the engine won't be running at all. The Toyota e-CVT is simple and elegant, with no clutch, torque converter or dual-mass flywheel to worry about.  

16 April 2019

I too have found cvt transmissions pleasant and easy to use, though I've used Honda's with paddles for a manual override which really helps to prevent the high revs scenario mentioned when accelerating up to speed on slip roads. But in 90+% of driving I never needed to thrash the cars the way reviewers appear to and never found issue with available performance.

16 April 2019

Having had two Camrys over a period of about 15 years, I know how good they are. The problem is badge snobbery, mostly among reviewers. It has to be said, though, that mine were 6cyl. 3.0 ltr versions. I rented a 2.5 in the USA some time ago and liked it less, as it didn’t have the same smooth power. The present engine is what deters me from the new Camry and the equivalent Lexus. The 3.5 hybrid might be a different and better proposition for those not buying primarily on the cost of fuel, so a 5 Series or Benz E class with a nice 3.0 petrol engine is more appealing nowadays as a replacement for my current old Outback 3.0.

16 April 2019

I have driven the mechanically identical Lexus ES and the hybrid system in that was impressive. Almost silent almost all the time. yes, pulling onto a motorway it revved, but not for long as it gained speed quite rapidly, and not at a conatant pitch either. Really, driving at normal road speed, its very civilised. Would i prefer the (cheaper!) 3.5 V6 and conventional automatic that everyone else gets, probably yes, but the hybrid is very good, and the V6 wouldnt do 50 mpg. this really will.

16 April 2019

why CVT i know you dont but a toyota for its sound but it does not mean that we want to sound like a wailing cat when we put our foot down. really think they sound have gone 8 speed automatic.

#IDONTPROOFREAD

16 April 2019
So it's 'big, clever and should last a lifetime'...to be honest, for its target audience that's probably hit the nail on the head. Different buyer priorities in action (it must be doing something right if it sells so well globally).

Were it not for the fact that my next car needs to be an estate, and my wife has a pathological hatred of automatic gearboxes of any kind, this would probably be on my list if I'm honest. I like my drivers' cars as much as anyone, but when you've got two kids and all their stuff to hoik around sometimes you just need something that does the job no questions asked in comfort.

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