Updated big saloon offers plenty for the money and has gained a better infotainment system

What is it?

You might have forgotten about the Camry. It’s been a couple of years since Toyota’s large saloon returned to Europe and it has since been enjoying modest sales. In fairness, no one, not least Toyota, ever expected it to gain the same popularity here as it has in the US, where big saloons from non-premium manufacturers are still seen as the default option. 

True to the Camry’s American roots, Toyota has been regularly giving it small upgrades to keep it fresh. The changes for 2021 are unlikely to tempt many people out of a BMW 5 Series, but they do address some key omissions in the existing car. The most significant update is a new infotainment system on Excel trim with a larger, 9.0in screen and a set of shortcut buttons. The lower Design spec retains the 7.0in screen, but also gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both trims get lane keep assist for semi-autonomous driving on the motorway. Then it’s the usual facelift fare of a subtly redesigned grille, lights and wheels. Finally, the Excel version get lavished with even more equipment, including ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging and a 360deg camera.

Nothing has changed to the powertrain. It’s still the same hybrid system that’s common in Toyotas. In this instance, it uses a 176bhp 2.5-litre petrol engine up front, driving the wheels together with an electric motor in a planetary gearset. That means it acts as a CVT and produces system power of 215bhp.

15 Toyota camry 2021 fd rearside

What's it like?

The Toyota Camry is still a lot of car for the money. Design trim costs £32,260, rising to £34,830 for the Excel, which is the one you want because it gets all the good stuff that BMW and Mercedes will have you pay through the nose for. For reference, the price of the Excel will buy you a bog-basic BMW 320i.

That new infotainment system sits high up on the dashboard and makes the interior look just a bit more contemporary. It's still a pretty awkward, outdated system, but it works quickly and because it has smartphone mirroring now, the issue will be moot for many. Both CarPlay and Android Auto require a wired connection, so the wireless charging pad isn’t quite as useful as you might hope.

The rest of the Camry experience is much as it was. As you luxuriate on your ventilated, multi-adjustable leather seats, holding your standard heated steering wheel, with two passengers comfortably in the back and their luggage in the generous boot, you might not care about the mix of materials in the interior.

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Similarly, as you get high-40s MPG without even trying, it might be a non-issue that the gearbox has the traditional character of a Toyota hybrid, where it is nice and hushed when pootling around, but lets the engine get pretty vocal when you demand some power. The Camry is one of the few cars where pressing the Eco-mode button actually makes it nicer to drive. The engine becomes less eager to pipe up, without the car feeling much more sluggish. Since the facelift, the steering wheel has sprouted a set of paddles to shift between six simulated gears if you so desire. It’s not that kind of car, though: it works better if you leave it to do its thing.

The same lack of sophistication continues in the chassis, which is quite floaty, yet transmits potholes and road noise more than you’d hope. Wind noise is well suppressed and all Camrys get adaptive cruise, which is not quite as smooth and alert as some systems, but still makes it a relaxing motorway cruiser.

6 Toyota camry 2021 fd dashboard

Should I buy one?

You should give the Toyota Camry a chance. There is a slight lack of sophistication in certain areas, perhaps owing to its American origins, but it’s a surprisingly nice car with more space and equipment than anyone else is offering for the price, as well as impressive economy. Recent updates are hardly transformative, but the option to bypass the clunky infotainment system with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is very welcome.

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16 Toyota camry 2021 fd fronthero


Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

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xxxx 15 September 2021

Wow, first thought was it's so Dull, second zzzzz.  

Alexander Johnston 9 September 2021

The CVT transmission would kill it for me,  Fit a ZF slush box and I would consider it. 

Soren Lorenson 9 September 2021

An estate verson would be a winner and good SUV alternative.