Toyota Camry goes radical

By Aida Sevilla-Mendoza Philippine Daily Inquirer November 20,2019

The aggressive, Lexus spindle-influenced front grille of the 8th generation Camry projects the radical full model change of Toyota’s flagship sedan.

Photos by Aida Sevilla-Mendoza

If 19 million units of a car you manufacture have been sold across 100 countries over a period of almost 40 years, would you radically change it?

Toyota Motor Company would—and did.

Toyota subjected the 8th generation of its flagship sedan, the Camry, to a radical full model change. The bland, prim and proper styling of previous iterations was replaced with a stark, in-your-face, aggressive look.

For starters, the all-new Camry sports a huge, gaping maw of a front grille similar to the Lexus’ polarizing spindle grille. The imposing facade serves to project a confrontational attitude.

The Camry is longer, lower by one inch, with flowing creases on the flanks, sharp edges, nips and tucks in all the right places to overcome the traditionally plain image of previous generations.

The hood, cowl, and beltline have been lowered not only to increase the forward field of view, but also to enhance the low-slung profile.

These exterior changes seem to suggest that Toyota has also changed the Camry’s mantra from comfy family car to sporty performer.

But that’s only on the surface.

STILL COMPLIANT. Underneath it all, the Camry is still a spacious, comfortable midsize sedan with a compliant ride and handling, and refined road manners.

Its proven reliability and high resale value over the years have won the loyalty of customers who time after time choose the Camry for their daily commute, notwithstanding the global trend toward SUVs and crossovers.

At the rear, LED combination tail lights, downward flowing creases defining the bumper, a lip similar to a spoiler on the trunk, dual exhaust pipes.

The market for passenger cars– especially for midsize family cars/executive sedans like the Camry – is dwindling fast.

To make the Camry more attractive, in other, bigger markets like North America, the Camry is offered with either a V6 engine, with all-wheel-drive, as a hybrid electric vehicle, or else as a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) sport-tuned sedan.

Over here, Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation (TMP) sells the ASEAN version which has a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter, in-line 4 cylinder, 16-valve, DOHC, dual VVT-i engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Max output is 181 hp and 231 Nm torque.

CHAUFFEUR-DRIVEN. TMP does not offer the V6 Camry or TRD version. Which makes sense, because over here, most Camrys are driven by chauffeurs, not by their owners.

Driving a V6 car may tempt chauffeurs to drive faster than they would if the boss were present. The boss may be a Sunday driver with the Camry, but that is usually the most he/she takes the wheel.

TMP offers the Camry in two trim levels: the Camry 2.5V at P2.007 million and the Camry 2.5G at P1.821 million.

Both have the same 2.5-liter engine, are front-wheel-drive, equipped with independent MacPherson strut front suspension and independent multi-link rear suspension, disc brakes on all four wheels, seat five including driver, have the same exterior dimensions, power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory function, auto-dimming rear view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, seven airbags, ABS with EBD, brake assist, vehicle stability control, cruise control, hill start assist, front and rear proximity sensors, 7-inch multi-information display, 6-speaker stereo, Bluetooth hands-free, AUX-in, USB, CD, three driving modes (Eco, Normal, Sport), smart entry, push start system, ISOFIX child seat anchors.

In addition, the Camry 2.5V has 18-inch alloy wheels (the 2.5G’s are 17-inch), heavier curb weight (1545 kg vs the 2.5G’s 1500 kg), leather seats, 3-zone automatic climate control, illuminated entry system, rear seats equipped with power recline, and a touch panel/command module on the rear seat center armrest that controls the power recline function, air conditioner and rear windshield sunscreen.

However, neither variant has a rear parking camera, nor Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The absence of the latter technology validates the theory that the Camry brought to the Philippine market is supposed to be chauffeur-driven.

The best seat in the house is equipped with a command module to power-recline the rear seat, control the aircon and rear windshield sun shade.

BEST SEAT. Now, since the Camry is most often chauffeur-driven, the best seat in the house is logically the rear seat.

In fact, the rear seat occupants are cocooned in supreme comfort.

The rear seat’s backrest can be reclined to the passenger’s preferred angle by simply pressing an icon on the center armrest’s command module. The module also controls the air conditioner (there are air con vents at the rear) and the rear windshield sunscreen. A pair of cup holders can be pulled out of the command module’s front, like a cabinet drawer.

Since the wheelbase of the 8th gen Camry is two inches longer, there is generous legroom and knee clearance for rear seat occupants. On the other hand, the lower sloping roof makes ingress and egress to and from the rear seat a bit dicey.

Driving the Camry for the first time is pleasant, if not exactly exciting. Acceleration is leisurely.

The default driving mode is Eco once you drive off. In the test unit I drove, the Normal mode couldn’t be activated no matter how hard I pressed the Normal icon, so I switched to Sport mode instead.

SPORT MODE. I discovered that the Camry becomes somewhat fun to drive if you keep it in Sport mode. The car’s lower center of gravity by one inch, together with the new double wishbone rear suspension, plus the excellent forward visibility, combine to enhance agility and stability.

In Sport mode at highway speeds, the Camry is surprisingly nimble despite its length and weight.

In Sport mode, the 2.5-liter powertrain delivers enough punch to hit 150 kilometers per hour with ease and confidence.

Not that the 2.5 Camry was designed to be driven at speeds generally exceeding 100 kph every day, given the realities of Metro Manila traffic. But it’s nice to know it can.

Inside, the dash is bisected by a flowing metallic trim with the triangular center stack angled toward the driver.

All these lead to the conclusion that the Toyota Camry is an excellently-executed midsize sedan: solidly built, good-looking, comfortable, spacious, refined, and eminently easy to drive. It would be even better with an updated infotainment package, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and rear parking camera.

Bottom line, Toyota was smart to fully redesign the Camry’s exterior to look edgy with more attitude, while at the same time keeping its fundamentals reliable, composed and stable.

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