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Cork Independent


Keeping it simple

Wednesday, 15th May, 2019 4:28pm

It is a little exhausting how car makers constantly try to break down the boundaries between market segments; how they constantly attempt to mix-and-match qualities from one vehicle with those of another, assuming (often incorrectly) that if you like this and you like that, then you’ll love a this’n’that.

What results is often a messy mish-mash, as anyone who’s sullied their eyes with the current crop of SUV-coupes (shudder) can tell you.

Yes, there can be genuine innovation in such ideas — after all, the VW Golf GTI is essentially the melding of a family hatchback with a sports car, and that works rather wonderfully — but often you just end up with too many ideas competing for too little space.

The Toyota Camry is not like that.

The Toyota Camry is, in many ways, something of a throwback.

A throwback, in the first instance, to 2004 which was the most recent year that you could have bought a new Camry with an Irish registration.

It’s a throwback, too, to a time when people actually cared about a big, mildly pricey, slightly luxurious four-door saloon from a car maker that isn’t a German premium brand. To a time before SUVs ruled us all with an iron fist.

Back in 2004, the Camry was the beloved chariot of the Garda special branch and traffic corps, and the discerning business person who knew that, no matter how much glitz and glamour the big German saloons exuded, that they could never be as truly, faithfully reliable as a Toyota.

The problem was that with a shifting vehicular landscape, the Camry’s only engine choice — a 2.4 litre petrol four-cylinder unit — was falling massively out of favour.

Well, now the big four-door Toyota is back, fresh from having become the best-selling four-door saloon in the world, and this time it’s packing (checks notes…) erm, a 2.5 litre, four-cylinder, petrol engine. The more something changes…

Of course, there has been a hugely significant change and that’s that the Camry is now a hybrid.

That 2.5 litre four-cylinder is basically the same engine that you’ll find in the Rav4 Hybrid and in the Lexus ES300h.

It runs on the more efficient Atkinson Cycle combustion system and, of course, is backed up by an electric motors and a stack of nickel batteries (which Toyota has managed to squeeze under the back seat, much to the benefit of boot space).

The upshot of that is CO2 emissions starting under 100g/km with the smallest alloy wheel option, and fuel economy that’s bang-on competitive with its diesel-engined rivals.

What are those rivals, exactly? Well, that’s a slightly tricky question. You see, much of the rationale of bringing the Camry back to our shores is that the Avensis is no more.

While many Avensis customers are expected to migrate across to the new Rav4 (SUVs rule all, don’t forget) Toyota recognised that there was still a market for a ‘trad’ four-door saloon, and so recalled the big Camry from its overseas duties.

So it’s more or less a rival to high-end versions of the VW Passat, Opel Insignia, Ford Mondeo, and Mazda 6. Its price, though, which starts at just over €39,000, also pushes it into the premium sphere, up against lower-end versions of the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Think the Camry can’t compete at that level? Think again.

For a start, it has size on its side, placing a 5 Series-shaped shadow on the driveway for the price of a 3.

Secondly, while it’s a touch on the pricey side compared to the likes of a Passat or Mondeo, it hits the Germans hard, offering a top-spec Platinum model (which we’ve tested here) for €42,000 — about the point where the cars from Stuttgart and Munich are just getting started.

For that €42k, you do get a lot of toys, including adaptive cruise control, full leather trim, some rathe fetching ‘tiger eye’ wood trim. A full Toyota Safety Sense pack which includes traffic sign recognition and lane keeping assist, LED headlights, and wireless smartphone charging.

It’s an impressive kit list, but perhaps not as impressive as the sheer level of interior space on offer.

Get past the Camry’s exterior (which is a little way short of handsome, and the front bumper appears to have swallowed a Gillette razor and left the blades hanging out) and the cabin is just lovely.

There’s stretching room front and rear, and room enough for three people to get comfy on the big rear bench seat. It feels, from within, like a proper car.

There are some let-downs. The pokey seven-inch touchscreen looks small and has awkward software, and the digital screen set between the main instruments looks a bit last-generation.

Everything else is rather lovely though, especially the sheer sense of hefty quality to everything, which puts all its mainstream rivals, and some of its premium ones, to shame.

To drive, the Camry is rather wonderfully conventional too. It doesn’t try to be sporty, but instead concentrates on being refined, and comfortable.

That’s of far greater importance when you’re ticking off the endless miles up and down the M8, which is essentially what this car will be doing for much of its life.

In this long-haul cruiser mode, it’s rather wonderful.

We managed to put 2,500km under the Camry’s wheels in one week, and still were happy to climb back behind the wheel, which is quite the recommendation.

On the twisty roads, it’s fine too. Not sparkling, perhaps, but sure-footed and sufficiently agile for most purposes.

The hybrid system is excellent too — refined and with decent power, and very good economy. We squeezed 6.0 litres per 100km out of it over the week, which compares well with Toyota’s claim of 5.5 litres per 100km on the WLTP cycle.

Sometimes the simplest recipes really are the tastiest.

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