The Toyota Camry is a car “enthusiasts” love to hate. It’s an uncle car, big and boring, overpriced and underspecced, they say. Rubbish, some might add. For an online reviewer to say that it’s decent would be akin to running across a firing line. Online? Without the scrutiny of active feedback from you, dear readers, papers and car mags can get away with almost anything.

Anyway, we believe there’s a car for everyone, and one that’s not to your personal taste doesn’t make it a bad car. After drving this XV50 Camry 2.5V for few days, not only am I quite fond of it, I now fully understand why the Camry is such a popular car, the default big sedan that racks up sales Koreans dream about in our part of the world.

First, let’s get some niggles out of the way. There’s no Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) available, even on our range topping RM180,900 2.5V. This is either very stingy or a big oversight on Toyota’s part, especially when the previous Camry had it. Needs to be rectified for the facelift, if not sooner.

UPDATE: The Camry 2.0G and 2.5V now come with VSC – click here to read more.

Looks wise, I prefer the quiet elegance of the previous model (pre-facelift was even smoother) than the sharper “more dynamic” lines of this Camry. Could be just me, but it looks a little forced. Perhaps they wanted to incorporate “more Lexus” into the image, but those who prioritise eye-catching design won’t be looking this way, not with the Sonata and Optima in town.

The chiselled new face, dominated by that huge chromed grille, is bolder but a bit fussy, and those LED strips below the fog lamps can’t be anything but an afterthought. There’s more adventure then you’d expect from Toyota’s designers though – there’s an arc that rises from the headlamps, diving down to meet the rising belt line for a signature character stroke.

Another unique cue is the way the car’s sides don’t meld into the front and rear surfaces, and are instead “cut off” quite severely. Toyota calls this “aero corner design” and it helps simplify air flow, aiding aerodynamics along with the discreet “aero stabilising fin” behind the wing mirrors and under-floor covers.

Moving inside, I like the simplicity of this new dashboard. Same amount of functions, via less buttons – a completely opposite approach from the Honda Accord.

Another plus point for me is the rich meter panel, now incorporating a fuel-consumption section (needle for average FC, light bar for instantaneous) and a two-tier trip meter. When the latter shows average FC and range, I rarely need to jog it via the steering buttons. And like most new cars, an ECO light is included to coach your right foot.

It has to be said though that the more spartan feel (“feel” because there are no less functions than before) and plain black plastic on the centre stack do little to add to the impression of luxury, something that the previous car did better. Points are clawed back with the stitched dashboard, stereo knobs with fine cut surfacing and a richly-lined handphone slot below the AC panel.

If wood is a must, then they’ve done all they can to make the cabin look “younger” compared to the previous Camry and the Nissan Teana. The black-beige colour combo is right for me, especially in a car like this. The lighter hue provides an expansive feel, while the contrasting black (dashboard, steering, door caps) adds dynamism. Better than the Teana’s different shades of beige theme, I think.

Let’s not forget the Camry specials. Things like a powered rear blind, manual rear window blinds and shoulder switches give the Camry a touch of limo appeal. The latter is located on the side of the front passenger seat, allowing the driver to adjust that seat electrically without bending over and stretching. Ferrying the family over the weekend, I used it often.

Speaking of limo appeal, rear occupants can really sit back and relax, like a boss. Besides the features above, the Camry’s front passenger headrest can be folded down for a better view.

The rear bench seating position is good (base not too low, seat back angle not too reclined) and there’s plenty of knee and legroom, more than before thanks to reshaped front seat backs and centre console, which houses air vents. The Camry’s exterior dimensions, 2,775 mm wheelbase included, are unchanged, but packaging has been improved to realise better cabin space.

Kit wise, our 2.5V came with niceties like HID projectors (across the range), eight-way powered seats with electric lumbar for the driver, touch-screen DVD-AVN system with USB, AUX, Bluetooth and reverse camera, front and side airbags, plus keyless entry with push start button.

Good stuff, but for the money, I would have liked an anti-glare rear view mirror (current one is a thin, cheap looking unit) and wing mirrors that auto fold along with the keyless entry. There’s also no auto headlamps and wipers.

Much has been said about the rise of the Koreans, who are doing a great job, but this new Camry is proof (or rather reminder) that Toyota really knows how to make a big sedan work. No edgy design or fancy glass roof here, just a very comfortable and effortless cruiser.

The 2AR-FE 2.5-litre engine (Dual VVTi, 181 PS, 231 Nm) is very well insulated and smooth revving, and the way it picks up speed with that strong mid range is impressive.

Same goes for the silky six-speed auto gearbox, which is a good balance between smoothness and speed – changing gears is not so sharp till you feel it, but it does not overlap and slur its way around either. Judgement and perception is very good, which is why I never felt the need to use manual mode.

There’s a slickness and effortlessness to this drivetrain that’s missing in say, a Hyundai Sonata, which is more rough around the edges, and the hushed way the Camry goes about its business should appeal to more in this segment than charismatic nemesis Honda Accord.

The Camry is a smooth operator, which is why I was surprised at the higher than expected vibration at idle, which isn’t in character. Could be an isolated case, but even if not, I reckon that it’s not something that many would notice, only because we’re serial testers.

Some might say that the Camry has always been smooth. True, but it has never been this competent when hustled. The big Toyota is still not a driver’s car, or even as nice to drive hard down a B-road than an Accord, but it doesn’t feel as uncomfortable as before should you insist.

The steering has surprising weight to it, too. Not much feel, but its precision and weight alone makes the Camry a sharper tool than before. Trunk road driving is not a nightmare as many keen drivers would expect – tyres squeal very early on, and there’s quite a bit of roll, but body control is decent.

Ride comfort is good, and the primary high-speed ride isn’t disconcertingly floaty. Road and wind noise are very well insulated, adding to the XV50′s mile munching cruiser appeal. The Camry has always been a smooth operator, but this time around, the dynamics have caught up a little.

Living with it for a few days, I can understand why the Camry is so popular with the conservative buyer. It’s not the most exciting player around (far from it), there are spec (too low) and price (too high) issues, and there’s that image problem with younger folks; but Toyota understands what the bulk of D-segment buyers want, and executes the plan well, on the 2.5V at least.

Of course, there’s also the strong resale value and service network the brand commands, things that are high up the priority list of many car buyers.

I’m pleasantly surprised. The uncle never had it this good.

Paul says: The Camry does well in matters that the target buyer wants and can perceive. But everyone thinks bad things only happen to the next guy, and the lack of demand of stability control even in this RM150k-RM200k segment (and hence the removal of this feature in all variants of the Camry for whatever reasons) shows how alarmingly uneducated Malaysian buyers are about safety features.

While the car is competent, Toyota seriously needs to add VSC stability control back into this car with the facelift. Until then it is hard to recommend anyone to purchase this if you care about your safety on the road.

If you really want a Camry, perhaps you can look for a low mileage last generation model with VSC and some warranty left. You can look for used Toyota Camry XV40 on oto.my.

 

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