Let me set the scene for you. I am at the Sepang International Circuit and, very thankfully, the day is not as hot as I thought it would be in spite the sun blazing at the 2 o’clock position in the sky. In front of me are the two generations of Camry, the 2.4 litre XV40 and the 2.5 litre XV50. If you need to know the price, the essential stats and the specifications of the XV50, please read Anthony’s post about the Camry’s launch first. I’ll be focusing on the drive experience itself.

In drives like this, it is always helpful to refresh one’s memory of how the old one felt like. I get into the XV40, hit the accelerator and peel away from the pit area.

It is as exactly as I remembered. On the straights, the XV40 gives the impression that the tarmac is as comfortable as a mattress and the noise does not intrude too much into the cabin. The steering has no pulse, which is fine because the XV40 does not favour spirited cornering. Having a lively steering and a soft suspension would almost definitely dissatisfy all but the most insensitive of drivers.

Of course a corner will eventually happen and the XV40 completes the gauntlet with a series of body rolls that upsets the car’s balance. The chassis and suspension is clearly setup for comfort because the sedan becomes stable the second the steering is pointed forward.

As for power, well, the 2.4 litre can still hold its own although it was first launched so many moons ago. That said, the power does not  transfer immediately due to that lag that all conventional automatics are plagued with.

The drive down memory lane, which is SIC’s North Track, took no longer than seven minutes. Now that I have established my baseline, I quickly jump into the XV50.

I take a brief look at the cockpit and find it to be very similar to the XV40, it still blunders in being exciting. As for its level of quality, Toyota managed to extract the same levels that is found in the old and transplants it to the new.

The engine stayed warm from the previous drive session and I set off. Hold on, the suspension is stiffer in this one. Sensations from the tyres treading on the cement portion of the pit area start to creep up through the seat. The feeling persisted even as I put the car on the tarmac proper.

More alarming, the steering now registers a pulse although it is an EPS-type steering, which is usually stillborn. Don’t get me wrong, the difference in feedback between the XV40 and the XV50 is not day and night but enough to feel more of the road at the wheel.

Yet, the handling, while it is better than the XV40, is not quick in its execution. And neither it is sharp and direct enough to tell me if I need to feed more steering to make it through. Once up to speed, the steering braces automatically and becomes more weighted, putting over more control into my hands.

The same set of corner happens again and the XV50 slips through with a noticeable lack of body roll; the car staying relatively perpendicular to the road. And importantly, it remained stable throughout. There’s an underlying sense of confidence coming from the chassis of the car that makes it a nice drive. Yes, I have to admit this Camry is not the Camry we know.

As for acceleration, the 2.5 litre was never made for sprints or high-speed catch-ups. But there is enough fire in the engine to burn away the ‘underpowered’ tag. Gearshifts from the six-speed auto are smooth and the power is transferred with a barely noticeable delay. No, I did not try the 2.0 litre version because it was prepared for the event.

There are two more things that I must mention. The first is the legroom in the XV50 has been expanded. And second, the Camry has its NVH improved. The engine noise is muffled and there’s practically no sound from the outside. When everything is taken into consideration, the 2.5 litre XV50 Camry is an ocean of improvement over the 2.4 litre XV40, aside from the design, which I am not a big fan of. Sorry, it’s just too angular for my liking. But let not its looks undermine the improved vehicle dynamics, which makes the XV50 a sportier offering than the XV40.

However, this is only half of the story. You see, all of this is done on a racetrack where the roads are paved with a special kind of tarmac and the corners are properly cambered. The full picture will come when the Camry is put to the test on public road in daily conditions. Which, fingers crossed, will come soon.

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