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There was a time not too long ago when the Toyota Camry ruled all and sundry, when its name stood for the very definition of the D-segment class. It was never the most riveting or dynamic of characters, but for many people, Sam Loo’s favourite sedan had everything they needed in a car – impressive comfort, a smooth engine and gearbox combination as well as bulletproof reliability.

Its domination of the class culminated in the previous-generation XV40, which was the best to look at (by far, might I add), had the nicest, most well thought out interior and rode the most comfortably. That, plus the decent levels of kit on offer, pretty much cemented the Camry’s place at the top of many company car shopping lists.

Since then, the Camry has pretty much stood still, despite the launch of the current XV50 (in some areas it has even regressed, not least in terms of looks). Meanwhile, the Honda Accord‘s equipment and comfort levels – areas it has struggled with – have been bumped up with the ninth-gen model, and the new Nissan Teana comes with a renewed focus on safety and improved driving dynamics. There has also been a swarm of fine left-field alternatives that have cropped up, from the Mazda 6 to the Volkswagen Passat.

The powers that be at Toyota seem to have understood this, as it fields a considerably revamped 2015 Toyota Camry (which was launched earlier today), with sportier looks, a range of new powertrains – including, finally, a hybrid variant – and a suite of improvements to the interior and under the skin. Is it enough to put the Camry back into contention again? We took it for a quick spin around Setia Alam to find out.

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The local range has been shaken up with the advent of the facelift – from now on, there will only be one conventionally-fuelled engine available, a 2.0 litre petrol mill that powers the 2.0E and 2.0G variants. Taking the regular 2.5V‘s place at the top of the range is a new 2.5 Hybrid, which – like the other Camry models – will be assembled locally, thus benefitting from import and excise duty exemptions for CKD hybrids.

The 6AR-FSE 2.0 litre four-pot is unrelated to the previous engine, incorporating VVT-iW on the intake side (regular VVT-i on the exhaust) that enables it to run on either a modified Atkinson cycle at low revs (for improved fuel consumption) or on a regular Otto cycle at higher revs (for better power delivery and response). A mid-position camshaft-lock mechanism retards the continuously variable valve timing.

Also fitted is D-4S that features both port and direct injection. At lower revs, the engine engages both systems to more evenly mix fuel and air, stabilising combustion. This results in better fuel economy, increased power and reduced emissions. Only direct injection is used at higher revs – it cools the combustion chamber, preventing pre-ignition (knocking) and enabling a higher compression ratio for improved performance.

With the facelift, the 2.0 litre Camry bids goodbye to the old four-speed Super-ECT automatic transmission, and instead embraces a new six-speed unit. The electronically-controlled gearbox features Flex Lock Up Control for improved fuel economy and AI Shift Control.

All this new tech brings both increased performance and reduced fuel consumption – the updated Camry 2.0 develops 167 PS at 6,500 rpm and 199 Nm at 4,600 rpm (up 17 PS and nine Nm from before), cuts the 0-100 km/h sprint down to 10.4 seconds (2.1 seconds quicker), has a 23 km/h higher top speed at 210 km/h and uses 12% less fuel at 7.2 litres per 100 km combined (down from 8.3 litres per 100 km previously).

The 2.5 Hybrid, on the other hand, will be familiar to those in the know – an Atkinson-cycle version of the current 2.5 litre engine, codenamed 2AR-FXE, features VVT-i on the intake side (rather than on both intake and exhaust valves as on the regular mill) and produces 160 PS at 5,700 rpm and 213 Nm at 4,500 rpm.

This is mated to a 105 PS/270 Nm electric motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery, delivering a total system output of 205 PS and a combined fuel consumption figure of just 5.2 litres per 100 km. As on other Toyota hybrids, the Camry Hybrid utilises an electronic continuously-variable transmission (eCVT) to manage power to the front wheels.

Mirroring what has gone on under the bonnet, the exterior has been given a considerable jolt to shake off the current car’s slightly dowdy look. Sharper headlights with LED daytime running lights add some much-needed definition – HIDs now come as standard with the 2.0 litre models, while the Hybrid variant gets full twin-projector LED units.

These are bridged by a slimmer upper grille, while a huge downturned catfish-like lower grille with integrated fog lights gives the face a determined scowl. The Hybrid’s indicators have been moved downwards, sitting on either side of the front bumper – on the 2.0 litre models, they’ve been replaced by blank black inserts.

Down the side, the full-length chrome trim on the outgoing model has been deleted, while the rear features sleeker tail lights (the Hybrid gets a clear top bit) connected by a slimmer chrome trim piece, as well as a redesigned bumper. The base 2.0 litre models now get dual tailpipes on either side; the top-spec Hybrid retains its single outlet, strangely enough.

Completing the look are new wheels – 16-inch multi-spoke units on the 2.0 litre, 17-inch 10-spoke two-tone rollers (from the Thai-market Extremo variant) on the Hybrid. Overall, while some may be turned off by the more extrovert look, you cannot argue with the newfound presence and dynamism now baked into the Camry’s physique.

Step inside, and you’ll find that while there is still a bit too much hard plastic used throughout the cabin, it has at least been refined in its presentation. Gone is the garish reddish-brown wood trim, replaced by far classier grey-brown veneer that brings to mind the one used in the now-discontinued 2.0G X. The new leather upholstery is also softer, smoother and much more inviting to sit than before.

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Also new is the new 4.7-inch full-colour TFT LCD multi-info display that sits between the rev counter and speedometer on the redesigned Optitron instrument cluster – together with the new blue dials and chrome highlights, it adds further class to the Camry’s interior. The switchgear for the standard dual-zone automatic climate control has also been reconfigured – buttons replace the previous temperature control knobs, and the old calculator-esque green-tinted LCD has finally given way to a much nicer blue display.

Kit count on the 2.0 litre models has been left relatively unmolested (manual fabric seats on the 2.0E, eight-way power-adjustable leather seats and cruise control on the 2.0G), save for keyless entry and push-button start now being standard across the range. You still get a basic radio and CD/MP3 player with USB and AUX inputs without Bluetooth (you’ll have to specify the optional seven-inch touchscreen DVD-AVN system with a reverse camera for the latter functionality), and automatic headlights and wipers are still nowhere to be found.

Next to this, the Hybrid variant looks positively decadent. There are auto headlights and wipers for the first time on a Camry, as well as an auto-dimming rear view mirror, a new seven-inch touchscreen navigation system with Bluetooth and reverse camera, a 10-speaker JBL Green Edge Tech sound system, a Panasonic Nanoe air ioniser and Qi wireless charging. Unlike Thai-market cars, however, we don’t get power-reclining rear seats or triple-zone climate control.

The paucity of kit relative to cars across the border stretches to the safety equipment as well. Yes, the Hybrid gets the full complement of seven airbags (including one for the driver’s knee) and a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) – not to mention stability control, Hill Start Assist and Isofix child seat anchors – but misses out on pre-crash alert, lane departure warning and dynamic radar cruise control.

The 2.0 litre models still feature just two airbags, on par with the Accord, but behind the rest of its competitors – which, Hyundai Sonata (two airbags on the base model, six airbags on the rest) and Chevrolet Malibu (four airbags) aside, have at least six airbags as standard. Worse still, the base 2.0E doesn’t have electronic stability control – it’s now the only car in its class without the crucial safety net.

Under the skin, the 2015 Camry features a host of upgrades aimed to improve ride comfort, lower noise levels and sharpen driving dynamics. The big news is a new preload differential that utilises a plate spring to generate frictional force under low loads or low rotational speed differences.

This produces torque to limit the differential motion between the right and left driven wheels, effectively acting as a sort of low-cost limited slip diff, improving vehicle control and straight-line stability.

The dampers have also been retuned for a better ride quality, and the speed-sensitive electric power steering has been revamped for more accuracy and control. Toyota has also added insulation material in the front doors and underneath the carpeting to reduce NVH levels.

Clearly eager to showcase the improvements in ride, handling and NVH, UMW Toyota Motor not only provided the current and upgraded 2.0 litre Camry models for comparison, but also brought along base model Honda Accords and Nissan Teanas. We rate the two competitors rather highly in our books, so it was interesting to see how the refreshed old guard stacked up.

I slid into the back seat of the outgoing Camry first. I’ll be honest – in isolation, it really isn’t a bad car to be chauffeured in, but in this company, it just can’t quite keep up. The ride is slightly busy at a cruise, letting small surface imperfections intrude the cabin more than I’d prefer, while wind, tyre and and engine noise can get quite noticeable at speed, the latter exacerbated by the 2.0 litre model’s four-speed ‘box.

Both the Accord and the Teana are very comfortable indeed, but in different ways. The Honda rides softer, cushier; the Nissan tauter but more composed – the latter crashes into larger bumps a bit more, but the tradeoff is that it flows across undulating tarmac in a way that knows no equal. It’s also much quieter, both in terms of road and engine noise, although the music from the Accord’s i-VTEC mill does have its own appeal.

My stint in the rear of the 2015 Camry came last. Setting off, the reduction of tyre and engine roar is immediately apparent – it’s now a close match to the Teana, even though wind noise is still apparent. Earlier, we were told that UMWT had measured a seven decibel decrease over the old car, which is no mean feat at all, by any means.

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The adjustments to the dampers have also yielded a noticeably calmer ride over lumpy roads, dispensing with minor ruts almost as easily as the Nissan, although the latter still holds a better balance between bump-absorbing softness and a firm control of body movements. In short, while the Teana is still more comfortable to be driven in – just – you won’t feel shortchanged at all if you punt for the Camry instead.

At the next stop, I swapped the boss seat for the driver’s seat – and straightaway, the new Camry felt much more sprightly than before. Of all the cars here, it feels the fastest subjectively, surging away from toll gates considerably easier than the others. The buttery smooth six-speed auto makes far better use of the available power than the old four-speeder, and also enables the new Camry to settle to a cruise at a much lower rpm – the extra two ratios really make their presence felt here.

The dearth of corners on the 14 km test route meant that we couldn’t really put the claimed improvements to roadholding to the test, but from what little that was gathered, the new EPS is a definite improvement – the rack feels more direct than before and weighs up nicely when you hustle it through the bends. There’s also less roll, and the car resists understeer better. One note of caution, though – the brake pedal is overly light and immensely sensitive even to slight prods, making progress a bit difficult to those not used to its ways.

Next up, we switched to the more powerful Hybrid model for an acceleration test, pitting it back-to-back with a top-of-the-range Accord 2.4 VTi-L. Off the line, the Toyota pulls quite a fair bit faster than the Honda, piling on the speed at a rate that many people will consider rather brisk – as it should, given that it has a 30 PS advantage over the Honda.

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An NVH test came next – we had to drive both the Camry and the Accord over sand, gravel and wooden planks to see which was quieter over these challenging surfaces. With the eCVT, the Hybrid’s engine settles to a smooth, low hum over the comparatively louder and rougher Honda Earth Dreams mill, and we picked up less surface noise in the Toyota as well. Unrelated to the test, but the Camry was also more composed over the rough terrain than the Accord.

To sum up, the updated Camry is a much better all-rounder than before, with a fresher, more imposing design, a more modern and premium cabin, vastly better powertrains and improved comfort and dynamics. It’s now more of a match to its peers, something that could not be so easily said of its predecessor.

But it’s not all plain sailing for the top-dog Toyota – high-spec Hybrid aside, the continued stingy equipment levels in the lower grades is disappointing to say the least, given that prices haven’t dropped over the rather expensive old car (especially for the 2.0 models). The lack of stability control on the base 2.0E is particularly grating – we’re now in the year 2015, guys.

But does that really matter to the general public? The strength of the Toyota badge and the Camry nameplate – and the reputation of supreme reliability and resale value they bring – continues to hold up even in the face of stiff competition. And with this new iteration being better than ever before, there’s no doubt that we’ll be seeing far more of the 2015 Toyota Camry on our roads very soon.

Toyota Camry 2.0G with optional Aerokit package


Toyota Camry 2.5 Hybrid