The Toyota Camry is returning to Europe after a 15-year absence, but should its rivals be worried? We drove it to find out…Verdict3.5The Toyota Camry is a car you buy with your head rather than your heart. It is comfortable, spacious and impressively refined around town, with loads of kit and a luxuriously appointed interior. But the real gains will come in running costs; the Camry could slash your company car tax bills and save you money at the pumps. If Toyota can fix the Camry’s miserly infotainment system by fitting better smartphone connectivity, it could gain an extra half-star, too.
The Toyota Camry is a global superstar. Despite a 15-year European hiatus, it has continued sell strongly around the world; since 1982, the firm has built and sold more than 19 million units.
Now, with the demise of the inconspicuous Avensis, Toyota thinks it’s time to bring the Camry back to Britain. The company claims its sleek styling, hybrid powertrain, engaging handling and premium features make this “the right car at the right time”.
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We first drove a prototype version of this eighth-generation Toyota Camry last year and declared it a spacious, refined and comfortable alternative to the current crop of D-segement saloons. While it wasn’t about to trouble the BMW 3 Series for driver fun, it offered buyers something different in a class dominated by diesel.
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So is this the credible Volkswagen Passat rival Toyota wants it to be? On list price alone it looks expensive, we must concede, but delve a little deeper and that £29,995 starting figure seems a little trivial. Especially when you consider how little the Camry will cost to run.
Toyota expects 80 per cent of UK cars to go to fleet buyers, where the entry-level model’s 23 per cent Benefit in Kind rating smashes the equivalent Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI (30 per cent) right out of the park. The Camry won’t do quite as many miles per gallon, but depending on your daily commute and driving style, its ability to run for short distances (typically less than two miles) on electric power alone could have an astounding effect on urban efficiency.
It’s here where the Camry really shines. It’s whisper quiet when manoeuvring around town, where its powerful electric motor offers instant throttle response and decent performance. It’s easy to drive, with light, precise steering and acceptable visibility.
Ramp things up and those familiar with the previous-generation Toyota Prius – or indeed any other CVT-equipped hybrid – will be pleased to notice the Camry manages to contain much of the raucous wail so often associated with this type of powertrain. Plant your right foot and the revs will rise, but it’s a calmer and more civilised affair than before. Besides, there’s enough punch from the combined 215bhp that you rarely need to ask for full throttle.
As is often the case with electric or hybrid cars, refinement suffers slightly at higher speeds. The Camry’s engine set-up is so quiet that your ears are inevitably drawn to other sounds – such as road noise. It’s by no means an unpleasant motorway car, but where its rivals might display a light diesel hum, the Camry is plagued by consistent wind whistle at 70mph.
Basing the Camry on Toyota’s tried and tested TNGA platform has worked wonders for the ride and handling. The brand’s engineers wanted the Camry to offer “confident and natural handling” and they’ve delivered that; a Vauxhall Insignia might be slightly sharper, but the Toyota steers neatly and offers plenty of grip. The suspension strikes a good balance between comfort and agility, too.
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There is no avoiding the fact that a car like this will likely prove popular with private hire companies and taxi drivers. And if you were picked up in a new Toyota Camry, we’d wager few complaints from the back seats. It’s nowhere near as spacious as a Superb, but there’s enough leg and head room for six-foot-tall adults to get comfortable. The seats are soft and every version gets plush leather throughout.
The boot is pretty big, too, although unlike its rivals, Toyota has no plans to offer a Touring Sports estate version. With 524 litres, there’s more than enough room for a couple of large suitcases – but while the rear seats can fold, some may find the Insignia’s top-hinged hatchback more practical for loading bulky items.
Arguably the Toyota’s biggest failing, however, is the infotainment set-up. It is fiddly and unintuitive to use, and the large glass panel on the dash is infuriatingly unresponsive to the touch. Toyota’s engineers say they are working on fitting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it won’t be available at launch. For a driver who spends several hours behind the wheel each day, this could be a deal breaker.
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But if you can ignore the fussy fascia, you won’t be disappointed by the standard kit list. There are just two trims to choose from; Design costs £29,995, while the higher-spec Excel commands a premium of £1,300.
Design cars get 17-inch alloy wheels (the Excel’s 18s result in a one per cent BiK increase), LED lights, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and heated front seats. All cars feature sat-nav and a reversing camera, too.
Step up to our Excel test car and you’ll add LED fog lamps and wireless phone charging, as well as a host of extra safety kit including a Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
- Model: Toyota Camry 2.5 Hybrid Auto Excel
- Price: £31,295
- Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol hybrid
- Power: 215bhp
- Transmission: CVT automatic, front-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
- Top speed: 112mph
- Economy/CO2: 50.4mpg, 101g/km
- On sale: Now
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