In the ultimate ride-share specification – white, base-model hybrid – does the all-new Toyota Camry Ascent represent good value for a sub-$30K large car?
We never thought we'd be saying this, but wow. The new 2018 Toyota Camry is seriously good. The popularity of SUVs has made also-rans of the medium and large car segments, but Toyota has refined and delivered its best Camry yet.
Part of the Camry's success in Australia was due to a long history of local manufacturing that led to companies buying the model as part of fleet agreements. The end of local manufacturing now opens up large vehicle purchases to a wider range of manufacturers and models for those companies.
With vehicle production now moved to Japan, Toyota has fought hard to keep the Camry an appealing vehicle for fleets by rejigging prices and sharpening the features list.
Kicking off from $27,690 (plus on-road costs), the Camry Ascent is available in both petrol and hybrid form, while the range tops out at $43,990 (plus on-road costs) for the V6-powered Camry SL.
The 2018 Toyota Camry Ascent hybrid tested here is priced from $29,990 (plus on-road costs) and comes loaded with a stack of kit, despite sitting at the bottom of the range. These include:
As you step into the cabin, there is an immediate premium feel thanks to soft-touch materials, faux stitching along the dashboard and piano black fascia finishes.
While most of the touch surfaces feel premium, it's all let down slightly by the plastic steering wheel that feels like it's cast out of a single plastic mould. There's no leather wrap and it gets damn hot when it has been in the sun for a while.
The second row offers an incredible amount of leg and head room. It's reminiscent of the Commodore and Falcon, meaning there is still an option out of there for buyers that need masses of leg room for their second-row occupants.
The seats fold in a 60/40 split-folding fashion to allow access to the boot. The cargo space comes in at 524 litres, which is up from the outgoing model thanks to the battery pack being shifted from beneath the boot floor to beneath the second row of seats.
A 4.2-inch screen that sits between the speedometer and tachometer displays critical trip information, along with hybrid drivetrain details. It's navigated using the steering wheel and is super easy to use.
The same praise cannot be had for the 7.0-inch infotainment screen that sits between the driver and front passenger. While the screen is an improvement in terms of resolution, clarity and speed, it still offers limited functionality.
There's no Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which means there's no option for readily accessible satellite navigation. You can utilise the Toyota Link functionality, but it's fairly painful to set up and to use. It seems like a wasted effort when integrating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto would solve the functionality issue almost immediately.
Thankfully, improvements have been made to the voice-recognition system, making it quicker to respond and also a little more accurate when barking voice commands.
Powering the Camry Ascent hybrid is a familiar hybrid drivetrain. The internal-combustion portion of the drivetrain is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 131kW of power and 221Nm of torque, while the electric portion consists of an 88kW electric motor that produces 202Nm of torque, mated to a Ni-MH (nickel-metal hydride) battery pack.
Combined, the system outputs 160kW of power and uses a combined fuel consumption average of just 4.2 litres of fuel per 100km.
Toyota has taken steps to refine the package with the all-new Camry operating quieter and smoother than its predecessor. When the drivetrain switches from battery to internal combustion, the transition is smooth and quiet. During periods where the petrol engine is charging the battery, that operation is now quieter too.
One item that is still poorly executed is brake pedal feel. Unlike a normal brake pedal that gradually transitions from application of the pedal to application of pads on rotors, the Toyota hybrid set-up is far more abrupt and can be very sensitive. That sensitivity is heightened when switching between regenerative braking and conventional braking.
It takes some time to get used to it, but it's a complaint we've had about Toyota hybrid systems for quite some time. It really should have been resolved by now.
That aside, the package and drive experience are excellent. The hybrid drivetrain offers plenty of torque and added kick when called upon, and it's smooth enough to be driven within its hybrid sweet spot a majority of the time too.
The ride is second to none in this segment. It rides like a far more expensive and accomplished European car. It soaks up bumps with poise and limits the amount of suspension extension on continuous undulations, meaning it won't crash over the next rise as it traverses undulations.
Steering feel and feedback are also excellent, delivering plenty of communication between the driver and road. If you're using this car to travel long distances on the highway, or just between cities, it really is the perfect mix of ride and performance.
That ride comfort is matched with seats that offer plenty of bottom and back support. We spent a couple of hours straight in the car on a highway run and didn't feel uncomfortable or fatigued at all when we finally got out.
If there was a criticism to draw from the experience, it would simply be a bit too much road noise coming from the tyres – that's partly exacerbated due to the quiet drivetrain.
Owning and operating a Camry hybrid is as cheap as chips with 12 monthly, 15,000km service intervals. The first five service intervals are capped at $195 each, meaning the Camry hybrid could cost you just $975 to service over a period of five years.
Official fuel consumption comes in at 4.2L/100km, which is a bit of a stretch given we couldn't get much under 5.0L/100km with a mix of highway and city driving. Either way, 5.0L/100km is an incredible feat for a car that weighs just over 1600kg.
If it were our money, we'd be opting for the Camry Ascent Sport hybrid, which throws in extras such as satellite navigation, front/rear parking sensors, a premium steering wheel and gear shifter, plus power driver's seat. It's also only $2000 more.
The all-new Toyota Camry has seriously impressed us. We're looking forward to having a proper crack in the V6 version to see whether some extra performance makes the Camry more than just a reliable, comfortable large car.