The 2018 Toyota Camry range is a huge step up, and while the SL flagship may not be the one we'd buy, commendations are due regardless.
Toyota is pretty fed up with the Camry's iconography: whitegoods, cardigans and bowls clubs. So it claims to have made a clean break with this new one.
It's made in Japan rather than locally, ending 'buy Australia' fleet policies. It's based on a new platform that allows for sprightlier handling. It looks interesting. And it's full of the latest tech.
Not that being the top-selling car in its class for a staggering 23 years is anything to eschew...
As ever, many entry variants will sell to fleets, be flipped young and live hard lives as taxis and Ubers. But can Toyota crack the code and speak to emotions as well as logic with the higher grades?
The slicker design – this car is lower and longer than before – headlined by a bold contoured bonnet, outlandish grille, and hatch-like silhouette, certainly turns more heads than any Camry before it.
Here we're looking at the flagship Camry SL, the $39,990 (before on-road costs) headliner of a four-variant range including the Ascent ($27,690), Ascent Sport ($29,990) and SX ($33,290).
On the other hand, Toyota has been selling runout Aurion V6 stock for $30K, and the new mid-range European Holden Commodore RS liftback is $38,990 drive-away...
So what sort of stuff is it made of?
Selling a $40K-plus sedan in an Australian market mad for SUVs is no easy task, so Toyota has loaded up the Camry SL to the hilt.
For $6700 more than the SX, Toyota has added a Camry-first panoramic sunroof, a 10.0-inch head-up display that projects data onto the windscreen, ambient cabin lights, ventilation and memory settings for the leather seats, and even an electric steering column.
There's also blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert in addition to the safety suite standard on all Camry models, comprising autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beam, adaptive cruise control and seven airbags.
A five-star ANCAP crash rating has been announced.
Other spec highlights that feature here, shared with some or all of the Camry range, are a Qi wireless phone-charging pad, keyless go, an electric park brake, LED headlights with auto-levelling and various driving modes.
Value for money is not a problem. Indeed, you have to wonder what point the Lexus ES serves.
The new interior also feels way more primo that its predecessor, and the collection of angles and the layout of the driver-oriented fascia even makes it look alright. Then again, so does a Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat or Hyundai Sonata's...
The front and rear-seat hip points have also been lowered and moved aft, giving occupants a sportier driving position – a contrary move to crossovers.
The steering wheel is covered in leather, as is the shifter. The dash is soft, as are other key touch points. Unlike many other Toyotas there's also a proper volume-adjusting knob. The 8.0-inch touchscreen is supplemented by shortcut buttons, and the sat-nav has live updates.
The configurable home screen broken up into three sections is a nice touch, as is the HUD, which is frankly up there with premium German cars (and much better than a Volkswagen Arteon's). It doesn't just show speed, but also things such as the cruise setting and navigation turn-by-turn directions.
The new digital instruments aren't a patch on a Passat's Active Info Display, but it does the job and lets you view tunes, driving data and active safety system settings.
On the downside, Toyota still stubbornly refuses to adopt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the plethora of gloss-black plastic everywhere is a magnet for dust and fingerprints.
In Camry style, the leather seats are plush and wide, rather than tight and supportive. Same goes for those in the rear, with occupants back there also treated to two additional USB points, LED lighting and a flip-down armrest with cup holders.
The roof is lower than before, but so are the seats, and the big side windows give you unusually good outward visibility for the segment. However, that sunroof does eat into head room for anyone north of 190cm, like this tester.
Boot capacity is a capacious 524L, and is wide and deep enough to house a few big suitcases. However, only the base Ascent gets a full-sized spare wheel, with our tester instead fitted with a space-saver.
What about beneath the skin? The eighth-generation Camry is the third car, and first sedan, based around Toyota's flexible TNGA architecture shared in large part with the C-HR crossover and Prius hybrid hatch.
Toyota calls the TNGA “a structural reform for the whole company”. It’s a big deal. Like MQB was for Volkswagen or MFA for Mercedes-Benz.
The new platform is 30 per cent stiffer than before, which helps handling, and houses greater levels of noise insulation – though our tester did have a noticeable rustling from its B-pillar at freeway speeds.
The platform also has redesigned front MacPherson strut suspension, plus a brand new double-wishbone rear suspension (more complex and dynamically able than the old struts). There’s also a new electric power steering set-up.
While the SX grade has stiffened springs and racy 19-inch wheels, the SL has a plusher focus with softer springs and 18s, giving you a little more sidewall to iron out corrugations and dampen noise intrusion.
Lo and behold, we've now got a Camry that handles. The steering is well weighted yet indirect enough to nail the sneeze test (some 'play' from centre), the springs and dampers soak up bad roads well, the nose turns in sharply enough, and the body control remains largely excellent for a cruiser.
The previous Camry merely ticked the boxes, but this new one actually offers you a hint of dynamism without skimping on comfort.
A key part of the new Camry is its active safety tech. The radar-guided active cruise and RCTA work perfectly. However, the lane-assist system proved to be pretty awful at recognising clear painted road lines and steering you back between them.
Under the bonnet of our tester, unfortunately, was the base engine: a carryover 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol four with 133kW of power at 6000rpm and 231Nm at 4100rpm. It's matched to a six-speed auto transmission that sends torque to the front wheels, and drinks a claimed 8.3L/100km of 91 RON fuel (we averaged mid 9s).
The drivetrain is... fine. It'll move you along smoothly enough at low speeds, and offers relaxed cruising. It's neither breathless nor potent. And it'll go on, and on, and on.
Yet only $1000 more gets you the petrol-electric hybrid that halves fuel use and idles/reverses in silence. Another $3000 again gets you a brand new 3.5-litre V6 with 224kW matched to an eight-speed auto – a drivetrain as smooth as teflon and much more fitting of a 'luxury' spec car.
If you're going to opt for the higher-grade Camrys, then get a higher-grade engine.
From an ownership perspective, the Camry gets a three-year warranty. The familiar Toyota Service Advantage capped servicing means a charge of $195 a pop for the first five visits – now with 12-month intervals.
Truth be told, if we were looking at a Camry, the Ascent Sport ($29,990 for the 2.5-litre, or $31,990 for the hybrid) makes the most sense. Or wait a year and pick up a demo...
But if you're a part of the fast-diminishing buyer subset after a big, plush and luxurious sedan, who has few regards for brand image, there's no doubt the higher-tech new Camry is a winner.
That's a line we didn't expect to say...
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