It’s ubiquitous on our roads, usually with a ride-share sticker of one type or another affixed to its rear window. Or maybe it’s festooned with ‘Taxi’ on its flanks. But, to dismiss the Toyota Camry as just a means of short transport is to do the Japanese sedan a disservice, certainly in these modern times.
Here we have the 2020 Toyota Camry Ascent Sport hybrid, not quite taxi-spec, but pretty damn close. Starting at $33,790 plus on-road costs, and ending at $34,290 no matter which shade of $500 optional paint you choose, this Ascent Sport is the second-cheapest hybrid Camry money can buy, with only the Ascent hybrid (true taxi spec) coming in below it at $31,790.
Of course, there are cheaper Camrys still to be had, like the $28,990 Ascent, but you miss out on hybrid technology and the fuel-saving that comes with it. Little wonder, then, the Toyota Camry enjoys a 68 per cent market share in the medium, under $60,000, category. Basically, two out of every three medium sedans sold in Australia is a Camry. Ubiquitous.
Despite being one step above the entry-level Camry hybrid, the Ascent Sport makes a decent fist of being well-equipped. With no options to be had, other than the aforementioned $500 paint in a choice of seven hues, what you see is what you get.
And you get plenty. Externally, there are 17-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, and a matte sports grille.
The ante is upped inside, where the Ascent Sport is treated to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirrored on its 8.0-inch colour touchscreen. There’s also native satellite navigation with live traffic updates, DAB+ radio, Bluetooth connectivity and a CD player. A shame, then, the interface for the native infotainment, and in particular mapping, looks and feels dated. Mirror your smartphone is our tip. And there is just a single USB plug augmented by a single 12V outlet; a bit slim in the modern device era.
All four windows are powered with auto up/down, while the cloth-trimmed seats are electrically adjustable, with the driver also scoring electrically adjustable lumbar support.
Stepping inside the Camry is an exercise in surprise. Where once upon a time, Toyota’s evergreen mid-sizer was a sea of utility, today’s modern Camry tries hard to feel special. Sure, it’s not in the same league as Toyota stablemate Lexus’s interiors, but obvious thought has been put into the interior design. From the sculpted dash to the faux-leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, the soft-touch materials and subtle metal accents, the inside of a Camry is a pretty nice place to spend time.
The seats are supportive and comfortable, and with fore, aft and height adjustment, finding the perfect driving position is a cinch. The steering wheel, too, is manually adjustable for tilt and reach.
The cabin remains nicely laid out, with intuitive switchgear that feels pretty nice to the touch, including good old-fashioned dials for climate-control functions. An array of shortcut buttons flanking the touchscreen is a nice touch, too.
The central storage bin is a decent size, as are the door pockets capable of taking bottles. Two cupholders up front can gobble larger cups and 600ml bottles. Map pockets line the backrests of the front seats.
Moving to the back, and while it’s not the last word in luxury, the seats are comfortable in the same way your favourite couch is. You sit in them, not on them as can often be the case with second-row seating. There are air vents back there, although no separate climate controls, while a fold-down armrest hides two more cupholders. As per the front, the rear door pockets can swallow bottles.
There’s plenty of space in all key areas – toe, knee, leg and head – underscoring its large-car dimensions, even if Toyota chooses to classify it as a medium-sizer.
For those needing family security, there are ISOFIX mounts on the outboard seats and three top-tether anchor points. The seats fold in 60:40 fashion to free up boot space, although Toyota doesn’t quote a figure for the liberated cargo area. With the back row being used by humans, cargo capacity is at 524L. A temporary space-saver spare wheel hides under the boot floor.
Of course, the Camry hybrid’s real party trick lies under the bonnet, with Toyota’s venerable 2.5-litre, four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine sending drive to the front wheels. Sure, its outputs look meagre on paper – 131kW at 5700rpm and 221Nm at 3600rpm – but when paired with Toyota’s 88kW/202Nm electric motor, there’s enough under foot to not be left wanting, with a suggested 160kW combined figure.
Storing that electricity is a nickel-metal hydride battery; a cheaper alternative to the more efficient lithium-ion array commonly found today. And this being a closed-loop rather than a plug-in hybrid, energy regeneration comes courtesy of the petrol engine and coasting. All this adds up to, according to Toyota, a fuel consumption figure on the combined cycle of 4.2L/100km of premium 95RON.
Hitting the starter button leaves you second-guessing for just a moment, the Camry starting in EV mode with nary a whisper. It’s quiet, unsurprisingly. Toyota says the Camry hybrid can run in pure-EV mode at speeds of up to 40km/h, although we found the petrol engine consistently cutting in at around 33km/h. Not that that’s a bad thing, especially in traffic where the Camry is happy to run quietly on pure electrons, saving precious drops of fuel.
When the ICE does cut in to help keep the big sedan moving, it’s seamless and effortless to the point you sometimes fail to notice. That’s partially down to the sound-deadening employed by Toyota’s engineers to keep the cabin a place of calm and quietude. And it works, too, with even the commonly found drone emitted by the continuously variable transmission (CVT) kept at bay. It is, in a word, refined.
There are drive modes to play with, too: Eco for maximising fuel-miserliness, Comfort for general driving duties, and Sport for those looking for more spirited fun. Don’t bother with either Eco or Sport as the differences aren’t big enough in scope to warrant exploration. Comfort is the Camry’s – and yours – happy place.
Not that the Camry Ascent Sport hybrid doesn’t feel quick. It does, certainly around town when moving away from standstill or entering traffic flow. There’s a zippiness to the way the Camry can hustle when it needs to.
Out on the highway, too, the Camry does a decent job of gobbling up kilometres with fuss-free ease and quiet. The ride remains composed and supple, ironing out standard road scars with ease. Bigger obstacles, such as speed humps, are easily dispatched, the Camry settling back on its haunches quickly.
And despite highway cruising being the enemy of electric motivation, we started a 200km round trip with an indicated fuel use of 5.1L/100km. By the time we had completed our loop, that read 4.7L/100km. And it never budged from there, with a week of typical-case motoring involving traffic, highways and easy suburban lopes returning 4.7L/100km.
And that, right there, is what lies at the heart of the Toyota Camry Ascent Sport hybrid. For a $2000 premium over its non-hybrid sibling, buyers can, based on Toyota’s claims, save around half on their fuel bills, the Ascent Sport non-hybrid using 8.3L/100km. Expect that to be higher in the real world.
Of course, not everything is rosy with the Ascent Sport hybrid. Yes, it, like the wider Camry range, carries a five-star ANCAP rating. But it does so while missing out on some pretty basic technology. First, what has it got? Seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and automatic high-beam headlights.
However, it misses out on rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring – pretty basic technologies. Those features are only available at the upper end of the ladder in the Camry SL range.
The Ascent Sport does get front and rear parking sensors and hill hold assist. ABS and traction control are, of course, mandatory. An updated model has been revealed overseas, and with it an updated safety suite. Exact timing is yet to be locked in, but expect to see it in the first half of 2021.
Toyota covers the Camry hybrid with its now standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while the battery is warrantied for 10 years.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, and will cost $200 a visit for the first five scheduled visits. Easy to see, then, why buyers are drawn to Toyota’s mainstream sedan.
It’s affordable, both to buy and to own, refined without being ostentatious, frugal on fuel, and just easy to live with. Yes, it’s a Toyota Camry, but the days of Camrys being considered ‘whitegoods on wheels’ are long gone. Sleek, stylish, well equipped and thrifty. It all simply adds up to an astute choice.