This is the kind of motoring that Australians once upon a time gorged themselves on: two-wheel drive, large comfortable sedans that were big enough for growing families and road trips alike.
It's hard to believe, but SUVs weren't always the prime choice for Australian families.
The 2021 Toyota Camry is a little different. It’s front-wheel drive and with only four cylinders, instead of the archetypal six-banger spinning the rears like the Falcons and Commodores of yore.
Toyota’s Camry has been very well received since this eighth-generation model debuted in 2017. And for 2021, there have been some tweaks and upgrades across the range.
But perhaps the biggest change is at the bottom of the ladder with the entry-level 2021 Toyota Camry Ascent.
|2021 Toyota Camry Ascent|
|Engine||2.5-litre (2487cc) four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||152kW at 6600rpm, 243Nm at 4000–5000rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||6.8L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.1L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five -star (tested 2017)|
|Warranty||Five years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Skoda Superb, Kia Stinger, Mazda 6|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$31,565|
I’ll warn you now: don’t discount this base sedan as being an exercise in bland and unenjoyable motoring in the name of cost-cutting; this Camry packs quite a punch.
And don’t assume it’s the same 2.5-litre petrol engine under the bonnet. Although the basic capacity carries over, it’s an all-new engine.
The family of new Toyota engines is called Dynamic Force, and this 2.5-litre variant is touted to be one of the most technologically advanced engines that the Japanese carmaker has produced. There’s a long list of technical features aimed at improving efficiency, which culminates in a very impressive 40 per cent thermal efficiency.
For reference, this is one of the most thermally efficient engines ever put into a production car. The only reference of a more thermally efficient engine I could find was the turbocharged V6 out of Mercedes’s Formula 1 vehicle at over 50 per cent.
To continue this digression, Mazda’s SkyActiv-X engines are also touted to be very thermally efficient, with further improvements earmarked. And Nissan is also working on its own ‘e-power’ technology claiming up to 50 per cent thermal efficiency.
More thermally efficient means this new A25A-FKS engine also sports more grunt. Its 152kW at 6600rpm and 243Nm at 5000rpm favour well against the previous 2AR-FE. The old engine made 133kW/231Nm.
Throw a new eight-speed automatic transmission into the mix (replacing a six-speed gearbox), and you’ve got the potential for good gains.
What are the negatives? This new Euro 6 emission-compliant engine requires more expensive 95RON fuel, and the asking price has gone up by $2000 to $30,990 before on-road costs.
The Lunar Blue paint we have here costs $575 and pushes our as-tested price slightly higher to $31,565 before on-road costs.
Another potential negative around this car is the fact that the hybrid, costing $2500 more and also carrying a version of the Dynamic Force engine, is also in the range. It’s a problem because the hybrid Camry is so damned good. The petrol V6 option has been dropped, which is a shame.
But wipe those tears away, and give this car a test drive. You might be surprised. This new engine isn’t the same revvy, powerful experience as the 224kW V6 that you can no longer buy new. But credit where credit is due, because this four-banger is actually quite good. It’s a sedate and refined experience around town, with the gearbox operating seamlessly between the ratios during normal driving.
The worst fuel economy I saw was 13.0 litres per hundred kilometres through some heavy stop-start traffic. Here, the hybrid drivetrain would be a big advantage. Overall, we saw an indicated average of 7.1L/100km. That’s pretty good compared to the claim of 6.8L/100km from Toyota on the combined cycle.
While I can’t help but be impressed by this Camry overall, the ride quality does manage to be a standout. It’s impressively smooth and absorbent, with characteristics more befitting of a vehicle with three times the price tag. Perhaps the pragmatically sized 17-inch wheels and Michelin rubber are partly to blame for the good deportment. Regardless, it’s very good.
And when you start to engage in more spirited driving, the Camry doesn’t fall into a heap. The steering, nicely weighted and easy to drive around town, is also enjoyable to punt through corners. The chassis holds onto the road well, and proved to be quite competent.
Once you push your foot through an obvious kick-down function in the accelerator pedal, the 2.5-litre engine (combined with better gearing) changes character noticeably and offers plenty of forward thrust.
Inside, the Camry is basic but ergonomically pleasing. The humbly sized 7.0-inch infotainment display has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as digital radio as standard fitment. There’s a volume knob for easy usage on the run, and ditto for the handful of physical buttons that flank each side of the display.
The electric handbrake clears up space around the centre console, where two cupholders await filling. There is a handy lidded storage compartment in front of the gear shifter, which is smartly designed: you can stick an average-sized (large) smartphone on the lid and slide it away, and keep the phone stored (mostly) out of sight. And in this area you’ll find single USB and 12V outlets.
Simple mechanical air-conditioning controls work well, but are perhaps the biggest pointer to the Camry’s base specifications. Worth noting that the Camry Hybrid range gets dual-zone climate control, and all models above the Ascent come with a 9.0-inch infotainment system, should you be after those upgrades.
The asymmetrical dashboard design favours the driver, precluding the passenger from reaching things like storage, air-conditioning and infotainment as easily. It's a small detail, but could irk some people.
The second row is spacious and comfortable, and puts many mid-sized SUVs to shame while also carrying some air vents. The transmission tunnel for a front-wheel drive car is irksome, but the Camry reminds you that it's not only SUVs that can easily absorb a family and its chattels.
And the boot, complete with lights and levers to drop the second row, is big. It’s rated at 493L, but will fit three or four large suitcases without any dramas.
In terms of safety and convenience equipment, the base-spec Camry also packs a solid punch. There’s autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights (with automatic high beam), a full-sized spare wheel (petrol model only), keyless entry and second-row air vents. There are also more advanced driving aids like lane centring and lane-trace assist.
Servicing is also cheap at $220 per annual visit for the first five years or every 15,000km.
If you’re buying the best-of-breed Camry, you’re buying a hybrid powertrain. Which specification you choose will depend on your budget and tastes. But if you’re going cheapest, you’re looking at this car. Perhaps that’s why not many were picking up the V6-powered Camry and Toyota ended up axing it.
The fact of the matter is that, despite the Camry Hybrid offering better overall fuel economy for most town users (and for not a huge jump in asking price), this base-specification Camry is very good across the board.