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Toyota Camry

 

We rated the first versions of the previous generation Toyota Camry very highly.

Former Ferrari Grand Pris driver Chris Amon had worked wonders on the chassis, turning the somewhat blandly-styled four-door sedan - the unkind Aussie motoring media dubbed it the beige cardigan - into a supremely-enjoyable car to drive: a sort of handling wolf in sheep's clothing.

The old generation Camry has weathered time well; its lines now look neater than they seemed when it was new. A fairly recently-registered, silver-painted one I pass in the office carpark reveals some subtle styling lines that I never noticed when the model was new.

Toyotas tend to weather time well; I think my 1993 Corona still looks elegantly aerodynamic, its nicely-balanced lines overcoming the dingy dark grey metallic paint. The only jarring note is the too-small diameter alloy wheels which fail to fill the wheelarches adequately.

Which brings me to the new Camry. Now the V6 version doesn't quite fit the beige cardigan description (though the base model 2.4-litre Altise almost provides a perfect 2003 personification of the phrase; the Altise is also hard-pressed to offer anything better than my old Corona does, except for its outstanding interior and boot space).

The new Camry is a big car, bigger than its predecessor, but my jury's out on its styling.

The high-end models with alloy wheels, bootlid spoilers are other garnishes (a phrase that used to be favoured by Toyota in the 1990s) look better.

But the car still looks a little ponderous, with its cabin-forward front end.

And like my Corona's, the body seems to perch above the wheels rather than sit on them.

The TS V6 auto we tested looked better than the Altise four we'd sampled immediately before, but I still felt there was something a little awkward about its styling. Maybe, like its predecessor, it'll reveal design subtleties a few years down the track and in the same way avoid looking dated.


The early 1990s Corona has lines that now look timeless; the same can now be said of the last generation Camry.

The new car is big in all directions: length, 4805mm; width 1795mm; height, 1490mm; wheelbase, 2720mm; track, 1545mm (front) and 1520mm (rear).

There's also quite a lot of body overhang - 940mm at the front and 1145mm at the rear.

The rear overhang helps contribute to the massive luggage boot. It's truly cavernous: deep, long and wide with a little recessed section between the boot proper and the rear seatbacks.

You can cram an enormous amount of stuff in there and the shorter among us, like me, almost need a snooker spider to reach the furthest point, especially if anything's got wedged in the recess between the boot proper and the seatback.

The passenger cabin - seating for five in comfort, each with the security of three-point, lap/sash seatbelts - is equally roomy.

The boot and the spacious cabin are probably the new generation Camry's strongest points.

The 24-valve 2995cc V6 motor is smooth, delivering maximum power of 141kW at 5200rpm in the milder TS tune (the Azura V6 has 145kW at the same engine speed). That's not a state-of-the-art power output but peak torque is a healthy enough 279Nm at 4400rpm (Azura, 284Nm at the same revs).

The torque ensures there's ample grunt to haul this quite heavy - 1525kg - sedan along at a good clip.

Power delivery is not as sharp as you get from Mitsubishi's silky-smooth and admittedly 500cc bigger V6 but there's not much to complain about.

The Toyota six is quiet and refined and motorway and State Highway progress is impressively silent.

The gearbox is less impressive. It's an electronically-controlled four-speed auto with lock-up torque converter.

Anyone who's driven a Toyota auto in the past decade will feel at home - and maybe a little frustrated - with the gearbox.

Frankly it seems no advance on the similarly-configured unit in my Corona.


A car as sophisticated as the new Camry is in so many ways, cries out for a five-speed self-shifter with a sequential manual-change option.

There's nothing wrong with the shift quality. Gears change up and kick-down smoothly enough, even at high engine revs. But it's clumsy to shift manually and does the car less than justice on a winding road. The keen driver will feel short-changed.

Steering is well-weighted, thoroughly contemporary-feeling and nicely firm at open road speeds.

The car turns-in well enough and tracks well, but there's a little too much understeer for my taste. It gets a little flummoxed on a road with frequent direction changes. The chassis is a far cry from the earlier Amon-developed model's. Where that car was fun to drive and surprisingly sporty in feel, the new generation Camry is just your standard Japanese front-wheel drive big car. It's competent and has excellent roadholding but it's not going to get your adrenalin pumping.

Ride quality is good and the Camry soaks up bumps nicely.

The turning circle diameter is 11.6 metres and the car will tow a 1500kg braked trailer (500kg unbraked).

The level of standard equipment is good. You get power mirrors and windows; front fog/driving lights; bootlid spoiler; stylish, three-spoked leather-wrapped steering wheel with nicely-sized diameter; air-conditioning; and a six-speaker in-dash single Compact Disc player. Being a frequent CD changer I prefer single-disc set-ups, so didn't feel short-changed by the good-sounding Camry unit.

Also standard are cruise-control; an alarm system; lockable glovebox with light; rear cabin air-conditioning vents; sports-style seats which give good lateral support; alloy wheels, and height-adjustable rear headrests.

Dual front airbags are standard, and the well-performing four-wheel disc brakes are augmented by an ABS anti-skid system.

The Camry TS automatic sells for $45,000 (a manual version costs $43,000).

It's a pleasant, likeable car, though we yearn for the days when Amon worked his magic on Toyota NZ's car cassis. We'd also like a more up to date five-speed automatic gearbox with a sequential option. Add those two factors to the Camry and it'd be much more desirable.

Story and photographs by Mike Stock


Auto Trader New Zealand