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Toyota Camry


It's a phrase that strikes fear into the heart of any fleet-car user: 'entry level'. It means that your new company wheels are going to be bottom of the automotive food chain, low on status but more importantly low on equipment.

That's one of the good things about the new seventh-generation Camry. If you're driving one, there's a good chance that you'll be a company car user: the medium-sedan segment is dominated by fleet sales and dominated by Camry, in that order.

The GL may be the cheapest in the Camry lineup, but it's far from sparse.

While the pseudo-sporty Atara S/SX models and the high-tech hybrid are getting all of the attention at the moment, the truth is that half of all Camrys sold are the entry-level GL version. For 2012, that's expected to be as many as 800 cars. The rest will be split evenly between Atara and hybrid - many of the latter also being fleet/taxi vehicles, of course.

So let's get down to business. Granted, you probably won't be paying for the Camry GL you drive, but we still need to know that it costs $44,990. That's a strong price position for what is essentially a six-cylinder-size car, albeit with a four-cylinder engine (more about that in a minute).

So what do you get in GL world? It comes as standard with the important stuff: front, side and curtain airbags, as well as one for the driver's knee. Stability control too. Inside, you get Bluetooth connectivity for your cellphone or music player, with streaming capability for the latter.

The audio is a pretty decent six-speaker (with tweeter) unit that'll also integrate with your iPod. Controls are on the steering wheel. The air conditioning is manual-control, but with the car being of Australian origin it's nice and powerful.

So what makes you miss the upper-level Camrys? Well, it's true that on the outside there's no mistaking the GL's lowly status: it rides on 16-inch wheels (although they are alloys) and lacks the sportier bumper styling and spoilers of the Atara models. Inside, you might wish you had the Atara's touch-screen information display and reversing camera. But the basic architecture, including the faux-leather dashboard covering, complete with fake stitching (you'll either love it or hate it) is basically the same.

The GL also lacks the Atara's sportier exhaust, which liberates an extra 2kW/4Nm from the 2.5-litre petrol engine. Hardly a deal-breaker and hardly noticeable except on the specification sheet. Apart from that, the GL powertrain is essentially the same as the other Camrys: with 133kW/231Nm it's up 14 percent on power and six percent on torque over the previous model, yet achieves 11 percent better fuel economy. The Combined figure is just 7.8 litres per 100km.

Perhaps the best powertrain feature of the new model is the slick six-speed automatic gearbox, which is a superb match for the engine and gives the Camry a whole new lease of life. The performance is sprightly - perhaps even a tad aggressive from standstill, as the transmission bites quite sharply in first gear.

The greatest gap between the GL and its Atara siblings is in handling character. The entry car's softer suspension and taller-profile tyres take the edge off the new model's impressive handling, with a greater tendency towards understeer and more body roll.

Whether that really matters with a fleet car like this is a moot point. It'll be purchased for its massive interior space, luggage volume (the boot is 515 litres) and refined cruising ability.

There's no doubt that the Camry GL will be purchased on price, and probably not by the person who will drive it. But I really don't think the end user will feel short-changed with this car.

Auto Trader New Zealand