The Toyota Camry. Call it boring. Call it soulless. Call it vanilla. It’s no Alfa Romeo. Not even close actually but then, no single Alfa ever found ten million homes to park itself in. Call it vanilla, now. You could hold Toyota responsible for making the Camry match the quintessential definition of ‘a car’ but then they made it so dependable, you could buy it with your eyes shut.
Here’s a question. If you were to build a car that you, your uncle, your third cousin and his maternal aunt’s nephew bought, would you play it safe or build an Alfa clone? If you answered the latter, check your family tree to see if a certain Mr Bangle is related to you. If not, you could have some Italian genes. The point I am trying to make here is, you don’t mess with a very, very good thing. And here’s another bit. The current Alfa boss is so impressed by Toyota that he has asked his troop to look at Toyota as an example. So there.
Speaking of Bangle, that beardy sure is having an influence on automotive design. Call him names, but every manufacturer worth its salt is coming up with its version of flame surfacing. But when a Toyota Camry features his design touches you know he has arrived.
Which is the first thing that strikes you about the Camry – the ‘who left the boot open’ er... boot line. With regards to the front, the grille is a bit exaggerated but the rest is all good. The thin and wide headlamps (source: Toyota) and chiselled hood are ample evidence that finally there is a more focused design philosophy to this camry. What it has also done is reduce the visual bulk of the car. It’s rather imposing too and it’s certainly worthy of more than a second look. I am liking it.
The biggest or rather the most drastic change that has happened though is on the inside. The earlier Camry resembled, at best, a cab. This one resembles a Lexus and far as competition is concerned, it takes the game well forward. Put the key in, and the entire facia lights up like a discotheque, just like in the Accord. However the Camry goes a step ahead by using a two layered display that has the gear position and multi-information display in the foreground and the speedo and tacho in the background. Just like the Accord, there’s a multi-function steering wheel but you can also adjust the AC with this one. Rather helpful I thought. Ergos are perfect and the quality of materials is brilliant. Having said that, there is a bit more of faux wood than I would have liked to see. The other issue with the older Camry was with regards to the equipment on offer where the Honda beat it hollow. This time though, you could try as hard as you like, but you just can’t complain. There is a 6-CD in-dash stereo with Mozart Effect (whatever that means) that plays MP3s and WMA, cruise control, rain sensitive wipers, xenon headlamps and even washers to hose them down. The rear seats get their very own set of AC vents and in terms of safety too, the Camry has caught up. There are a host of acronyms worthy of a medical convention: VSC on the Automatic (ESP to me and you), ABS with EBD & BA (Brake Assist) and more. Then there are the seats, which on impact, bear the brunt of your neck forces.
The engine too has been given a once over, and this time, the four-pot motor is making a class-leading 167 bhp from a 2362cc lump. Torque is at 22.4 kgm while the other goodies like VVT-i continue. Power is up significantly and the short drive was adequate to confirm that. Now, I didn’t drive the Camry enough to know how much of a difference the power has made to its 0-60 kph timing, but a fairly serious amount of push was felt with random stabs at the accelerator. Where the earlier Camry would waft you to speed, this one seems like it’s in a hurry to get you there. Torque comes in pretty early too and in the sweetest possible manner. The motor is as refined as ever but this time it is accompanied by a raspy note. Everything points towards the fact that there is a definite effort here to make the car a bit more driver oriented.
The steering is now electro-hydraulic and it does have a nice weighty feel to it. On the other hand, suspension changes are minimal and that means the ride is still biased towards comfort rather than enthusiastic driving. However, Camrys have never been particularly involving to drive and I suspect that this one too isn’t going to break any new ground. For whatever an initial driving impression is worth, I don’t see the Camry having fun-to-drive as its USP. Ride quality though might just be. I drove the Camry through whatever little rough surfaces I could find and the ride was magic carpet-ish.
Another thing that has also changed is the warranty. The Camry comes with a 1,00,000 km warranty that as of now stands unmatched. Oh, and lest I forget, the price has changed too. The Camry is now dearer by almost a couple of lakhs. But tell you what. The difference really is worth much more. The other and frankly more important thing for Toyota though is that it now makes the Honda Accord look a bit under equipped. Also, before driving it, if someone asked me which of the two they should go for, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid while recommending the Honda. This time around, I would have to think really, really hard.