I am sure Toyota didn’t intend it to be like that, but as things turned out they delivered a spanking new Toyota Camry Automatic in Beige Mica metallic to my house on New Year’s eve. I called up and cross-checked – it was indeed our test car, and I could have it for a week. Brilliant! A nice plush automobile to forget 2004 and usher in 2005. If I hadn’t sinned enough in my last life, it could have been Porsche sending a metallic silver Carrera GT for a smooth cross-over, but then a Camry Automatic in hand is better than two GTs in the bush, right? Needless to say I was a happy and content man, since there is nothing better to welcome a new year than a new car with that all-important new car smell.
Of course, I ferried my family and neighbours to a small New Year party, drove it first thing on New Year’s day and drove it to office on the first working day of 2005. I decided to have some more fun and subjected it to a proper road test. I am telling you, as a transition vehicle, the Camry was simply outstanding.
Then I got bored with it. You see, it was too perfect an auto to spend much more time than a week. It did everything oh-so-well that I am worried I won’t have much work to do throughout the new year. Worse still, I am worried that I will sleep through most of my driving in 2005. That, dear reader, is the USP of the Camry Automatic. Research done by car companies shows that automatic transmissions are becoming popular in high end (read chauffeur driven) cars while self driven C-segment cars are bought only with manual transmissions. The reason? I was told by a Mercedes India employee that owners who put down the money (and spent most of the time in the back seat) didn’t like the jerky ride offered by chauffeurs who struggled with stick shifts. Get the point? They wanted to sleep.
Again, as far as cars go, you cannot fault the Camry, which incidentally is the largest selling car in the world’s largest market (the US). It is a very ‘safe’ design and compared to the last generation Camry, it looks pretty substantial. The facelifted version gets a chrome grille, which doesn’t really give it an edge over its immediate competitor, the futuristic looking Honda Accord. The interior is a sea of quality materials – leather, faux veneer and plush carpeting. The front seats are the best in the business and can be electrically adjusted and the rear seat has more leg room than any car in its class – there, the end buyer has no reason to crib at all.
The model designation for this particular car is V6 and it does not mean it has a V6 engine ( I am sure at least one buyer will go through the spec chart and buy it thinking that he has a V6 motor under the hood). Instead, it means it has a four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. The twin cam, variable valve timing (VVT-i) engine displaces 2362cc to develop close to 143 bhp, which is some 80 bhp short of the substantially cheaper Honda Accord V6 (now you know where to go if you want a quicker and faster car). But the good news is that it does not feel lethargic, unless you are plonking your foot on the throttle pedal and waiting for it to react. Toyota promises seamless acceleration and smooth shifting thanks to the electronic throttle control system (ETCS-i) combined with the auto-box, and it delivers once the brain of the car realises that the driver is standing on the pit-lane and showing a board which reads ‘push’. After a nano-second of hesitation, the Camry Automatic will hurtle to 60 kph in 4.8 seconds and a pretty strong 100 kph in 10.2 seconds flat. The upshifts are smoother than the best of ice cream, and the torque spread is creamy and layered for an automatic. There is ample turning force to overtake a line of slow-moving trucks and enough top-end to disappear into the horizon. Make no mistake, this Camry will white-knuckle you if you demand near-200 kph action. Eventually, that is. What it is best at is connecting big cities with the standard issue cruise control set at a relaxed 120 kph. We didn’t take it to a hill station to check out Toyota’s ‘hill sensing control’ integrated into the auto-box, which is supposed to make mountain carving more pleasurable. And no, we didn’t have any rain so we didn’t get to see the automatic rain sensors coming into play. We did try out the foot-operated parking brake though, and came away impressed. Those boys from Stuttgart have been trying to tell us all these years that a foot operated ‘hand brake’ is the way to do it, but Toyota has improved it by incorporating the brake-release in the same ‘push to operate-push to release pedal’! No searching for the hand brake release on the dashboard when starting from a signal light which is at an incline, and the guy behind you is driving an equally expensive car. Great!
All these trick bits make this one hell of an all-knowing, wise-crack of a car.Fantastic, progressive brakes with ABS, electronic brake distribution and brake assist ensure that you scrub off speed before trouble hits you and a full compliment of airbags (including side and curtain) ensure that you are secure even if you make a mistake.
Alas, to its detriment the Toyota Camry lacks character – now, that is the only negative I have for this machine. It drives well, rides well, corners well and makes its passengers happy too, especially if you’re ferrying them after a New Year bash. Yet at close to Rs 20 lakh on-road, the one thing that the Camry does not represent is value for money. But then for those who trust the Toyota brand, the additional money can be termed well spent!