New dawn as Camry follows the hybrid road, but will it suit you?
First Drive in Croatia: Toyota Camry
As I drove along the stunning coastline from Sibenik towards Split in Croatia last week, taking a side loop for a leisurely coffee by the sea in the pretty village of Promosten, it was hard to believe that just 25 years ago it was a bitterly-fought war zone.
There are still signs of destruction inflicted during the Croatian War of Independence, but there has been a regeneration.
A sense of a normal life and a hunger to be part of it.
Brilliant sunshine, turquoise waters and no fewer than 150 beautiful islands in the offshore Kornati archipelago; who wouldn’t want to be living happily there?
It was a truly appropriate location to experience the regeneration of the Toyota Camry, which has been absent from Europe since 2004.
But the distractions of Dalmatia couldn’t keep an essential question popping in and out of my mind.
Why would a car company reintroduce a big saloon car to Europe at a time when big car drivers are shifting to SUVs?
Well, maybe because it has the car. Which happens to be the biggest-selling large saloon in many of the more than 100 markets where it is sold.
And because in Europe there is still a market for such vehicles in spite of the SUV surge.
There’s also the matter of the Toyota Camry being powered by a newly-developed version of Toyota’s hybrid powertrain.
With it, the Japanese company hopes to capture a slice of a market dominated by falling out of favour diesel engines.
Part of the potential buyer cohort would be those who still want or need a large car, but want to ‘do the right thing’ by the planet.
There’s an irony, or maybe a closing of a circle, in that the Camry nameplate disappeared in Europe in 2004 because there wasn’t a diesel version available.
In petrol only it became impossible to sell.
Now it is back, with a petrol engine system which can be argued to be just as fuel-frugal, with substantially less emissions of both the global warming and health harming kind.
The fuel economy is still a source of discussion, but there’s a growing range of study coming down on the hybrid side.
The technology is also being adopted by Toyota’s competitors.
Toyota is helping this by releasing thousands of its own hybrid patents into the public domain.
It’s thought this is the only way that the motor industry can actually meet the even more stringent fleet CO2 and NOx regulations coming down the line.
But back to the new car itself: the eighth generation of the nameplate.
It was launched in the US and Australia nearly two years ago.
The one that has gone on sale in Europe, which has just arrived in Ireland, has been substantially tweaked for European tastes.
Steering and suspension are especially tightened up.
The new Camry has more edge in its frontal style than the one which left us back in 2004.
It is also bigger, lower and Toyota claims a much better people ‘packaging’ inside.
There’s more than style involved, the car is said to be among the best in its class in aerodynamic terms, further improving fuel efficiency.
It’s not the biggest, though. The Skoda Superb is longer and has a much bigger boot.
The Ford Mondeo is wider and if I ran a comparative tape over them it might have more knee room in the rear – though the Camry has plenty.
The lowered roofline at the back is a little problematical for me there, but at 6ft 2in I’m trouble for a lot of cars that way.
There’s good style to the dashboard and lots of soft-touch plastics.
A digital main instrument cluster in analogue style lifts the cap to tradition which Toyota hopes will still please the old Camry customers.
At the same time there’s a well-integrated centre stack screen, navigation and information repeats between the main dials and a large Heads Up Display (HUD).
The latter helps to keep you honest between the speed limit signs.
The hybrid engine is based on a new 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol and electric motor that offers a combined 218hp, the possibility of an 8.4-second sprint to 100kmh and, depending on conditions and how it is calculated, a 4.3litres-5.3litres/100km fuel consumption.
It’s worth mentioning that when driven under maximum pressure the consumption read 9.9l/100km.
The upside was that the exercise also proved a road-holding and handling capability which mightily surprised for such a large car.
Toyota’s chief engineer Masata Katsumata highlighted four elements in the developing of the new car:
* Good style – check.
* New hybrid powertrain – check.
* Engaging drive – check.
* Premium features – probably.
My hesitation on that last point is the niggling idea that it is nowadays difficult to claim unique features, which are mostly technological, when they are available all the way from big luxury cars down to well-specced superminis.
A fussiness over some irregular surfaces and some less-than-best finishing in the boot I’ll put down to the fact that these were launch event cars and as such can often be not quite the finished article.
Overall, though, the new Camry looks, feels and is undoubtedly good.
In Ireland there are three grades, the middle one of which will be the best seller at €40,700.
Who will buy one?
Well, taxi drivers and the garda will love to see it back.
But there are also 44,000 owners of the recently-discontinued Avensis out there.
Many of them will want to stay with a Toyota saloon.
And though they could consider the new Toyota Corolla hybrid saloon, some could opt for going a bit bigger.
If four people and their ample luggage wanted to tour Ireland’s equivalent of the Dalmatian coast, the Wild Atlantic Way, the new Camry would suit nicely.
I might just try that . . .