SOME said it would never happen, but here is evidence to the contrary. Finally, new car prices are coming down… Well, at least in the case of Toyota’s Camry. Quite clearly, Toyota’s long-time family champ has been feeling the heat from fashionable MPVs of late, and this facelifted model’s price reduction seems to be as much a result of dwindling sales as it is because of the strength of the rand.
A few months ago this car would have cost you R213 600. Now Toyota has chopped R21 360 off the list price, and that suddenly makes it a whole lot more appealing, especially if you consider the price reduction goes along with some upgrades.
The (mostly) cosmetic changes are not major. At the front there are new headlights with four individual tubular bulbs under a single cover, as well as a new grille and redesigned bumper. At the rear, Toyota says the bootlid is different, but to our eyes it looks identical to the old one. The new tail-lights are, however, an improvement. All Camry models have restyled alloy wheels, but the 15x6JJ rims fitted to the XLi still don’t fill out the car’s massive wheelarches properly, giving the visual impression that the car is under-tyred. As a whole, we wouldn’t say the Camry is ugly, just so very bland.
But you will not be buying this car for its looks. The Camry’s trump card is massive space for all passengers, and all their luggage in the boot. The predominantly grey interior may not look very inviting at first glance but, once seated, comfort is unlikely to be a problem. The driver’s chair is adjustable for height and also has manual lumbar support. With the steering wheel also being adjustable for height, it is easy to find a relaxed driving position. Long-distance comfort is very good, but the front seats could do with better side bolstering when the road gets twisty.
Rear passengers have lots of leg, head and shoulder room – three people can easily be accommodated in comfort. New cooling ducts have been placed at the rear of the floor console to provide rear occupants with fresh air. There is also a folding centre rear armrest with a built-in dual drinkholder.
Excluding the sizeable glove compartment, storage space includes a very big lidded bin (with power outlet) between the front seats, as well as door and seatback pockets. The boot measures a cavernous 456 dm3, a figure that can be expanded to an MPV-rivalling 1 248 dm3 by folding down the 60:40 split rear seatbacks.
The facia looks very American, so much so that you almost expect the gearlever to be on the steering column… There is no traditional hangdown section. Instead, all the controls are grouped high up and in the centre of the facia, leaving space for a huge storage compartment underneath. The basic idea is sound but, unfortunately, some of the controls – especially the often-used volume button of the radio – are positioned too far away from the driver. A simple remedy would be the fitment of satellite audio controls on the steering wheel, but the XLi doesn’t have them. (Higher-spec Camrys do have this feature.) Otherwise, there are few reasons to complain. The slightly redesigned instruments are simple and clear.
The cut in price doesn’t mean you get less equipment. Included in the standard features list are: air-conditioning, electric mirror and window adjustment, remote selective central locking, trip computer, radio/CD-front loader and cruise control. The leather upholstery fitted to our test unit has now become a R5 000 added cost option. Safety equipment is limited to dual front airbags and ABS. Isofix child seat anchors are fitted to the two outer rear seats. There are no stability or traction control systems.
Power comes from Toyota’s 2AZ-FE, four-cylinder, 2,4-litre, multi-valve engine with VVT-i (variable valve timing – intelligent) that delivers 112 kW at 5 600 r/min and 218 N.m of torque at 4 000. According to Toyota, a full 90 per cent of the maximum torque figure is available from 1 500 to 5 000 r/min. The engine is coupled with a five-speed manual gearbox. One tester, in particular, just couldn’t get used to the idea of a Camry with a manual gearbox. But the gearbox is generally pleasant to use though, with crisp, precise changes during normal driving. It only starts feeling notchy once quick changes are attempted.
The Camry may look a little pedestrian, but it certainly performs well enough for most people. We achieved a top speed of 210 km/h, and a sprightly zero-to-100 km/h sprint time of 10,02 seconds. The spread of torque also means it is a very flexible engine, and you don’t need to change gears all that much during normal driving.
Fuel economy is slightly better than average for this class. Our fuel index figure of 10,58 litres/100 km equates to 9,45 km/litre, and a range of 662 kilometres on a 70- litre tank.
The Camry’s suspension is unchanged. The front suspension is of the MacPherson strut type, mounted via a cradle-type subframe to insulate the body from road noise and vibration. A spring/ strut system is also used at the rear, mounted on an anti-vibration sub-frame.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the reduction of road noise and vibration. It all works very well, because the Camry has a very smooth, relaxing and comfortable ride. The car’s target market will approve. They won’t mind that the big Toyota is not the sharpest driving tool around, but it’s actually better than you might think. Grip levels are good, with the Camry hanging on gamely during hard cornering. It is only the steering that isn’t quite up to scratch – it is vague and “springy” off-centre. And, as expected, understeer is the name of the cornering game. That said, the Camry is really excellent in its intended role of long-distance cruiser with the entire family on board.
The brakes too, are good. During our emergency braking test routine (10 stops from 100 km/h to rest),the ABS-equipped Camry averaged an excellent stopping time of 2,82 seconds.
OK, so it is not the most exciting car around, but there can be little doubt that the Camry XLi now offers excellent value for money. It is a solid and comfortable car with good performance and exceptional ride quality. If the Camry’s strengths correspond to the criteria you are looking at, then it must be near the top of your shopping list.