Marcus De Guzman / Kelvin Christian Go | November 03, 2015 14:57
The sporty alternative
The midsize sedan, for the most part, is viewed by many as an upgrade from the humdrum compact or hatchback. Aside from the apparent increase in body dimensions, most examples will have a more lavish interior and a bigger engine to supplement the entire package. It is also no secret that some think that having a midsize car also means owning ‘a luxury car’. That is both true and false as Toyota plans on breaking that stigma with the updated 2015 Camry.
Considered as the uncontested leader in the mass midsize market, the revamped Camry still carries a distinct presence on the road. Toyota plans to capitalize on that by offering a ‘sport’ variant as well as an improved exterior and interior finish.
Greeting you at the front is a new front fascia. For a mid-cycle update, Toyota heavily revised the front end and made use of new HID headlights with LED daytime running lights, a sleeker-looking chrome grill and a more stylish bumper. The sporty theme continues towards the side as it gets new rocker moldings, side skirts and new 17-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels exclusive only to the S variant.
The rear looks relatively the same, apart from the updated LED taillight cluster, new chrome garnish that extends towards the taillights, and a reshaped bumper that carries new rear reflectors and dual exhaust pipes.
I must admit that the exterior revisions made the car look younger , a nice move by Toyota as a way to draw younger buyers to the midsize cruiser. They somehow retained the Camry's distinct shape while, at the same time, applied a sporty finish.
Stepping inside, a blanket of leather and dark wood veneer envelopes the entire cabin. For this particular 'S' model, it gets the 'Sport Leather' — a dark black leather trim that is accented by red stitching on the seats, dashboard, center armrest, door panels and 3-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The darker wood finish is a welcome sight compared to the pre-facelift mode that had a redder shade. The steering wheel still has the multi-function infotainment controls but this is the only Camry in the lineup to have paddle shifters, further emphasizing its sportiness.
Speaking of infotainment, it gets an integrated audio system that supports AM/FM/CD/USB/Aux and WMA. The system itself channels the audio through 6 speakers with clarity, and has an adjustable equalizer. I only wished that it was a touchscreen system for easier navigation, since the car itself is already priced at PhP 1.645M. There is no Bluetooth function as well, as it is only reserved for the range-topping Q variant.
Gone are the plain-looking gauges as the 2015 facelift now features an illuminated, dual gauge cluster with a TFT multi-information display. This can show/monitor fuel economy, mileage and other information. The blue backlight and lit needles are easy to see — day or night — and the metal accents add a bit of overall flair.
Power functions aboard the 2.5S Camry only include the locks, windows and side mirrors. Both front seats and the steering wheel can only be adjusted manually, while the rear bench stays fixed. But like the pre-updated model, the rear passengers still have the benefit of rear aircon vents and a center armrest that comes with cupholders.
Perhaps one sticking point in the Camry is its dual zone climate control. It delivers a very cool and icy cabin temperature, which is nice during the hotter times of the year. The downside? Even if I set the fan to low and the temperature to its highest setting, the climate control still doles out cold air. If you remembered our previous review of the 2014 Corolla Altis 1.6V, we also faced a similar conundrum with its climate system. It's not entirely bad since we get hot summers, it's more of a discomfort during the colder months. But then again, you can always turn off the air-conditioning system and leave the fan on if it bothers you.
Residing under the hood is the carried-over 2.5-liter 2AR-FE inline-four with Dual VVT-i. It still puts out 178 PS at 6,000 rpm along with 231 Nm of torque at 4,100 rpm. It is then mated to a 6-speed gate-type automatic gearbox with Super ECT that drives the front wheels.
Even though this is a midsize car, power delivery from the 2.5-liter engine is always a joy, and provides copious amounts of torque. Around town or the city, a slight prod on the accelerator is all that is needed to get the car moving. The transmission is smooth and refined and there was no jolt or shift shock when it changed gears.
It was out in the highways and expressways where the Camry shined. Engine and transmission response was immediate and precise, though there was still some delay in kickdown when trying to overtake other cars. The manu-matic function (with the help of the paddle shifters or traditional gated function) bypasses that and makes for faster gear-changing and even faster acceleration.
It can easily cover ground with little effort and, while it has decent sound deadening, it rewards the driver with a throaty exhaust note that can be heard in the higher rev band. Did I forget to mention that the 2.5S is the only inline-four Camry that comes with dual exhaust pipes as standard?
Fuel economy-wise, it suffers quite a bit around town, but do remember this is still a 2.5-liter motor. On normal traffic, with an average speed of 30 – 40 km/h, it was able to do 7.0 km/l. On a very congested day however, it will only average between 5.8 and 5.9 km/l. Driving it along highways and expressways however, at an average speed of 90 km/h, it returned 14.8 km/l which was great. It will even do better at higher speeds, just be mindful of the speed limit.
It soaks up road imperfections and bumps without a problem, thanks to a MacPherson strut front and dual link suspension setup in the rear, which both come with stabilizers. Exclusive again to the 2.5S is the front performance damper. In a nutshell, this passive damper system minimizes body roll and improves stability, resulting in a more planted feel around the bends. I wasn't able to feel it on normal urban driving conditions, but take it out to winding roads and it feels more planted.
The Camry has been the go-to vehicle when it comes to owning a midsize sedan. It garnered a reputation of the car to be chauffeured in and as the quintessential executive vehicle in the segment.
The 2015 facelift veered away from it a bit with its more sculpted front fascia and reworked interior. The introduction of a 'Sport' variant could be viewed as an unconventional marketing strategy, but since the car itself looks more youthful and more aggressive, Toyota's plan may pay off. It might attract younger buyers. It could also appeal to regular clients that find the Camry a bit too soft and want a bit of fun with the established nameplate.
Retailing for a cool PhP 1,645,000, its entertainment system that is merely on par with its competitiors may not be competitive enough. But after testing the car around the city and along highways, the drive itself is rewarding in terms of sportiness. Just be mindful of that accelerator pedal as it is quite easy to have fun with this midsize 'sport' sedan and end up with a drained 65-liter gas tank.