Let me start this review with a confession: I absolutely adore mid-size sedans.
Maybe its their presence, or the fact that I've owned two already. For me, there's nothing like the comfort and performance of an executive saloon. Of course, that doesn't mean I like all of them. Case in point, the Toyota Camry.
Having tried out the old models, I've always found them a bit too vanilla, too boring, and uninspiring to drive. But now, Toyota's mid-size sedan has caught my attention.
I mean, just look at it. If the lines won't make you have a double take, that huge lower grill will. Like it or loathe it, the all-new Camry has something the old models sorely lacked: presence and attitude. In my eyes at least, the latest version looks great. It's bold, without being boisterous. The new design also managed something old Camrys couldn't, which was crane the necks of passers-by.
Yet somehow, it looks elegant, especially when viewed from the side. Lines flow seamlessly from front to back, and those large alloy wheels complement it quite well. The rear, on the other hand, is a lot more interesting to look at than before with slim tail lights and a dramatically styled trunk lid. I honestly can't believe I'm calling the Camry stylish. Whoever penned the new look did a good job shedding the stodgy previous designs. It's certainly an interesting looking car.
The same goes for the interior. Like the body, the cabin is a lot less boring to stare at thanks to sweeping lines and acute angles. The dashboard, for instance, wouldn't look out of place in a European car. It's a mix of conventional and daring with analog dials mixed with digital readouts and a heads-up display. All buttons and switches are exactly where you expect it, making it an ergonomic layout. I even appreciate the good old gear selector.
But it's the space that impresses the most inside the Camry. Despite the rakish design, Toyota has managed to make it feel airy. Plus, given its size, there's acres of legroom, hip room, and headroom. This is a true five-seater sedan that won't force you to elbow the person beside you. There's a neat climate control system at the back too. It's a black panel that lights up when in use, and it allows you to change the temperature without having to tell the person in front your preferred settings. Even the backrests recline which wouldn’t look out of place in a Lexus.
However, I did notice a few things I didn't like inside. For example, the buttons for the climate control are a bit too small. There's also the front seats which don't go low, giving you the impression that you're in a small crossover, albeit a wide small crossover. And while the power backrests are neat, they emit a clunky sound when you've maxed out the recline.
Also, cabin materials, while good and soft to touch, doesn't exactly feel luxurious. Then again, the Camry abroad isn't exactly viewed as a luxury vehicle, but richer feeling materials would enhance the experience even more. But perhaps, they had to put a limit on making the Camry feel plush inside so it won't make the Lexus ES 350 irrelevant. After all, if you want all-out luxury, you'd probably go straight to the Lexus dealership right away.
Under the hood is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, which sounds exactly like the previous-generation model. However, they added six more horsepower, rising from 178 PS to 184 PS. Torque is retained at 231 Nm. Don't count on a manual though, the Camry is strictly an automatic, a six-speed one. While the specs sound good, a part of me wishes we got the more powerful tune of the 2.5-liter engine. In the U.S for example, the same motor makes over 200 PS and 252 Nm of torque. Plus, that version gets an eight-speed automatic whereas ours sticks to six forward cogs.
So, it's more interesting to look at, but will it be interesting to drive?
In a nutshell, yes. I do have to admit that the Mazda 6 is a far more fun car to drive by miles. However, the new Camry takes on corners better than before. It doesn't wallow about as much as before and the handling is more confident and composed. It likes being taken around corners now, which is something that couldn't be said about the old ones.
There is, however, a trade-off. I have to admit that the old one rode better and dealt with bumps a bit quieter. There's now a hint of firmness to the suspension and imperfect surfaces see occupants tossing their heads more. Still, it's a big sedan so it's generally comfortable. Overall, the suspension is good, but you can't have it all it seems. However, I do have to say Toyota did a good job keeping the cabin quiet, even at higher cruising speeds.
Performance, on the other hand, is rather decent. The updated 2.5-liter isn't anything like the 3.5 V6 of the past, but it picks up speed well. You do have to dig deep into the pedal to extract power out of it, but once you do, it does so in a relatively hushed manner which you expect in a mid-sized sedan. Also, fuel economy is decent for a 2.5 liter, registering 7.7 kilometers per liter at an average of 17 km/h.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the all-new Camry, and it's a far more improved car than its predecessor. I was impressed by its design inside and out, and the handling makes it a better car to drive. It's not perfect though as the ride isn't as pliant as before, along with minor annoyances. Plus, the touchscreen in it isn't what I would call user-friendly.
At Php 1,992,000 for the range-topper, the Camry presents a surprising value proposition in the mid-size sedan class. Its competitors hover at about the same price but most of them are approaching the end of their life cycles, unlike the Camry which is an all-new design. The only thing missing in it was a sunroof, but it's a matter of personal preference.
I wouldn't call it totally luxurious but, nonetheless, the Camry is an impressive big sedan. However, I'm left with a rather sad realization: It won't exactly fly off dealership lots. These days, consumers would go for something with taller ride height. Just look at the top ten best-sellers in the country last year.
But I say give the Camry a shot before going for a pickup-based SUV. Sure it's not a direct comparison, but if it's comfort and presence you're after (and live in or frequent a not so flood-prone area), the Camry fits the bill quite nicely.