I have often been asked my informed opinion of, and sometimes random thoughts on, many cars: to buy, to avoid, or simply to compare. But there are some models that I have seldom been asked about: Toyota Camry is one of them. It belongs to a genre, of cars that sell on their own. Toyota Camry has been sold by the millions around the world – 19 million in 100 countries! In the UAE alone, more than half a million have been sold. The Camry is not a car. It’s a commodity.
Safety and reliability are the most desirable qualities in a car. But if you ask “do they make a car desirable?” the answer is irony itself. Safety at its pinnacle seems to lose sex appeal. That’s what happened to Volvo until they decided to re-design their safe carriages. Likewise, when the solid foundation of reliability is built too low, it gets mixed up with mediocrity, as in the case of the most ubiquitous taxi in the region. Popularity has a way of going to the head of people and of pistons. So, did Toyota stop looking at its ‘automatic selling machine’, or was it that the Camry was so omnipresent that people stopped acknowledging it altogether! Well, there comes a time in such a successful brand’s marketing cycle that I call the shake-up phase. A time when young minds with the willingness to embrace a changing future are on the rise – who think self-driving cars are practical and anything that is driven has to be exciting!
The eighth generation Toyota Camry has been shaken up so thoroughly that what remains from the previous model is only the logo on the front grille and the boot lid.
A sense of accomplishment first showed up as a glint in the eyes of Toyota’s Chief Engineer, as he revealed that the final product turned out surprisingly close to the original sketch by the design team. There are athletic lines added – I could see muscle ‘ripple’ on its bonnet!
Camry Grande variants sport a different body styling (pictured above) from the two entry level models, as evident in a sculpted rocker panel (running board), new 18-inch black machined-finish alloy wheels, gloss black mesh grille, rear spoiler lip, rear bumper with distinctive corner lines and smoke-tinted rear combination lamps.
The eighth generation Camry has been reconfigured based on the Toyota New Global Architecture or TNGA. Among the most significant developments are the return of the trusty 3.5L engine that has been transformed to stream out 298 hp; and a brand new direct-shift 8-speed automatic transmission. They call it ‘direct shift’ because it is supposed to respond according to the intention of the driver while starting out or on the highway.
The second engine available in UAE is the current 2.5 L four-cylinder that works in tandem with a 6-speed transmission to generate 178 hp. The moderately sized engine was never a source of disappointment for Toyota Camry owners. It is still as good as it was, except that it now deprives you of the new ‘dynamic force engine’ and its superiority in terms of power output, fuel economy and emissions.
Camry has employed laser screw welding to have a high-rigidity body and steering system for stability and control in bends and corners. The suspensions and the chassis have been made stiffer with the front featuring an improved version of the MacPherson strut setup and the rear, a double wishbone system. Further, the centre of gravity has been dropped thanks to a 4 cm lower roofline and the hood that is two and a half cm lower.
There are some significant developments at Toyota but not all of it have found their way to the Gulf shores.
Dynamic Force Engines
The new engines have been dubbed Dynamic Force engines – exceptional power and efficiency have been achieved by optimizing the combustion process thus causing less waste of fuel and increased output. For those interested in the tech, the engineers modified the angle of the intake port edge and straightened the intake airflow. The strength of tumble flow has been increased for a cleaner and more complete combustion. Developed from scratch, these technologies will gradually be applied to all Toyota drivetrains.
The 2.5L dynamic force engine, mated to the new 8-speed transmission, has one of the world’s best thermal efficiencies. Shortlisted for the Wards Top 10 engines, the 2.5L engine claims 20% improvement in fuel efficiency and over 10% better dynamic performance. Apologies for building appreciation, but this engine is not coming to our shores, which is hugely disappointing!
Now, if you have started wondering (and about time) why Toyota is bringing back big engines when it has been touted as a leader in sustainable (hybrid electric vehicle) technology on one side, hold your horses. The Camry Hybrid Electric Vehicle with a 2.5 L l4 dynamic force engine is scheduled to join the fleet before Ramadan. It employs Toyota’s new Hybrid system II and is supposed to deliver 35% more powerful acceleration and 70% better fuel economy than the current 2.5L gasoline engine.
Toyota’s confidence in the new Camry was self-evident in the invitation to the Dubai Autodrome, which was promptly greeted with smirks and sniggers. Soon, it turned out that there was no place better suited to test the capabilities of the brand new Camry.
After all that talk about the stiffer chassis and taut suspension, the ride up to the Autodrome was surprisingly smooth and cushioned with a quietness to match. The acceleration was ample but did not make a show out of setting 298 horses at large. That is what I like about naturally aspirated engines!
Adjusting the steering back and forth, I realized that the driving position was brand new. It was lowered like in many contemporary cabins – somewhat like the Prius – This is half the good news in improved visibility; the other half is a lower belt line (window line) and a thinner A-pillar. As my helmet hit the roof, I could feel the lowered profile and imagined its influence in the traction-rich ride.
As my speedo rose steadily up to 181 kmph, the new eight-speed transmission smoothly delivered the power and the throttle response saw the rpm climbing relentlessly at the slopes and straights. The new Toyota Camry was solid on the straights, supple at curves and stayed as close to the apex as a front wheel drive could. After half a dozen laps, I wasn’t yet bored of the Camry.
[Watch the Quick Video Review in the video window.]
Cabin and controls
Toyota Camry has tilted the axis from a rational angle to an emotional appeal – the perfect premise to create a car that looked good, tickled your sensibilities and also compelled you into pushing its limits.
While the cabin is as spacious as ever with reclining rear seats that can be 60/40 split-folded, the air-conditioning can refresh air, removing allergens and dust. The Camry has a Qi-standard wireless charger in the front console tray but this probably is the most striking technology feature in the new Camry cabin. While all sorts of sensor-regulated driver assistance features from blind spot monitoring to cross traffic alert are available internationally, none of it has been imported with the Camry, perhaps for fear of blowing up the price!
SAFETY FEATURES: 6 SRS airbags, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), Rear View Monitor with Guidelines, Enhanced body structure and platform structure with a 30-percent increase in torsional rigidity
As I moved onto the Emirates Road, coasting on the inner lanes before sweeping ahead to rule the fast lanes, the new Camry revealed how humbly silent it was. Noise, Vibration and Harshness seemed to be at a class leading low – must have taken a cue from premium family icon Lexus.
Models and pricing
The 2018 Camry is available in 4 interior colours and 9 exterior colours including the new Graphite ME, and Platinum White Pearl MC.
2.5 L engine: S model AED 91,000 / SE at AED 99,000
3.5 L V6 Camry Grande: SE+, Sport for AED 122,500 and Limited for AED 124,500
The essential Camry 2018
Toyota is leading a parallel existence – as the leader of hybrids and the proponent of the most powerful engine in the category. If you wonder why this double game, think about this. Why should one lose the current edge just because one is at the cutting edge of evolving technology? And anyway, who needs turbocharged savings when you can have cleaner natural power; and thrills are not thirsty?
So, I have a confession to make. I did the unthinkable. I took a smiling selfie with the 2018 Toyota Camry. The drive had already wiped the smirk off.