The Orient Express might seem long in the tooth but still possesses redeemable qualities
The Toyota Camry arrived back in 2002 when the Indian car market consisted mostly of Japanese cars and the odd German saloon. Toyota soon carved a niche for itself by further launching a Camry Hybrid variant, the only hybrid to be locally manufactured here. Back to the present, the Camry Hybrid is still on sale and now faces competition from European quarters which while being lighter on the wallet feels more upmarket and feature-packed. So is the Camry Hybrid playing a losing game or does it have an ace up its sleeve?
Dressed to impress
The Camry Hybrid has been around a long time and it shows. Even the 2022 updates are limited to a nip and tuck which adds a slimmer grille and badge, hexagonal element in the air dam and C-shaped chrome trim on the bumper. I think the Camry looks best from the side, its low profile accentuated by the new 18-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels. I reckon it's time for a proper facelift with a cleaner-looking front profile. What works for the Camry though is that it looks distinctive in a sea of European and Korean cars.
The Camry is a long car, in fact, a bit longer than the Skoda Superb. That translates to a spacious cabin. Here too, updates for 2022 are limited to a new floating 19-inch touchscreen infotainment system, faux wood trim on the dashboard and black trim on the gear lever console.
The infotainment system packs in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but the layout feels dated and the resolution could be crisper. It does get features such as a three-zone climate control system, Heads-up display, cruise control, sunroof, wireless charging and ventilated seats but misses out on a 360-degree camera that you now get even on hatchbacks.
I like the way the dashboard curves around the centre console but am disappointed with the use of chunky buttons especially on the infotainment panel and for the ventilated seats. It reminds me of the car I purchased back in 2010. In fact, the interior looks like it was designed for the future, in 2010.
Back seat player
The Camry impresses you when you slide into the rear seat. The seats are huge and envelop you like a high-end sofa. It is very supportive and the backrests can be electrically reclined for individual seats via the touchpad on the centre armrest. The touchpad also controls music, AC and rear electric sunblind. You also get two USB ports below the rear AC vents. There is plenty of legroom and you can even recline or move the front passenger seat forward from the backseat.
Toyota has put a lot of thought into the Camry's backseat comfort and it shows in the way the car rides as well. It glides over rough surfaces irrespective of speed transferring very little of the road imperfections into the cabin. In fact, ride quality is as plush as luxury sedans a few segments above.
The Camry also benefits from a massive 524-litre boot and is one of the few vehicles around to get a full-size spare.
The other area the Camry excels at is in the powertrain department. It is the only one in the segment to have a proper hybrid setup - a 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol motor paired with a 160kW Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor. While the petrol engine delivers 178PS and 221Nm, the motor pushes out an additional 120PS and 202Nm. That makes the 1665kg Camry quite the express sedan. The way it gets up to speed will surprise you, not by the pace but by how seamlessly it does it. Getting to 100kmph feels effortless as does sustaining triple-digit speeds.
More than the performance, it is the fuel economy that impresses. The Camry claims an ARAI-backed fuel efficiency figure of 23.27kmpl ARAI certified and I believe them. I picked up the Camry from Mumbai with the fuel gauge just below full and after a week of driving in and around Pune, at the time of dropping it back in Mumbai, the fuel gauge was still over a quarter level. That's phenomenal for a car this size.
The Camry also offers a unique ride experience. Push the starter and there is no sound. That's because the Camry is programmed to start moving from a standstill in pure EV mode. In fact, the car is capable of running around the city on electric power only. The 2.5-litre engine comes online only to charge the main battery or when you mash the throttle or are driving at high speeds. The transition is seamless too and the only way you know the electric motor is running is owing to the sound. The motor also fills in torque gaps ensuring there is ample performance whenever you need it. Power delivery is seamless throughout the rev range. While the powertrain isn't sporty it's powerful enough to keep most petrolheads satisfied.
What petrolheads will like about the Camry Hybrid is the driving position. The large seats feel snug while the high-set centre console makes you feel as if you are seated in a sports car. The steering wheel is large but precise and weighs up nicely at high speed. With the long wheelbase and plush ride, I expected the Camry Hybrid to handle like a luxury barge. On the contrary, it surprised me with immense grip in corners and well-controlled body roll. I would have liked a bit quicker steering but other than that there is nothing to complain about!
It is quick though?
It is not a corner carver but offers ample amount of grip but with some body roll.
Overall focus on understated luxury but could do with a bit more panache especially on the inside.
Left of centre
In a world of Captain Kirks, the Camry Hybrid feels more relatable to Spock. It is calm, calculated and above all feels built on logic alone. The Camry properly impresses with its rear seat comfort and efficient powertrain.
However, its asking price of Rs 43.45 lakh, ex-showroom is quite a premium over the competition and puts it in the realm of cars like the Audi A4, BMW 2 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class. These cars have a more premium badge value and feel more modern too.
To sum it up, if you are a millionaire who is all for having an understated life and values practicality over everything else, the Toyota Camry might be up your alley.