Boring, bland, cardigan-car - once upon a time, these were commonplace phrases when talking about a Camry.
Reliable but uninspiring is no longer the catchcry, thanks to a sharp new suit and some serious work on the chassis, the new Camry has made solid progress in the appeal stakes and the hybrid has the added greeny factor without being weird enough to only draw an early-adopter crowd.
The hybrid Camry range starts at $34,990 but we've been thrown the keys to the HL top-spec model, which pushes the price up to $41,990 - Toyota says there's $4500 of extra gear for a $1500 price rise.
Both front occupants in the HL get power-adjustable seats (the driver's is equipped with a two-position memory), dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, 17-in alloy wheels, fog lights, a rear bootlid spoiler, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and phone controls, an electric rear-window shade and auto-dipping rearvision mirror.
The HL hybrid also gets an exceptional 10-speaker JBL digital radio and iPod integrated sound system and the satnav (with SUNA real-time traffic info) are all controlled by the touchscreen, which also displays the rearvision camera.
The most obvious technology is the petrol-electric drivetrain - a 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, a tricky set of gears and two electric motors. It all adds up to a smooth and efficient system that seamlessly goes from electric only to petrol-electric drive, as well as driving and generating charge for the battery, with little in the way of disturbance as the petrol motor starts and stops as required.
The result is a 118kW/213Nm petrol four-cylinder engine combining the electric motor producing 105kW/270Nm 650v electric motor, which gives the driver plenty of pep when required.
The HL's JBL 10-speaker surround sound system has iPod integration via Bluetooth or USB cable and uses lightweight speaker and amplifier components. It's one of the first mainstream cars to feature full digital radio compatibility - Toyota says digital radio produces significantly clearer sound from mainstream radio stations as well as exclusive digital-only stations.
This is where the current car can leave its old image behind - the look is sharp and it almost has character. It's not grown a great deal over the outgoing car but the "bracket creep" of medium cars is obvious when you consider the first Camry of several decades ago.
The new car is 375mm longer, 135mm wider, 75mm taller and its wheelbase is 175mm longer, plus - in hybrid form at least - it weighs 565kg more. The hybrid model gets a different grille, a blue-tinged badge and headlight trim.
The cabin has ample space and hits the quality mark when it comes to fit and finish - it will easily accommodate a family of four and has rear vents and a rear window shade, all of which are handy for keeping kids comfy and quiet.
The test car had light coloured upholstery which shows wear quickly - again, the rugrat factor would warrant a darker colour - but there's good in-cabin storage.
The bootspace has improved, with relocated electrical systems improving bootspace by 8 per cent to 421 litres.
Where the engineering and design falls down is with a miniscule 300kg towing capacity, but more on that later.
The new Camry range carries a five star ANCAP crash rating - the old one did too but the 2012 model went very close to full marks.
The top-spec model's safety features list includes seven airbags (dual front, side, full-length curtain and a driver's knee), a seatbelt use warning system for all seats, stability and traction control and ABS brakes.
The flagship hybrid also gets the blind spot monitor system (which detects vehicles dwelling in the next lane) and auto-dipping high beam system.
This is no longer bland and mundane transport. First impressions of cabin quality continue when the start button is pushed and silence often follows.
Resist the temptation to hit the button again and look for the READY light - while noise is often absent the hybrid wafts away on battery power alone until the right foot heads further into the accelerator pedal.
The ride is firmer than you might expect but it deals with road bumps nicely and manages to corner with reasonable aplomb as well. The local Toyota engineers have had a hand in tuning it for Australian driving tastes as well as taking into account the battery weight over the rear wheels.
It's not going to frighten an SS-V V8 Commodore on a bendy back road, but it's not going to disgrace itself either, with steering and handling properties that border on enthusiastic.
Where the hybrid is going to score is in the fuel economy stakes - the outgoing car was not thirsty but the new drivetrain has improved its appetite by more than 13 per cent to 5.2 litres per 100km, with our stint in the car in mainly suburban running returning numbers in the six range.
The improvements in the boot have given near-normal levels of luggage space but the Camry hybrid has been engineered with a towing capacity of only 300kg (braked or unbraked) - the car goes electric-only when reversing, hence the low number.
Toyota says is sufficient to tow a small trailer - given the average 6x4 can weigh 250kg that doesn't leave much for cargo. A normal Camry has a braked towing capacity of 1200kg, or 500kg for an unbraked trailer; even a base-model Yaris three door has a braked towing capacity of 900kg, or 550kg unbraked.
Workhorse issues aside the petrol-electric Camry provides smooth, quiet and frugal family motoring that is good value-for-money, particularly when you consider the Camry's size and the Prius pricetag.
Toyota Camry Hybrid HL
Price: from $41,490
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km (hybrid battery 8 years/160,000km)
Resale: 46 per cent (Source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 15,000km/9 months
Safety rating: five stars
Spare: Full-size alloy
Engine: 2.5-litre 118kW/213Nm petrol four-cylinder, 105kW/270Nm 650v electric motor
Transmission: CVT; FWD
Body: 4.8m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.5m (h)
Thirst: 5.21/100km, on test 6.2; tank 65 litres, 91RON; 121g/km CO2
Ford Mondeo Titanium hatch
Price: from $46,990
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl turbodiesel, 120kW/340Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, front drive
Thirst: 6.2l/100km, diesel, CO2 165g/km
Peugeot 508 2.2 GT sedan
Price: from $52,990
Engine: 2.2-litre, 4-cyl turbodiesel, 150kW/450Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, front drive
Thirst: 5.7l/100km, diesel, CO2 150g/km
Volkswagen Passat 125TDI
Price: from $43,990
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel, 125kW/350Nm
Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch automated manual, front drive
Thirst: 5.7l/100km, diesel, CO2 151g/km