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Toyota Camry Hybrid 2014 review

EXPERT RATING
6
Now that Holden has announced the shutdown of its factories by 2017, this is Australia’s remaining manufacturing hope.

Now that Holden has announced the shutdown of its factories by 2017, this is Australia’s remaining manufacturing hope. It’s the Toyota Camry, the top-selling medium-size car for the past 20 years, made in Altona on the outskirts of Melbourne by about 2500 factory workers.

The same workers who last week won a Federal Court battle to abstain from voting on key changes to wages and conditions that Toyota says are vital to securing future investment from Japan. Despite their best efforts, Camry sales are down 10 per cent so far this year despite the arrival of a new model last year. It should still be enjoying its new-car glow.

Last month, sales dropped by 25 per cent, which is why you’re seeing the base model four-cylinder Camry in the newspaper for $26,990 drive-away, about $6000 off the full RRP. We’ve tested the Camry Hybrid that’s become a favourite among taxi fleets.

VALUE

At $26,990 drive-away the regular Camry is a steal. Toyota is losing several thousands of dollars on each one it delivers. Don’t worry, it’s making up for the loss on high-gross imports such as the Toyota HiLux ute (although its price too has come under the knife this month). We requested a base model hybrid because that’s our favourite in the line-up. At $34,990 it’s the best value and the nicest to drive.

Unfortunately it wasn’t available so we got to sample the Camry Hybrid with the works, at $41,490. However, it is difficult to justify the significant price premium -- despite the extra equipment such as leather seats, a sunroof, navigation, digital radio and blind spot alert, among other trinkets. As hard as this may seem to believe, the high grade Camry Hybrid also didn’t drive as nicely as the basic model (see “driving”).

TECHNOLOGY

Toyota has the world’s most successful and advanced hybrid system, but you’d expect as much with 15 years’ experience and more than 5 million examples on the world’s roads. In the case of the Camry, that includes a 105kW electric motor that gives it a generous amount of oomph.

To recap, the Camry Hybrid still has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet, but the electric motor gives it a boost to move from rest, which is when cars typically use most energy. The on-board battery pack (mounted behind the seats, which unfortunately blocks boot access) recharges when the car is braking or coasting. You can get 6L/100km or better when driving normally rather than for economy; that’s less that a city hatchback.

DESIGN

When it went on sale last year, this generation Camry was criticised for looking too much like the old one. In fact, every panel is new and the design, in the metal at least, is fresher and crisper than most people give it credit for. Had it worn a Honda badge, it probably would’ve got away with its sharp lines. But because Toyota is a chronic over-reactor, a big facelift is coming for the model that will be in showrooms between 2015 and 2018.

Taxpayers contributed $30 million to the updated model because if Toyota Australia kept building this one, apparently its biggest customer, the Middle East (which takes 70 per cent of Altona’s production, despite a loss of $2500 per car), would’ve sourced the updated model from one of the other eight factories that make the Camry.

SAFETY

Seven airbags, a five-star safety rating and a clear rear view camera with excellent brightness at night (I know, we’re getting picky now. It’s no longer good enough to just have a rear-view camera, it needs to be a good one).

Only one blot: the high grade Camry Hybrid drives worse than the base model. And, as I would discover by chance, the high grade Camry Hybrid does not drive as well as the current six-year-old Toyota Corolla sedan that I rented last weekend.

DRIVING

All cars are a compromise between billion-dollar development budgets, and the prices people are prepared to pay. Global cars like the Camry have to appeal to a broad range of buyers and withstand all manner of conditions, from searing heat, to freezing cold to the bump and grind of city life, or a remote dirt road.

For that reason, companies generally come up with one suspension setting that they hope can appeal to all types of wheel and tyre combinations. But Toyota didn’t get it quite right on the Camry: the base model is a stand-out and the high grade version is well below par.

The engineers who finessed the way the Camry drives did a superb job on the base model, which is fitted with rather unassuming 16-inch wheels and tall-profile Michelin tyres. This is the arrangement the car was tuned for and it drives beautifully.

Which is why, when you sample the same car on fancy-looking 17-inch wheels and low-profile Bridgestone tyres, it feels dramatically different. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s wayward and awful. Without a shred of exaggeration, a 30,000km Toyota Corolla sedan I rented last weekend drove better than the most expensive Camry Hybrid money can buy. Please, don’t take this the wrong way. I love the Camry Hybrid -- but not the one with the works.

VERDICT

If you must have a Toyota Camry Hybrid with bells and whistles, forget keeping up appearances and get the dealer to swap the wheels and tyres with a base model. The person who ends up getting the good-looking wheels will think they’re getting a good deal, but you’ll get the last laugh.

Pricing guides

$15,990
Based on 179 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$9,990
Highest Price
$22,830

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Altise 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $8,000 – 12,430 2014 Toyota Camry 2014 Altise Pricing and Specs
Atara R 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $7,900 – 12,210 2014 Toyota Camry 2014 Atara R Pricing and Specs
Atara S 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $8,300 – 12,870 2014 Toyota Camry 2014 Atara S Pricing and Specs
Atara SL 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $10,500 – 15,400 2014 Toyota Camry 2014 Atara SL Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6
Pricing Guide

$9,990

Lowest price, based on 178 car listings in the last 6 months

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