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Toyota Camry Hybrid 2018 review: Ascent Sport

EXPERT RATING
7.8
The all-new Toyota Camry Hybrid model is more than just a great option for taxi drivers, it's good value and fun to drive. Yes, I said "fun to drive" and "Camry" in the same sentence.

There is probably some un-Australian alarm ringing out somewhere (one that I hope sounds like a jar of Vegemite being opened) when I write this, but here goes; the new Toyota Camry is better than any to have gone before it - including the ones we used to build here.

That’s a hard truth, perhaps. But it’s a truth nonetheless. The first Camry range to be fully imported since 1987 looks better, drives better and is more practical than the ones produced in Toyota’s Altona factory in Melbourne (until that facility was closed last year, of course).

A new platform, a growth spurt in all key dimensions and a company-wide focus on making cars that are actually, gasp, fun to drive all conspire to make this new Camry a seriously strong proposition.

But will anyone care? This is still a mid-size sedan, a segment that is fast becoming an endangered species in Australia, and one that - outside fleet sales - few private buyers dip into (this new Camry sold about 750 units in January, beaten by the brand's Kluger, Prado and LandCruiser, walloped by the Corolla and absolutely eaten alive by the HiLux).

But having just spent a week in the Toyota Camry Hybrid Ascent Sport, we think those who shun the mid-size sedan segment might just be missing out.

Toyota Camry 2018: ASCENT SPORT (HYBRID)
Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeHybrid with Regular Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency4.2L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$29,990

Is there anything interesting about its design?  7/10

It looks…. interesting. And this might be the first time that description has ever been used as a compliment. 

You’ll remember the old Camry, I’m sure. The one that mean people said looked like something that should be sold in Harvey Norman and used to keep drinks cold? Well, this one doesn’t.

For one, the grille has been reimagined. There’s still a family resemblance, but it’s now a two-tier design that pinches in the middle before stretching out to each corner of the front-end. The headlights are thin and sharply angled, sweeping back into the bodywork, and a network of raised contours now lines the bonnet. 

Side-on, new body skirting links the simple alloy wheels, while the rear view is all fancy tail-lights, integrated boot spoiler and dual exhaust tips mounted on the lower left. It’s a genuinely nice, genuinely premium-feeling exterior treatment from Toyota.

The rear view is all fancy tail-lights, integrated boot spoiler and dual exhaust tips mounted on the lower left. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) The rear view is all fancy tail-lights, integrated boot spoiler and dual exhaust tips mounted on the lower left. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

There are more changes inside, too, where a new, swirling, modern-feeling dash houses the key screen and controls, and where the cheaper hard plastics are mostly disguised by soft-touch materials to give an impression that's approaching premium.

How practical is the space inside?  8/10

At 4905mm long and 1840mm wide, this new Camry is bigger than the car it replaces, and it sits on a 50mm longer wheelbase. And while that doesn’t sound like much, there is plenty of room in the cabin of this 2018 model.

The front seats aren't cramped, but the space is most noticeable in the back seat, where there’s plenty of legroom on offer behind all but the most NBA-ready of drivers.

  • Up front, there are two cupholders in the central storage area, along with the usual USB and power connections. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) Up front, there are two cupholders in the central storage area, along with the usual USB and power connections. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
  • The space is most noticeable in the back seat, where there’s plenty of legroom on offer. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

The space is most noticeable in the back seat, where there’s plenty of legroom on offer. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

Up front, there are two cupholders in the central storage area, along with the usual USB and power connections. Backseat riders get their own air vents, and they share another two cupholders hidden in a pull-down divider that separates the rear seat.

There's room in every door for bottles, and two ISOFIX attachment points - one in each window seat in the back. 

The hybrid batteries have been moved from the boot to a new position under the rear seat, where they no longer cut into storage space. The result is a 30-litre jump in boot space, to 524 litres with the rear seats in place.

  • There is 524 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) There is 524 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)
  • The hybrid batteries have been moved from the boot to under the rear seat, where they no longer cut into storage space. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) The hybrid batteries have been moved from the boot to under the rear seat, where they no longer cut into storage space. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?  8/10

The Ascent Sport Hybrid is a crisp $31,990, which would also buy you an entry-level Mazda6 or a Hyundai Sonata Active.

In the Toyota, that investment earns you 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and DRLs, auto high-beam lights and keyless entry. Inside, expect cloth seats, standard navigation, dual-zone climate, a better steering wheel and gear shift than in the cheaper models, and a powered driver’s seat.

The Camry Ascent Sport comes with 7-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) The Camry Ascent Sport comes with 7-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

Your technology is handled by a 7.0-inch touchscreen that pairs with a six-speaker stereo. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available, unfortunately, but you do get Bluetooth and the Toyota Link mirroring system, as well as a second, smaller screen in the driver's binnacle.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?  7/10

This is a new set-up for the Camry, with the engine, motor and battery combination a fresh design from Toyota. The 2.5-litre hybrid will produce 131kW at 5700rpm and 221Nm at 5200rpm (up by about 13kW/10Nm), and is paired with a CVT auto. The electric motor can add as much as 88KW, but maximum power from both the electric motor and petrol engine is never available together, and the engine's maximum output is listed at 160kW.

The 2.5-litre hybrid produces 131kW/221Nm, up by about 13kW/10Nm. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton) The 2.5-litre hybrid produces 131kW/221Nm, up by about 13kW/10Nm. (image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

How much fuel does it consume?  9/10

Toyota claims an impressive 4.2L/100km on the combined cycle, with emissions pegged at 96g/km of CO2. The Camry’s 60-litre tank demands 95RON fuel.

What's it like to drive?  8/10

Much has been made of Toyota’s mission to make this the sportiest-ever Camry (though to be fair, the bar was set low enough you’d need a limbo world champion to scoot under it), so let’s jump straight to it. Short answer? It is. 

A new global platform (along with a company-wide push for more exciting cars) has given this Japan-built Camry new-found dynamics - aided by what Toyota says is a 30 per cent increase in torsional rigidity across the range.

And yes, it's even good in the hybrid version. In fact, hit the new 'EV Mode' button, which will see you running exclusively on battery power, and the hybrid-powered Sport is positively zippy, sending plenty of torque to the tyres from the moment you touch the accelerator, and genuinely pouncing away from the kerb when you plant your foot. Travel too fast or too far and the petrol engine will kick in automatically, but it’s a cool new feature, and one we found ourselves using often.

Remember, the mission here is not to make the Camry actually sporty, just sporty... for a Camry. And so while the hybrid model never feels like a performance car, its impressively balanced suspension (supple enough over all but the worst surfaces, but equally feeling connected to the road beneath the tyres) and the sorted chassis combine to give a new-found confidence to the driver. 

It's quiet (and more so in EV Mode) and comfortable, too, and you won't need to squeeze your offspring into the backseat. And so while the world has turned to SUVs of all sizes, we found ourselves more than a little bit enamoured with the perks of this mid-size sedan.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / 100,000 km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?  8/10

The Hybrid Ascent Sport's safety story starts with seven airbags, a reversing camera and the usual suite of braking and traction aids. You'll also find auto emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning (with assist) and cruise control, but it does miss out on blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert at this trim level. 

The Camry range was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when crash tested in 2017.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?  7/10

Toyota offers a three-year/100,000km warranty, and the Camry will require a trip to the service centre every 12 months or 15,000km. Once there, though, Toyota's capped-price servicing program will help keep the costs down, with maintenance limited to $195 per service for the first five years or 75,000km.

Pricing Guides

$33,974
Based on 186 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$23,995
Highest Price
$46,888

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ASCENT 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $23,995 – 29,990 2018 TOYOTA CAMRY 2018 ASCENT Pricing and Specs
ASCENT (HYBRID) 2.5L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $30,990 – 34,990 2018 TOYOTA CAMRY 2018 ASCENT (HYBRID) Pricing and Specs
ASCENT SPORT 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $27,888 – 30,990 2018 TOYOTA CAMRY 2018 ASCENT SPORT Pricing and Specs
ASCENT SPORT (HYBRID) 2.5L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $29,990 – 36,990 2018 TOYOTA CAMRY 2018 ASCENT SPORT (HYBRID) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Design7
Practicality8
Price and features8
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption9
Driving8
Safety8
Ownership7

A Camry that is fun to drive - and a hybrid, no less? You'd better believe it. The changes to this 2018 Camry have made it a genuine contender in its (admittedly shrinking) segment. Whether that translates to sales remains to be seen, but if you are considering a mid-size sedan, the addition of EV Mode to the Hybrid Ascent Sport must surely make it among the best of the Camry bunch. ”

Would you consider a Toyota Camry Hybrid as your next car? Let us know in the comments below.

Andrew Chesterton
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$29,990

Lowest price, based on 14 car listings in the last 6 months

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