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Toyota Camry 2019 review: Ascent Hybrid

It's no joke: The new Toyota Camry is something we weren't expecting; seriously enjoyable to drive.

Daily driver score

3.7/5

Urban score

3.7/5

I've got a line of Camry jokes that stretches to Mars and back, and I'm not alone. Heck, even Akio Toyoda sledged his own company's products when he famously delcared it would produce "no more boring cars". To be fair, the company is still struggling with that promise.

The new version has, sadly, knocked some of the stuffing out of my established Camry repartee. Until today, I had not yet had a go in the new car,  and thus it was something of a shock to realise that it doesn't even look terrible any more.

My cruel colleagues, however, muttered darkly that this was still a Camry, just not as we've always known it. 

Hmmm. I'm getting too old to deal with change. This Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid had better be boring.

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

The hybrid drivetrain is available on the Ascent, Ascent Sport and SL. I had the $31,990 Ascent Sport for the week.

It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo (with CD player!), dual-zone climate control, cloth trim, with space-saver spare wheel, electric driver's seat, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, reversing camera, active cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, an impressive safety package, power mirrors and windows. Did I mention the CD player?

Filling the wheel acres are 17-inch alloy wheels. Filling the wheel acres are 17-inch alloy wheels.

The six-speaker stereo is powered from the 8.0-inch touchscreen and the software is...um...not great. Which wouldn't matter if it had Android Auto and/or Apple CarPlay but Toyota Australia stubbornly refuses to include them. The damn Seppos get it in their Toyotas, so it's not like it's impossible. But our version does have a CD player. Hipsters rejoice!

There's an 8.0-inch touchscreen that misses out on Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. There's an 8.0-inch touchscreen that misses out on Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Some key changes to the design approach on the new Camry means it's not as knock-kneed and simpering as the last, um, six or so generations.

To be fair, the previous one wasn't terrible but there are actual hints of mild bravery, with an angry front-end look, some interesting surface detailing and, even what might be called a "Lexus-lite" look for the rest of it.

The new Camry is lower, has big wheel arches that the 17s struggle to fill but it has some genuine style, rather than looking like the clay modellers knocked off before lunch. The dual exhaust seemed incongruous to me, but is, in fact, a styling win.

The new Camry is lower and has some genuine style. The new Camry is lower and has some genuine style.

Jokes aside, I don't mind it at all. It's no Supra, but it's no mid-90s Camry, either. Yeah, I bet you don't remember which one I'm talking about, either.

I really like the cabin. The dash design is quite something and shows some real flair. William Chergowsky told me last year that this interior was going to be more emotional and memorable. And it really is, along with Toyota's impressive build quality. Even the volume knob feels substantial, the materials are nice but the steering wheel is... well, more of that later.

How practical is the space inside?

The new, stretched wheelbase has meant a lot more interior space for passengers, particularly in the rear. The Camry hasn't really been small for a very long time, but this one's generous rear legroom is probably why it's a smash-hit with the Uber crowd. The seats are comfortable too, if trimmed in what appears to be neoprene.

  • The Camry is fitted with comfortable seats. The Camry is fitted with comfortable seats.
  • The stretched wheelbase means more interior space for passengers, particularly in the rear. The stretched wheelbase means more interior space for passengers, particularly in the rear.

Front and rear passengers each have a pair of cupholders for a total of four, plus there's a deep central console bin and a space under the stereo for a phone. There's even a coin slot. Each door also has a bottle holder.

The boot in the Ascent Sport is a voluminous 524 litres - the Ascent has a full-size spare that swallows up 30 litres of that space. The seats fold down 60/40, but the cargo volume when they are down is not readily available.

  • Boot space is rated at 524 litres. Boot space is rated at 524 litres.
  • The 60/40 splitting rear seats can increase the boot space. The 60/40 splitting rear seats can increase the boot space.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

While the standard Camry packs the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder, the Hybrid's ICE output is slightly lower, at 131kW. When paired with a hybrid motor, the total power figure is a pretty decent 160kW, but the torque figure appears to be unaffected, at 202Nm. Toyota doesn't quote combined torque figures, because it's tricky with the type of transmission it uses.

With the help of a hybrid system, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder makes 160kW. With the help of a hybrid system, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder makes 160kW.

The front wheels are driven by Toyota's favoured e-CVT, with six artifical steps to make it feel like a proper auto, if you're feeling racy.

How much fuel does it consume?

The Hybrid's windscreen sticker makes the bold claim of 4.2L/100km on the combined cycle, which is amazing for a big sedan. Reality isn't quite so amazing. In our week with the car, 5.7L/100km was the best I could get, but it was mostly city driving, the weather was really humid and, it turns out, this isn't a bad thing to drive, which means you're tempted to hit the throttle regularly.

As it's a typical Toyota hybrid, there isn't a plug to charge it, so you'll not be running on batteries the way you can in, say, a Hyundai Ioniq PHEV.

What's it like to drive?

All the Camry markers are here. It's easy to get in and out of and easy to get comfortable. The dash isn't too high and, uh, the steering wheel is plastic, which is genuinely disappointing. A Mazda6 (no, not a hybrid, I know) doesn't have a plastic steering wheel. The Toyota one is pretty cheap-feeling.

Pressing the start-stop button, you hear the electrics switching on and, if you're backing out of the drive, you won't hear the engine until you're on the gas driving away. You may not hear anything, but your passengers might hear your tutting. The brakes are very grabby when you're in stealth, I mean, electric mode, whether you're going forward or backwards. No doubt it's something you will become accustomed to, but it's there. Toyota hybrids seem to be behind the game on this particular score.

In every other way, the Camry is exactly as it has always been. Except it isn't. Toyota kept all the good things - it's smooth, it's quiet and it rides well. Everyone is comfortable and everything works. I've already mentioned it was stinking hot the week we had it and the Camry's air-conditioning was super-fast cold.

The bit that's different, though, is that, just like the styling, things are better. Camrys past had over-light steering, marshmallows for suspension and as much grip on the road as Kanye West has on reality. This one has body control. The steering feels good. There is actual grip and you feel like you're driving the car rather than just steering it around.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

It's a pity families don't buy sedans any more, because this is a terrific family car, particularly if you're not bothered by badge cache or speed, but do like an easy-to-drive, cheap-to-run car. Just a few years ago it would have been almost laughable to contemplate a car this big, for this money, being so cheap to own and run.

I'm also really annoyed that my hackneyed Camry jokes are no longer just not funny, they're not funny because they're not (as) true. No, it's not a super-fun excitement machine, but that's not the point. It is a very good car, with all the Toyota goodness of old, added warranty and the bonus of genuinely feeling good to drive. And you're a mild shade of enviro-green to go with it.

Is it true? Has the Camry shaken off most of its dowdy image?

$30,090

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.7/5

Urban score

3.7/5
Price Guide

$30,090

Based on new car retail price