Car reviews - Toyota - Camry - Ascent Hybrid
Hugely improved interior layout, smart and efficient hybrid powertrain, reduced regenerative braking whine, comfortable day-to-day ride
Room for improvement
Average driving dynamics and handling, firm brakes, no sat-nav
Toyota improves Camry sedan with new-gen Japanese-built Ascent Hybrid
4 Mar 2019
WHEN the Australian production line for the Toyota Camry came to a halt in October 2017, it was a sad moment for the local auto industry.
After 54 years of production and 3.4 million vehicles manufactured, the company closed its plant in the Melbourne suburb of Altona, which had produced over two million Australian examples of the Camry mid-size sedan since 1987.
For the eighth-generation model launched in November 2017, Toyota begun sourcing its Camry from Japan, with it featuring more aggressive styling, added spec and an updated line-up of powertrains.
While the patriot in us is sad the Camry is no longer built here, the new Japanese version is a big step up over its predecessor, adding some much-needed polish to Australia’s favourite mid-sizer.
Price and equipment
The Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid is priced at $30,390 plus on-roads, making it the most affordable hybrid and third-cheapest overall variant.
Competition comes from the likes of the Subaru Liberty 2.5i ($30,240), Mazda6 Sport ($32,490), Ford Mondeo Ambiente ($33,190) Hyundai Sonata Active ($30,990) and the Kia Optima Si ($33,390).
The Camry immediately gets the jump on its entry-level rivals for price, undercutting all despite not being the range-opening version itself.
Standard equipment on the Ascent Hybrid includes a new-generation 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Toyota Link, a 4.2-inch multi-function display, a six-speaker audio system, steering wheel-mounted controls, auto-levelling LED headlights, LED tail-lights and daytime running lights, fabric upholstery, 17-inch alloy wheels, a full-size spare, manually adjustable front seats with power driver lumbar support, manual air-conditioning, driving modes and power windows.
It also gains safety kit including seven airbags, hill-start assist, a sway warning system, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning with steering assist, active cruise control, auto high beam and a reversing camera.
The specification on the Ascent Hybrid is about what you would expect for a vehicle of its segment and price point, with features like power-adjustable seats, leather upholstery and climate control saved for higher grades.
We would have liked to see sat-nav included as standard, but the inclusion of the Toyota Link smartphone-pairing system means it is not a huge loss.
While the new-generation Camry has undergone a significant overhaul in a number of ways, arguably the most significant is the new interior – which takes a huge step forward over the old Aussie-built version.
The dashboard has seen a large facelift, adopting some of the aggressive and angular lines of the exterior styling, without being too over-the-top or gaudy.
For a base-spec version, the Ascent Hybrid’s cabin offers a good mix of stitched faux leather, soft-touch plastics, and gloss-black and silver trim elements, making it feel more premium than an entry-level offering.
The Camry gets the latest version of Toyota’s multimedia interface projected onto a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is a massive step up over the old version in terms of functionality, clarity and layout. The new system is still not the best in the business, but it is no longer one of the poorest systems out there, as the old version was.
We would have liked the Ascent Hybrid to come with sat-nav to see how much the map graphics and layout have improved, but the inclusion of Toyota Link means users can still have access to sat-nav through their smartphone.
The air-conditioning unit is well-integrated into the dashboard and fairly easy to use. The centre console looks far classier than the old version, with a shorter shift lever covered in a leather sleeve that hides the shift gate that was exposed in the old model.
Two cupholders, the drive mode selector, a rubber storage tray, generous storage and USB, auxiliary and 12V ports complete the centre console. Additionally, it sits quite high, giving the driver a snug, tucked-in feel with a comfortable armrest.
In place of a tachometer, the instrument cluster features a dial measuring the battery and internal-combustion engine output and regenerative braking effect, which is a nifty feature.
The steering wheel feels a bit cheap, as expected on a base model, but features all the required buttons for practical operation.
Adequate comfort is provided by the manually adjustable cloth seats, but they could feel more ergonomic due to their flat bottom and back.
Rear legroom is generous even with tall front-row occupants, while two A/C vents add to passenger comfort.
Boot space is also generous, but the fit-out is a bit tinny with cheap carpet that can be easily lifted to reveal the bare metal underneath.
Of the many changes to the new Camry, the interior is arguably the most impactful and a huge improvement over the outgoing model, placing it at the front of the segment in terms of cabin layout and finish.
Engine and transmission
Powering the Ascent Hybrid is a 131kW/221Nm 2.5-litre aspirated petrol engine mated to an 88kW/202Nm electric motor, for a combined output of 160kW. A continuously-variable transmission (CVT) channels the power exclusively to the front wheels.
Toyota’s hybrid powertrain is a nifty unit, offering a good blend of economy, quietness and straight-line performance.
The internal-combustion engine and electric motor work well in tandem, with the motor doing most of the low-speed work and the engine taking over at higher speeds.
Straight-line performance is better than expected for a Camry hybrid – the car can really get up and move when full throttle is applied. Sport mode also helped surprise us with how sprightly the Camry can be when required.
As expected, one of the drawcards for the hybrid powertrain is its fuel efficiency, as we recorded a fuel economy figure of 5.4 litres per 100km over a week of mainly suburban driving.
With the drive switching between electric and petrol power, the CVT is barely noticed, but it does help keep engine noise down, adding to the powertrain’s quietness.
One big improvement over the outgoing Camry hybrid is the significant reduction of regenerative braking noise, which is far less intrusive and annoying.
A negative aspect of the powertrain is there is a fair amount of vibration felt through the accelerator, which feels jarring and gives the car a slightly tinny feel.
Overall, we are very pleased with the Ascent Hybrid’s powertrain. It offers sprightly performance, good fuel economy and unobtrusive noise levels. Put simply, it just makes sense.
Ride and handling
Handling, however, is less than spectacular. The front-wheel-drive set-up struggles for grip in corners when throttle is applied.
Hard cornering results in understeer and tyre squeal, with the Ascent Hybrid struggling dynamically to handle the fairly pedestrian amounts of power on offer. The soft suspension and long overhangs do not help either.
We understand that this is not what the Camry is made for, but slightly better dynamics would not hurt.
Braking feel is also too firm and sever, and makes coming to a smooth, even stop difficult.
Toyota knows what type of customer will buy a Camry hybrid and has tuned it to suit. A dynamic masterpiece it is not, but it will ferry you around in quiet comfort.
Safety and servicing
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Model release date: 1 November 2017
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