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First drive: New Camry pitched at youth

Reach for the sky: Toyota's Camry has climbed out of the pool of automotive mediocrity and is straining for the stars.

The new Camry range represents a $350 million investment by Toyota and is crucial to export success

25 Jul 2002

MONDAY morning next week is Job One for Toyota Australia's new 380N series Camry sedan. The first three white cars down the line will be left-hand drive export models.

Australians will be able to buy the new shape Camry from early September and, if our first pre-production drive is any guide, the new Camry is destined to help relegate Toyota's cardigan-wearing image to another generation.

A new 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine made in Melbourne and a new five-speed manual gearbox head the key mechanical changes, along with reworked suspension and steering, and all-new locally sourced brakes that aim to turn the Camry into a bit of a driver's car.

Aiming to attract younger buyers, Toyota will split the Camry range into standard and sporting derivatives, the latter complete with integrated factory body kit, highline interior, Australian-designed sports seats, a stiffer suspension set-up and 15 or 16-inch alloys.

The 11-model line up will have a manual and automatic transmission for each engine and each body type (standard and sports).

In addition, there will be a high luxury (Azura) version of both sports and standard models and a high luxury sports model with a four-cylinder engine. This is expected to offer leather, sunroof and side airbags, but formal specification announcements are due only in September.

Likewise, Toyota will not confirm the sports models will all be dubbed Camry Sportivo (remember Camry Vienta?).

Sports models feature matt black badging at the rear, a departure for Toyota - up to now all badging had been conspicuously chromed.

No pricing details for the new cars are yet available, but it is expected to come to market at about $27,000 in base form.

Dual airbags are standard on all models, but air conditioning and anti-lock brakes won't be. Side airbags are offered for the first time on some models, but there is no sign of electronic brake force distribution or traction control on any.

GoAuto sampled some pre-production models in Victoria this week and, if representative, they suggest a base level of equipment that may include a CD-equipped radio, power front windows, remote central locking, split fold rear seat with through loading, cupholders and a much larger boot (567 litres).

V6-powered sports models add 16-inch alloys, cruise control, four power windows and anti-lock brakes, along with options such as power sunroof, DVD-based satellite navigation and boot-mounted CD six-stacker.

The sexier exterior styling is aimed at winning younger customers with Toyota hoping to cut four years from the average age of Camry buyers (53). But it is not going to abandon its traditional market.

"We will vigorously maintain our traditional Camry audience," said Toyota Australia senior- vice-president John Conomos.

380N Camry model line-up (unconfirmed)Camry Standard body
2.4 manual, automatic
3.0 V6 manual, automatic
Azura 2.4 automatic
Azura 3.0 automaticCamry Sportivo
2.4 manual, automatic
3.0 V6 manual, automatic
Azura 3.0 automaticNames and model derivatives have not been confirmed by Toyota Australia


BAD news for ordinary cars. You are on your own now.

Toyota's Camry has climbed out of the pool of automotive mediocrity and is straining for the stars.

Much of the improvement - from a driver's perspective - is provided by the new chassis that allows previously unheard of levels of NVH refinement and suspension, and steering response. Even on coarse chip tar the Camry sails serenely.

There's a stable, stiff body with sandwich construction that damps out vibrations and keeps the suspension component geometry aligned, while more accurate and impressively responsive steering keeps the driver informed.

Steering kickback over poor surfaces is all but dialled out (in fact a tiny amount has been specifically dialled in).

The four-cylinder cars ride on 15-inch steel wheels shod with a new generation Dunlop low rolling resistance tyre that provides plenty of grip and low noise.

Enhancing the handling package and the fine ride characteristics is a new 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine that is creamy-smooth and doused with a generous dose of mid-range urge.

Thanks to balance shafts it remains smooth and civilised all through the rev range to the 6200rpm redline, and with the latest intelligent variable valve timing (infinitely variable through a 50-degree range) the engine never feels short of puff.

The engine is a reworked version of that found in the Tarago (and possibly soon in the RAV4), but made in Melbourne.

The new manual gearbox feels slicker than previous Toyota manuals, with positive slotting action and a shorter throw than we recall from before. It is still cable operated.

On the road the 2.4-litre, 112kW engine provides generous acceleration. Maximum torque is 218Nm at 4000rpm but 90 per cent is available from 1500rpm to 5400rpm, so driveability is impressive.

The brakes provide positive stopping power with moderate pedal pressure and incisive action on initial deployment.

Camry is split into two models - standard and sports - and we only sampled the standard fare this week.

Its steering and suspension suggest a high degree of confidence will be enjoyed by its drivers should they throw it at any roads more challenging than a freeway, a significant step forward.

On a poorly made road you may see and tense for pothole impacts but, as with rail crossings, the Camry skips over them.

Where the previous car would rapidly dissolve into messy understeer when shown a decentcorner, the new car tracks true and tucks in even if you lift off mid-corner.

Its unfussy demeanour is illustrated over extremely broken corner surfaces where itrefuses to break loose or be jarred off line, even at 80km/h speeds or above.

It settles quickly after a large bump or dip, suggesting spot-on damping.

On switchback roads the car changes direction with a solidity and stability that belies its badge, refusing to drown its occupants in ungainly body roll. Crumbly Camry no more.

Having sampled the V6 sports chassis with its firmer spring and damper settings, we can only opine that the Sportsversion of the four-cylinder - with its lighter motor and stiff springs, more agile handling and sports seats - will provide a surprisingly satisfying package.


TOYOTA'S new Camry comes in two 3.0-litre V6 guises.

One engine, barely changed from duty in the 660T model on sale since 1997, produces 141kW and 279Nm of torque. It is fitted to the standard body Camry models - the regular fleet and family cars that will no doubt provide daily drivers for typical Camry buyers.

The 145kW/284Nm version is for the sport model (dubbed, we think: Sportivo).

Thissimply bolts on a freer-flowing exhaust system to lower back-pressure.

If you want more go, Toyota will offer an even fatter aftermarket pipe to liberate a few more kilowatts and, the engineers hope, a bit more of a fruity rasp at higher revs.

The 3.0-litre V6 is no bad unit but on our early pre-production car with less than 2000km, the engine's low-down response seemed a little doughy.

The 3.0-litre does not benefit from the torque-boosting variable valve timing trickery of the 2.4 I4, and four-valve engines are not known for low-down grunt.

That said, the V6 still provides plenty of mid-range and upper-end performance, and the car can cover ground extremely rapidly.

It's not a ball of fire in acceleration, but once it is up and running, has plenty of roll-on acceleration.

If you hunt down semi-trailers on flowing country roads, the 3.0-litre will slingshot you past on the wrong side more than quickly enough.

It stays smooth all the way through the rev range and provides a sophisticated hum. Even when working very hard it is the epitome of understated mechanical murmuring.

The best part of the V6 Sports mix is of course the stiffer springs and dampers, and the strut brace in the engine bay - all working to provide a more responsive, predictable, calm and controlled set-up.

The front-end never feels nervous or darty and the lack of understeer, even when making last-minute cornering decisions, does not have the front-end slithering away in plough-on style.

Part of the praise is reserved for the Michelin Vivacy tyres (205/60-16) that provide good noise inhibition and neat grip.

Braking in the V6 is also impressive with positive brake pedal feel and good deceleration, especially from three-figure speeds.

The initial bite is not as dramatic as in the four-cylinder model, but this may be due to the heavier nose taking more effort to reign in, but in both cases the car pulls up straight without a trace of tail shimmy.

The Sports models also benefit from the newly designed sports seats that took two years to perfect.

They offer great location and good lateral support around the legs and torso, without feeling like you are locked in a bear hug.

The side bolsters are not so rigid, hurting to slip over when entering or existing the front seat and being trimmed in subtly sporty velour cloth, perforated in sections, that looks as good as it feels to sit in.

The redesigned interior is far more contemporary than the previous model, although there is no centre stack console, just a Honda Accord-style bulge in the middle of the dash to house the new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls, as well as the radio.

In the rear, the extra legroom provides cavernous accommodation, comfortable rear seats, good headroom and shoulder room, and a fold-down armrest with integrated cupholders.

The huge boot is bound to be appreciated by reps and families, though the flyweight deck lid itself has no internal grab handle, so after a grimy run or in the rain, your hand is going to end up grubby.

In V6 Sports mode the Camry impresses with its dynamic refinement, quiet ride, inspiring handling (considering its predecessor) and its overall feeling of solidity.

All we need now is pricing and specification levels to be confirmed, but on initial impressions Toyota's rivals may well be looking rather worried come September.

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