Toyota Camry HV Premium hybrid (2018) review

Toyota Camry HV Premium hybrid (2018) review

The latest Camry does many things better than its predecessor to virtually make it the default choice in its class.

When it comes to 1.5 million baht mid-size (D/E segment) saloons, the battlefield is limited to just a few players from Japan.

The top two models are no other than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, while the Nissan Teana has been trying in vain for years to match its rival compatriots.

Apart from the need to localise production, competition is tough in this particular sector since much focus has shifted to compact and pickup-based SUVs.

And to make things worse for Nissan, the Teana isn’t being sold with a hybrid to challenge the semi-electric Accord and Camry. 

Actually, such technology is helping define this class even though pure petrol versions are still sold by all three makers.

To top things off, hybrids emitting less than 100g/km of CO2 aid Thai-made cars with just 4% (8% for imported counterparts) of excise tax.

Despite a sparse competition, Toyota hasn’t been nonchalant when redesigning the latest Camry in hybrid (HV) form.

It can’t, because the all-new Accord is due early next year on Thai forecourts.

While the Accord has already moved on with lithium-ion batteries ever since today’s generation, the new Camry still sticks with the nickel metal-hydride type.

However, along with the electric system and 2.5-litre petrol engine, the battery pack has been improved and is new to allow for a potential 25kpl rating.

The combined output in the Camry has also risen marginally to 211hp, which is 7hp less than in the technically identical Lexus ES300h we reviewed last month.

If you aren’t a tech geek insisting with new stuff, the Camry HV still does a remarkable job in the real world. Fuel economy ratings of nearly 20kpl is possible in the urban jungle, where short bursts of electric-only oomph is available for zero-emission commuting in places needing as much clean air as possible.

Although the Camry HV feels just as powerful as before, there’s a better sense of responsiveness at all kinds of speeds. You’d hardly bother with the new manual mode of the electronic CVT automatic transmission.

Like in the ES300h, the Camry HV easily hits its limited top speed and can hardly be described as lacking in power.

The usual downside is the gruff operation of the four-cylinder petrol engine when it comes to life.

Likewise, the Toyota shares the latest TNGA platform with the Lexus but with a shorter wheelbase.

OK, the ES mocks its luxury rivals with sumptuous levels of rear legroom, but the Camry still has more than enough of it to stay competitive in-class.

And if you’re aren’t short on money, the Premium spec of the Camry HV nets you reclining rear backrests (done neatly with a digital panel placed in the centre armrest) and front seats with air-con ventilation.

Speaking of the specs, there’s lots of features here enough to make a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class look bare in comparison.

Apart from 10 airbags, Premium also features a wide array of driving aids, one of the most used being head-up display.

The top-grade Camry HV is still a 1.8 million baht car – around 500k less than the basic Bimmer and Merc.

Due to the lower excise tax, Toyota has managed to stuff more features into the Camry HV while also being around 60k cheaper than before.

Accompanying a kit-laden cabin are comfortable seats in both the front and back and a new fascia that looks good, uses nice materials and is easy to use. It almost feels as premium as in the ES.

Despite using the same basic platform, the road manners in the Camry isn’t exactly the same as in the ES relative. 

Yes, the Camry has a more direct steering and tauter chassis than before to come in line with the ES, but it has a less quiet cabin at speed and less absorbent ride, as well, than in the Lexie.

But if you compare the Camry with its intended rivals, the handling and ride balance is quite commendable because a dash of driving fun has complemented the adequate levels of ride comfort. Cars of this genre usually focused just on cajoling occupants.

But if there’s one thing that’s still open to debate in the Camry, it’s the design.

While it looks pleasingly nice inside, it’s hard to believe that the exterior was penned by a brand owning that C-HR.

Of course, potential customers of the Camry wouldn’t cry out for a flashy look.

But it simply lacks that feeling of “grandness” that many Thais like to associate with in the Accord (or Teana).

Perhaps, the lines in the Camry aren’t pronounced enough and has evolved too gently (looking like a Saab from some angles).

On the other hand, though, you could say that the Camry is a marvel in packaging terms because it doesn’t look excessive on the outside but offers plenty of usable space inside.

Even so, the Camry HV is now the all-rounder to beat. It’s got good performance and economy for the real world and a more resolved chassis to make driving not only relaxing but fun as well. Combine that with a nice price/specification balance.

It isn’t difficult to fathom the Camry HV as a default choice in its segment. Plus, current owners of those aforementioned luxury saloons can now easily start considering downsizing their status for something that offers nearly as much substance.

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