Review and road test of the Toyota Camry (2019 - 2021)
THE CAM CAN
By Jonathan Crouch
By 2019, the UK had missed a couple of generations of Toyota's Camry model line, but the brand felt it needed reviving, hence the return of this contender to our market in that year. In eighth generation form this was, as before, a big, comfortable saloon, but this time it championed self-charging full-Hybrid technology. This 'XV70'-series model only sold until 2021, so it'll be rare. But does it makes sense as a used buy?
4dr Saloon (2.5 petrol])
Unless you're American or a student of automotive branding, it's quite likely that you've never heard of a Toyota Camry. Yet it's one of the world's best selling model lines and this, the eighth generation version, was introduced back into our market for a short period between 2019 and 2021.
Over 19 million Camrys have been sold globally since the first generation version of this car arrived way back in 1982, most of them in the US where over 400,000 Camrys are sold each year. Today, this car is sold in more than 100 countries around the world and with such a global product, you'd expect a wide variance of packaging. Sure enough, over the years, there've been narrow and wide body models, saloons and estates, badge-engineered variants like the Daihatsu Altis and the Holden Apollo for certain countries and different branding for the Japanese market, where this car has also been marketed with 'Gracia' and 'Vista' badging.
Europe though, never had much of a taste for this model line and the car was discontinued in the UK back in 2004 primarily because of Toyota's inability at that time to offer a diesel option. So it was a touch ironic that the demise of diesel led to its return in 2019 as a 'self charging' petrol/electric full-Hybrid that shared most of its engineering with the more image-conscious Lexus ES.
That Lexus rolled down the same US Kentucky production line as this 'XV70'-series eighth generation Camry, though the ES is a rather different kind of car, designed for the premium full-sized Executive segment, where it competes against models like the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes E-Class and the Audi A6. In contrast, this Camry, though similarly-sized, was price-pitched at the more mainstream medium range market, dominated by volume brands with cars like Mondeos, Passats and Insignias. People buying these sorts of cars often want to switch away from diesel and get something more in keeping with the current eco zeitgeist. If you're of that mindset and have taken a look around that medium sector at models from the 2019-2021 period, you might find yourself less than enamoured with a Mondeo Hybrid and reckon that something like a plug-in Passat is too pricey. In which case, a Camry might suit you perfectly.
What You Get
Come on - be honest; you expected this Camry to look rather bland. Plenty of this eighth generation model's predecessors certainly did. We'll be frank - so did we. Instead, what we're served up here is reasonably distinctive. It won't have the neighbours peering over the hedge to see what you've bought, but there's certainly an appealingly low-set look, aided by short overhangs and a wide, purposeful stance. Suffice it to say that if this car was Lexus-badged, you wouldn't do a double-take.
This 'XV70'-series eighth generation Camry is a fraction larger than the Mondeo segment norm - compared to that Ford, it's actually 14mm longer, with 12mm more width. Of course, as usual. what's more important is the stuff you can't see, primarily the stiff, lightweight GA-K platform introduced with this eighth generation model, which was 30% more rigid than anything Toyota had previously used on this size of car.
There's nothing very memorable about the cabin design on offer here, but you certainly get plenty of space to spread out. Leather upholstery is a given, as are heated and power-adjustable seats (this was a car designed for the American market after all), plus the chairs themselves are probably the most supportive of any we've tried in this segment for a car of this period - and brilliant for longer journeys. All-round visibility is excellent and there's also little to fault about the driving position, thanks to vast amounts of seat and steering wheel adjustment. Not so good is the infotainment provision. The 7-inch centre-dash screen is rather small and its graphics rather dated, though the selectable hybrid system 'Energy Monitor' is informative and a reversing camera is standard-fit. Some of the cabin trimming is rather dull, though that doesn't apply to the bizarre bronze-hued 'Tiger Eye' inlays that feature on the top 'Excel' model. Perhaps that's an American thing.. Storage provision is pretty good, with a big stowage area between the seats and a spacious glovebox.
And the rear seat? Well inside, it's as roomy and spacious as those exterior dimensions suggest this car would be. The fact that the exterior part of the roof curves downwards towards the rear of the car makes a slight difference to headroom, but you'll only really notice that if you're a six-footer. Even if you are, you'll have no complaints about legroom.
Because of the design of the rear suspension and the way that the hybrid system's battery has been placed out of the way beneath the rear seat, luggage space - there's 524-litres of it - doesn't seem to have been compromised in any significant way by this car's electrified remit. Quite simply, Toyota is better than its rivals in packaging a hybrid drivetrain so that it doesn't impinge on boot space. And you get catches at the top of the cargo area aperture that can be tugged upon to retract the 60:40-split rear seatback, should you find yourself unable to resist the allure of flat-pack furniture.
What to Look For
We really struggled to find any owner with much bad to say about this MK8 Camry. You'll need to check for the usual things of course; infotainment system glitches, alloy wheel scrapes, kids damage in the rear and scrapes over the loading lip. And, given that there's a Hybrid engine beneath the bonnet, it'll be best to insist upon a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2019 Camry 2.5 - Ex Vat) Expect to pay around £4-£8 for an oil filter, around £13 for a pollen filter and around £8-£18 for a wiper blade. Front brake pads covary in price between £46-£61 for a set; rears are in the £48-£88 bracket. For front brake discs, think around £206 for a pair; rears in in the £158-£170 bracket.
On the Road
As has always been the case, a potential Camry buyer will have almost no interest in handling dynamics, except to the extent of influence on ride and refinement. Both those things remain strongpoints with this eight generation model, though of course when it came to noise suppression, the petrol/electric 'Dynamic Force' powerplant up-front gave Toyota something of a head start. It's a 2.5-litre unit paired to an electric motor on the front axle that boosts total output up to 215bhp. And as usual with the Japanese brand's hybrids, it's paired with a belt-driven CVT auto gearbox that doesn't like to be hurried and sends the revs soaring without much accompaniment in terms of rapid forward motion if you stamp too heavily on the throttle. Drive more carefully within the Camry's comfort zone and you're rewarded with exemplary refinement - and impressive efficiency; up to 53.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle, with the potential for an NEDC-rated CO2 emissions figure of just 98g/km.
Like all Toyota and Lexus hybrids, this Camry can be driven in three ways. The first of these, from start-off, sees forward motion by the electric motor only (even if you don't select the provided 'EV' mode). The other two motive formats see this car either using just its engine (if you're giving it full throttle); or, more usually, delivering the normal hybrid combination of petrol power and electrified motion, which of course is primarily how the powertrain is designed to operate. During deceleration and under braking, the engine switches off and both electric motors act as high-output generators, recovering kinetic energy that automatically recharges the batteries for the next time the hybrid system is able to switch back to electric-only mode. Hence the way that so much of urban motoring in this Camry - Toyota reckons up to 50% - can be conducted without use of fossil fuel.
The Camry's charms aren't difficult to identify and primarily centre around its Hybrid engine. You might wish it was one of those electrified models of a plug-in persuasion, but then it would obviously be far pricier. Aside from that, the Camry falls back on the same attributes that sold its Eighties and Nineties predecessors. Namely the fact that it offers more space for rear seat passengers and luggage than the Mondeo segment norm - amongst saloons anyway. And it's better equipped for the money.
Overall, we think that for the right kind of buyer, a person disillusioned with diesel and bemused by the rather pointless hordes of mid-sized SUVs currently infesting the market, this Camry could well have a distinct appeal. This person will want a comfortable, reliable, undemanding conveyance offering plenty of value and hybrid efficiency without plug-in hassle. And they'll be delighted with the refinement and spacious rear seat and boot space that this car can offer. If these advantages pique your interest, go right ahead and try this Toyota; hybrid tax breaks will certainly reward you for doing so. Other rivals are more dynamic in many ways. But you might well feel that a Camry just makes more sense. Camry owners always have.
Toyota Camry (2019 - 2021) review by Jonathan Crouch