Perception is a powerful thing when buying a car and it begins almost as soon as you look at a car and in this case, we're looking at the 2020 Toyota Camry 2.5V.
As if to say, the way a car’s coat of paint beams of its sheet metal, or the way its headlights come to life to illuminate the road ahead, or its overall stature somehow fulfils some preconceptions of quality and style, even before we even get to nuts and bolts of the thing.
Case in point is if you lined up a BMW 3 Series next to a Perodua Bezza – literally, anyone would be able to tell which car costs more and does more.
Then perhaps, what our sensory systems perceive is detail, effort, and thought. Perhaps just like carpentry or blacksmithing – the finished product typically looks and works better, because of the additional artisan's skill and finishing process that it took to create it.
There used to be a time when one would look at a Toyota Camry and a BMW 3 Series and quite easily tell which costs more. However, with more and more SUV models populating the marketplace, sedans are being shoehorned into ever-shrinking segments and size brackets; the only way for our beloved Japanese D-Segment flag-bearers to survive is to squeeze into the premium executive sedan market – where, for now at least, money still flows.
This of course means, battling with the likes of the entry-level variants of the 3 Series and Volkswagen Passat as well as its contemporaries, the Honda Accord and Mazda 6.
Previously, the lower selling prices of the Accord and Camry presented a case for them to not offer just as much equipment as their German rivals, but with prices nudging the RM200k mark, comparisons are inevitable, and the segment lines blurred – now, the Camry just has to perform on a whole new level.
Nevertheless, as we recently experienced there is much to like of the XV70 Toyota Camry.
Launched at the tail end of 2018 – the 2020 Toyota Camry is only available in one variant, the 2.5V which is fully-imported from Thailand – which is a crucial contributor of its higher price tag, given its approximately RM12k more than its predecessor, the (XV50) Camry. The previous generation, which following the facelift - was made available with a powerful 2.5-litre Hybrid variant.
The decision to retire the longstanding 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre Hybrid variant lies with the decision to fully import the XV70 Camry. In the case of the 2.0-litre, it would have become too expensive to be competitive in the market, whilst an imported 2.5-litre Hybrid, on the other hand, would not have qualified for EEV vehicle assemblies, thereby skyrocketing its prices.
Hence, the best fit was the (2AR-FE) naturally aspirated 2.5-litre Dual VVT-i engine that produces 184 PS at 6,000 rpm and 235 Nm at 4,100 rpm. Drive is transmitted to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Now some might have considered this a step back in powertrain technology, at odds with the Camry’s quasi-premium push, however, the XV70 does bring with it two crucial technologies:
The aforementioned qualitative appreciation for the design of the Camry is well and truly placed. Two years on, especially with the introduction of the Mazda 6 and new Honda Accord, the Camry remains my personal favourite.
Toyota has managed to outline a silhouette that is both traditional sedan and new-age fastback; bodylines are sleek and purposeful, and the overall stance is spot on.
The head and taillight do well to offer that perceived premium look with their understated style and snazzy LED graphics. Some people may think the central grey trim lower down in the bumper is divisive, even too loud, but I beg to differ, it’s one of those details that need to be seen in the flesh as It adds detail and offers some contrast to the otherwise smooth bodywork.
The interior is as you’d expect from a Camry – large, cosseting, and superbly comfortable. It’s good to know that the familiar and much-loved traits of the Camry have not been cast aside in its ambitions of chasing newer rivals, actually enhanced with the car’s TNGA underpinnings (which we’ll get into).
As far as the design and overall execution – it’s a big step up from the previous XV50, with sharp lines and more complex surfaces on the dashboard and centre console. The many buttons on the centre console give the interior a very driver focussed feel. However, if I were honest, the interior of the 2020 Mazda 6 tops the Camry in overall execution given its simplistic style and sublime tactility in its controls. In terms of usable cubby space, the Camry again excels though.
It’s hardly possible to nitpick at the Camry while seated at the back. The rear offers vast amounts of head, shoulder, and legroom for passengers, and while I might have appreciated a bit more lateral support on the outer edge of the rear seats, the seats themselves are softly padded making long journeys a fuss-free affair.
I will note though that the option to control the rear sunshade is accessed through the sub-menus of the car’s control functions – which one would think, with as many buttons as Toyota has placed on the centre console, they might have added one more for this. And the Camry has a ‘warning bell’ for pretty much everything – and they're loud to the point of annoyance. For example, once I had to unlock my seatbelt, open the driver’s door and peer back to check on available space in the parking spot, (with the gear in ‘Reverse’) – that in short created a cacophony of sounds.
Once buckled in and on the road though, the 2020 Toyota Camry settles into a nice little rhythm. Here again, the trademark quietness and serene ride quality of the Camry is firmly in place.
Where the TNGA platform’s architecture has superbly enhanced the Camry's driving performance is a sense of solidness in the car’s overall construction and chassis. One gets a sense that with the TNGA’s lower centre of gravity, the Camry has a somewhat European feel of surefootedness.
The suspension is unfazed by smaller bumps and ruts in the road, giving it comfort and compliance, but tightens up adequately when loaded up in the corners – sort of the best of both worlds. Front end grip on turn-in is great, while body control mid-corner and at corner exit is straight and true. The steering, however, while precise, lacks a modicum of feedback one so fortunately receives in the Mazda 6 and VW Passat.
The chassis essentially, manages the drivetrain’s power with aplomb, such that you would think it could handle far more power. While I don’t think the Camry feels underpowered – the engine is torquey and effortless at low revs and winds up beautifully at high revs – it is somewhat let down by the gearbox.
The six-speed automatic constantly wants to shift up to conserve fuel, such that you would need to literally plant your foot to get it to downshift and get going - something that the six-speed auto in the Mazda 6 does so perceptively. Additionally, the gear ratios are also pretty tall - which makes perfect sense for highway cruising, but leaves a lot on the table when it comes to low-end acceleration and fuel economy.
Get it in stride though and the Camry will hit 200 km/h in decent order, and the brakes are nice and progressive when you want to slow things down.
Coming back to the aforementioned effects of perception, I suppose it is important to note, what you as the reader or prospective customer perceives when you first look at the Camry.
Besides the nuts and bolts, which make it the safest, most comfortable and best driving Camry ever – the XV70 Camry manages to rise up to the challenge of being a formidable option to the likes of its German rivals like the Volkswagen Passat and BMW 3 Series.
Though the Camry’s overall performance could still use some tweaking to fully match their capabilities dynamically - especially in the case of the Mazda 6.
However, what you might perceive as its best trait is that the 2020 Toyota Camry has risen to the challenge of breaking away from the mould of being an ideological safe choice to one that inspires aspiration and excitement.
Finally, you will not remember the XV70 Camry for just being another generation of a boring but good car, you’d remember it because it’s sexy and cool, and more than ever you wanted to be seen in one!