For over two decades since the early Eighties, the mid-size saloon segment was pretty much owned by Honda and Toyota. Although Honda had the head start with its Accord, its compatriot arch rival effectively negated this almost straightaway after its Camry was launched in 1983. Introduced as a replacement for the rear-wheel drive Corona, the newbie literally exploded into the scene setting the US sales charts ablaze. Not only did it knock the Accord off the best-seller podium, but it also managed to maintain a veritable stranglehold over the segment until now. With over 19 million units sold worldwide across seven generations, the Toyota Camry is still one of the world’s most popular passenger cars, despite Koreans and Americans trying hard to nibble away at its market share.
This colossal success was earned and sustained over decades mostly due to the Camry’s unblemished record of bulletproof reliability, insignificant ownership costs and impressive residual values. However, while concentrating more on this aspect of the car, the Japanese carmaker seemed to have lost its way in terms of styling and driving dynamics. Although universally lauded for its dependability, the Camry also got saddled with the perceived image of an almost characterless workhorse. Feeling the heat from much better styled upstart contenders, Toyota gave the Camry a comprehensive mid-cycle makeover in 2015, but even that update left much to be desired in terms of design and driveability.
With the eighth generation 2018 Camry, Toyota seeks to shed the image of a boring car once and for all, bringing in massive changes visually and mechanically. The new model is longer, lower, and wider than before, which along with the aggressive new lines, lend the mid-size saloon a sleeker, hunkered down profile. The designers have added several creases and flares along its sheet metal, and a line that kicks up behind the rear doors onto the C-pillar and the boot lid adds to the overall character. The rear bumper is also suitably sculpted to go well with the rest of the car.
The interior has also been spruced up, with a more elegant, flowing design and a new driver-oriented centre stack creating an enhanced sense of roominess. The interface is a good mix of modern touchscreen surfaces and good old buttons and knobs. Every surface that you touch and feel are made of soft, high quality materials, and the overall fit and finish are top notch. The ergonomically designed seats offer great support while freeing up more space to seat five adult passengers in comfort.
And the most heartening bit is that it’s not a case of looks flattering to deceive. The 2018 Camry is in fact a mid-size saloon you will enjoy driving. Built on Toyota’s New Global Architecture, it behaves better in every way than its predecessors. Boasting a stiffer platform and double-wishbone rear suspension, the new Camry is a significant step-up in terms of comfort, ambient noise, and driving dynamics. The steering feels much better weighted and responsive than any previous model’s, and the 298bhp, 356Nm 3.5-litre V6 in our tester is extremely smooth and refined. This is the Grande, a trim that was discontinued for the previous model, and renamed to Aurion in the generation before that. Toyota has decided to bring it back, which is a sensible decision as rivals like the Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima have always offered a 3.5-litre V6 option.
The new Camry also comes equipped with the latest in technology features including a 7.0in multi-information display within the instrument cluster, and an 8.0in audio/navigation control panel seamlessly integrated into the centre console.
Safety is also given due attention with six airbags, and features such as Vehicle Stability Control, Anti-lock Braking System, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist, Hill-start Assist Control, and an enhanced body structure and platform structure with a 30-per cent increase in torsional rigidity.
Available in nine exterior colours, prices start at Dh91,000 for the 2.5-litre Camry S, going up to Dh99,900 for the SE. Meanwhile the Camry Grande is available in three grades, the SE+, Sport and Limited for Dh114,000, Dh122, 500 and Dh124,500 respectively.
Good looking, feature-laden, comfortable, roomy, and good to drive, the all-new Camry is by far the most attractive and dynamically capable model to have borne that name in the last two decades and a half. And it’s arguably one of the best cars on sale in this segment today.
It will be a tough task for other models, including the just-launched all-new Honda Accord, to knock this Camry off its perch atop the mid-size saloon hill.