Mid-Size Cars

Gentle giant

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 April, 2009, 12:00am

Shunned in Europe, but the best-selling sedan in the US for nearly a decade, the Toyota Camry has been a fixture on Hong Kong roads for years. Although the Camry was dropped from European markets five years ago in favour of the Avensis, its domestic market and Asian sales remain strong.

For the 2009 Hong Kong model, Toyota has stuck to its tried-and-tested formula for the mid-range executive sedan, offering Camry buyers three key features: comfort, reliability and decent resale value - qualities the four-door sedan has never failed to deliver in the past.

The design of the new Camry emphasises rejuvenation rather than reinvention, which translates into a mild facelift, with only a few radical exterior treatments front and rear.

Toyota has reworked the front grille, bumper and radiator, and the front and rear light clusters, with a more linear side-skirt being the only noticeable addition to the flanks of the sedan, although new alloys and mirror-mounted indicators provide some extra garnish.

New headlights, a lowered, inverted trapezoid grille and a strong fog lamp profile help lend the Camry a more dynamic 'face'.

The test car is the Camry V6 'director' edition - a HK$328,000, top-of-the line model that comes with 10-spoke alloys, automatic climate control, a power sunroof, HID headlamps with auto-levelling, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and twin sports exhausts.

Toyota may have been hit by the financial crisis just as badly as other Japanese carmakers, but the Camry's cabin combines Benz-like build quality with an improved interior finish that helps to create a comfortable ambience.

The roomy interior features smart leather upholstery, a seven-inch touch-screen display, split reclining rear seats and smart key entry with push-button start. The mid-range 2.4-litre superior edition (HK$273,800) shares most of the appointments from the top spec car, including a power adjustable driver's seat and an electro-chromic anti-glare rear-view mirror.

The mid-range sedan shares a 167 brake horsepower, four-cylinder engine with the budget executive model, which is keenly priced at HK$218,000, and the entry-level sedan comes with fabric seats, nine-spoke alloys and less electronic gadgetry.

Although the executive variant is far from spartan - all three models come with a radio and six-disc, six-speaker CD sound system that's MP3- and iPod-compatible - the absence of vehicle stability control and traction control makes the executive model less easy to live with.

The Camry's four-cam V6 is silky smooth, urgent and refined - but with a little more torque available to pull the 1,500kg sedan comfortably along the highway. As with the outgoing model, the emphasis is on comfort and driveability, so the suspension set-up is on the soft side - and a million miles away from European offerings.

Although the entry-level model may tempt new buyers in these cash-strapped times, I suspect most new Camrys are bought by people upgrading from older models of the car - executives who have always enjoyed their creature comforts and an easy ride.

AT A GLANCE: Toyota Camry

What drives it? A 3.5-litre V6, 277bhp, dual VVT-i engine linked to a six-speed automatic transmission.

How fast is it? It does 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds to hit a top speed of 230km/h.

How safe is it? It has vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

How thirsty is it? It's said to slurp 10.1 litres per 100km (27.9mpg) on a combined run.

How clean is it? The Camry meets Euro IV emissions standards, but the dealer failed to provide data on its CO2 output.

Availability: HK$328,000 from Crown Motors (tel: 2866 1020).