2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid Review
Isaac Bober’s 2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid Review with price, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: All-new and imported Camry is a big step ahead of its predecessor but costs more too.
2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid
Price From $29,990+ORC Warranty three-years, 100,000km Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol/electric motor – hybrid Power 131kW at 5700rpm (160kW combined) Torque 221Nm at 3600rpm Transmission CVT Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4885-4905mm (L); 1840mm (W); 1445mm (H); 2825mm (WB) Boot Space 524 litres Spare Space Saver Fuel Tank 50L hybrid Thirst 4.2L/100km
THE TOYOTA CAMRY is no longer built in Australia, it is now fully imported from Japan. But you’ve no doubt read this before or seen or heard about it on the news. The new Camry is all-new from bumper to bumper, slightly bigger than the vehicle replaces and loaded with more kit and far more sophisticated interiors.
What is the Toyota Camry Hybrid?
Our first, week-long taste of the new Camry was in Hybrid Ascent guise which lists from $29,990+ORC which is a $200 list price drop on the old car, but if you shop around you can still buy the previous-gen Camry Hybrid for this price at drive-away. This isn’t news, it’s a point that’s been made in our own and other reviews at the time of the launch of the new Camry, but what was missing from that point was the fact this new Camry really is a giant leap ahead of the old car.
Indeed, I held off posting my review of the new Camry Hybrid because I knew I had a previous generation ‘Commemorative Edition’ Camry Hybrid the week after test driving the all-new Camry; yes, I got to go back in time after sampling the future. And I got a real shock which I’ll go into later in this review.
There are some highlights with the new Camry and that is the fact Toyota has made its active safety suite as a standard feature across the range but there are issues with this system. The new Camry is also the first sedan to be built on the Toyota New Global Architecture platform which we’ve sampled in its small application on the C-HR compact SUV. Under the Camry, the TNGA-inspired platform is known as GA-K and Toyota reckons it delivers a lower centre of gravity which makes it a better handler. We shall see.
Our test vehicle was the Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid which lists from $29,990+ORC, and the pricing line-up is: Four-cylinder petrol – Ascent $27,690+ORC (+$1200); Ascent Sport $29,990+ORC (-$200); SX $33,290+ORC (-$200); SL $39,990+ORC (+$2550); Hybrid: Ascent $29,990+ORC (-$500); Ascent Sport $31,990+ORC (-$1200); SL $40,990+ORC (+$550): V6; SX $37,290+ORC (-$6700); and SL $43,990+ORC (-$6450).
The Camry has been Australia’s best-selling mid-size car for the last 23 years and Toyota is confident it’s done enough to stay in the top spot. And, it probably has, but whether that makes it the best car in the segment, well, that’s a completely different question.
What’s the interior like?
As I hinted at, it’s the inside of the new Camry that strikes as the biggest visual improvement over its predecessor. I think the old model Camry’s exterior styling still works; but the new car has taken cues from Lexus with its more mature and premium-esque shape.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so we’ll leave alone further discussion of the Camry’s exterior, but there’s one area where no one will be able to deny the improvements and that is on the inside of the car. When I first sampled the new Camry at its local launch last year I was impressed by the interior but it’s only this week that I’ve realised what a quantum leap ahead of the old car it really is.
See, this week, sitting in the Practical Motoring garage is a now, old-generation Camry Hybrid Commemorative Edition and I was utterly shocked by just how brittle all the plastics looked and felt. The finger nail test left marks in the plastic and the whole car, despite being new, felt old and tired.
Not so the new Camry. Sure, it’s not in the same league as an interior from the Volkswagen Group or even Mazda in terms of quality or practicality of layout, but it’s a huge improvement in quality and feel compared with an old Camry. The overall design of the dashboard is still bland and, in our entry-level car too many blanks where switches live in better-spec variants… but this is something generations of Camry buyers have forgiven to help keep the car at the top of its segment.
The materials used in the cabin are better quality (he says, trying not to damn the thing with faint praise) than have been used in Camrys before and, beyond the switch blanks has a touch of flair. The plastics feels just as hard-wearing as they did in the old Camry, but they look better quality and so it should stand up to family abuse well and look much better for longer too.
The dash is dominated by the either 7.0- or 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system depending on the variants; our test car (Ascent) had the smaller 7.0-inch unit; the larger 8.0in unit with dual-zone climate control from the Ascent Sport is pictured above.
The infotainment system is a step ahead of the old Camry’s clumsy looking and feeling system but without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto you’ll need to load the Toyota Link app to get more out of it. Without Toyota Link there’s not a lot on offer and I found the system didn’t always play nice or logically when audio streaming via Bluetooth. Connecting your phone to the car was quick, although a colleague of mine who collected a Camry at the same time as I did couldn’t get it to find his phone; the system in my car connected in 10-15 seconds. And, the sat-nav, while better, still feels a generation old and lacks the detail and speed of mapping via your mobile phone. Sat-nav or connecting your phone to the car can only be done while the vehicle is stationary which is frustrating if you’ve got a passenger trying to input a destination via the sat-nav.
Below the infotainment screen are the dual-zone climate controls and I’m not so sure the temperature controls are entirely accurate; as the air coming out feels much colder than the set temperature suggests… I’d value the opinion of other Camry owners here.
Down on the centre console are two fixed cup holders and the electric handbrake which has, thankfully, replaced the foot operated parking brake on the old car. At the very base of the dashboard is a small cubby hole which is the wireless phone charging pad on upper-spec cars (SX and SL) but a simple shelf in the base Camry. There’s a USB and 12v outlet near this shelf and a 7.3 litre glovebox to one side which gets an additional USB outlet on SX and SL variants, while the centre console offers impressive storage as well as a USB/AUX and 12v outlets.
Sat behind the steering wheel and the seat feels comfortable enough but lacks grip in either the side or base; not that this is a corner carver. According to Toyota, the front seats have been totally redesigned offering “improved ergonomics” and they do feel more figure-hugging than the seats in the old car but not overly so. That said, after driving around 600km in a three-day period with long highway stints in that time, the seats proved comfortable with enough length in the seat base that my long legs didn’t feel fidgety by the end of the drive.
The front driver’s seat is eight-way power adjustable on Ascent Sport, SX and SL with SL adding an eight-way power adjustable passenger seat, but not on our entry Ascent. There’s both reach and height adjustment on the steering wheel but, for me, the steering wheel does raise high enough to feel totally comfortable in my hands; it always feels as if it’s sitting in my lap.
Climb into the back seat and there’s more room than in the old Camry, thanks to the wheelbase stretching 50mm to 2825mm long. Toyota reckons the bulk of this room has gone into rear seat legroom. With the front seat set to suit me, I found that I could sit comfortably behind that seat with decent leg and foot room. There’s good rear seat headroom although that’s not the case if you’re in a Camry with a panoramic sun roof which lowers the roof by five or more centimetres.
Getting in and out of the back seat is easy and Toyota claims it has lowered the back-seat base and pushed it towards the rear of the car to improve access into the thing. The door openings aren’t huge whether you’re climbing into either the front or the back and I found I had to duck my head slightly to avoid catching it as I climbed in. And the doors feel very light to close which makes it easy for kids to use them, but it also makes them feel tinny. There are rear air vents and storage pouches on the backs of the front seats.
The boot is well shaped for width but is shallow and offers 493 litres of storage space on the entry-level Ascent, because it gets a full-sized spare, and 524 litres on other models which only get a space saver spare. Toyota has said it won’t offer a full-size spare on anything other than the entry-level Ascent. The battery on our hybrid tester has been moved under the back seat so doesn’t impact on the boot at all.
The new Camry feels very familiar to other recent Toyota product, like the C-HR and Corolla in that Toyota’s clearly becoming more adventurous with its interiors, both in terms of materials and design. The cabin offers a quality look and feel in isolation from its competitors, but it still doesn’t have the depth of quality some of its key competitors do. Look closely around the cabin and you still feel hard edges on the plastic where it’s not quite seated tightly against cloth trim, and the like.
There’s a decent amount of room in the front and back seats but with the huge variety of more practical family-oriented SUVs and wagons on the market, you can’t help but think the relevance of vehicles like the Camry is coming fast to an end.
What’s it like to drive?
Toyota has made a lot of noise about its TNGA platform providing better ride and handling characteristics over the old Camry… but there’s something missing from this new Camry that the old one had in spades. And that is local engineering input. The last Camry released here in 2015 copped a lot of Aussie input into everything from ride and handling to the performance of the gearbox, heck, Toyota Australia was even allowed to produce a just-for-Australia sports model.
Now, say what you like about the Camry and its buyers but, as we’ve seen with other brands tweaking a product to suit our roads and driving conditions can transform the product. And, the Hyundai i30 is the perfect example of that; criticized in the UK for its lumpy ride and slow steering; the vehicle we get here is drastically different. And that can be the problem with a one-size fits all approach… Ford managed to nail it with the Ranger and Everest, but then development and engineering of those vehicles was led out of Australia.
This new Camry is the first one not to receive any local input or even testing here into how it rides and handles. Now, don’t misread me, the TNGA platform does seem a good starting point because, for all its other failings, the C-HR, the only other vehicle sitting on that platform (yet) is a pretty agile little thing.
And, so, the Camry Hybrid feels around town and across smooth roads; there’s a butteryness to the way it absorbs very minor bumps that its predecessor can’t match. But, like all vehicles we drive, across the PM test loop, its initial competence began to unravel. Now, don’t misread me, I don’t expect the Camry to behave like a sports car with the mid-corner balance of a Lotus Elise or the steering feel of a Porsche 911, but I do expect it to feel comfortable and competent across the sort of roads Australians would expect to travel across. And that’s exactly what our test loop offers in its 30-odd kilometres; everything from highway, to twisting country roads, tight corkscrew sections that pressure the brakes, weight transfer and steering, pockmarked sections of bitumen to test the NVH and suspension damping and even some dirt.
And what became evident after just the first few twists and turns is that the new Camry doesn’t like to be rushed. Driven at around six-tenths and there’s a softness to the ride, body control and steering that seems entirely suitable. But push it even slightly, and don’t forget the Hybrid has a lusty engine offering a combined 160kW and 221Nm of torque, and the composure falls away revealing a suspension set-up that struggles to control the vehicle’s weight and steering that’s direct but disconnected feeling.
The brakes which offer regenerative braking, which is great on the highway, helping the vehicle to slow without needing to touch the brakes, are touchy and grab almost as soon as you look at them. On a particularly rough section of our loop we had to drop the speed from the posted 80km/h to between 40-60km/h to regain some composure and comfort. The Camry’s damper set-up seems well tuned for low-speed control but struggles to keep up as the speed increases, banging and crashing across our cobble-stone-esque section of test road. And the suspension runs out of travel quickly too with some sections catching me totally unawares as one or another wheel banged into the bump stops.
Okay, so, the Camry when really examined on our loop revealed some failings, but it’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds, see, in about 90% of the driving situations owners will find themselves in and at about 90% of the speeds they’ll be travelling at the Camry will be fine. But, if you’re a buyer looking for something with a little more depth to its ride and handling then you’re better off looking at something like a Skoda Octavia, Subaru Liberty or Mazda6.
So, what about the hybrid set-up on the Camry, because it’s been redesigned. Toyota said the new hybrid power train had been designed for “increased performance, driving smoothness, economy and package efficiency”. Indeed, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, electric motor, power control unit, transaxle, and battery are brand new, as is the fact the battery has been moved from its boot-space robbing position to under the front seat in a bid to lower the centre of gravity. According to Toyota, the new hybrid set-up has seen energy loss reduced by 20% while power and torque is up 11% and 4%, respectively with peak torque arriving 900rpm earlier.
The driver can toggle between four drive modes, EV, Normal, Eco and Sport; Normal, Eco and Sport can all be used in EV mode, too. Eco is an interesting mode as it offers a coasting function for when you come off the throttle which is intended to act like a Neutral gear. Sport doesn’t make the Camry any faster, it just raises the revs allowing you to access the meat of the torque a little quicker.
Parking speed is where most new hybrid owners will feel the vehicle is a little awkward; at least until they get used to the silent running at parking speed and snatchy brakes. The brakes are grabby and the fact you won’t be able to hear the engine mean you’re always dealing with a slight runaway sensation before you hit the brake pedal and headbutt the steering wheel.
On the open road, the Camry hybrid offers impressive acceleration whether you’re overtaking on the highway or simply keeping up with traffic on a long hill. And fuel consumption was impressive too, after more than 400 kilometres of driving I’d only used a little more than a quarter of a tank of fuel, averaging 4L/100km. And while many bemoan CVTs, the CVT in the Camry works well with the powertrain.
What about safety features?
The Camry gets a five-star ANCAP rating across the range thanks to Toyota running its active safety suite on all variants. As standard, there’s Pre-Collision Safety System (Autonomous Emergency Braking), Lane Departure Alert with steering assist, seven SRS airbags, vehicle stability control, traction control, ABS anti-skid brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist, Hill-start Assist Control, Brake Hold and Trailer Sway Control. There are also seven airbags, traction and stability controls, ISOFIX mounts on the outboard back seats, immobilizer and alarm; our tester had front and rear parking sensors. But, only the entry-level Ascent comes with a full-size spare.
However, there are issues and that is that the safety suite is very complicated and in its effort to give owners choice as to what elements they want on or off, some can be unwittingly switched off. Just as on the launch of the Camry our car had the lane departure warning beep working but the steering assist had been switched off. When I switched it back on, I realised why; it’s not a particularly finessed system and you can wander out of the lane quite a bit before it simply nudges and then releases the wheel. Methinks more work is required on fine tuning this system to match the level of Audi or even Hyundai, for that matter.
Value for money and ownership issues?
The new Camry gets a three-year warranty limited to 100,000km which is low but saves some face by offering capped price servicing of $195 per service for up to the first five services (or 75,000). Servicing is set at 12 month (or 15,000km) intervals.
It’s too soon to work out what the reliability of the new Camry Hybrid will be and our week-long test certainly didn’t throw up anything we’d be particularly concerned about. But, the addition of an electric powertrain, batteries and non-typical brakes mean there’s more potential for issues on a hybrid than non-hybrid. That said, reliability of the previous generation Camry Hybrid seems strong with few complaints about anything other than the foot-operated parking brake.
It’s expected a battery pack in a Camry Hybrid will last around 10 years before it needs to be replaced and Toyota dealers and others offer replacement services with a replacement battery pack costing around $4000. It’s worth noting that if you’re looking at buying a second-hand Camry Hybrid that was used as a taxi, then check that it has all the required filters to ensure the battery pack cooling fan doesn’t become fouled with fluff and prematurely overheat and thus fail.
So, what do we think?
The Camry Hybrid Ascent Sport is a massive step ahead of its predecessor with a quality interior. It’s still not as premium feeling as its key competitors at this end of the range and while there are ride and handling issues when the vehicle is pushed, in 90% of scenarios it feels good. The hybrid powertrain means you get good fuel consumption as our test average showed, but if your ‘enjoy’ driving, the Camry still doesn’t offer enough pizzazz.