A more comely Toyota Camry

Toyota's hit executive sedan looks better and drives better now

Cheryl could not decide which of two dealers to sell her five-year-old Toyota Camry to, because both made dismal offers. So she said she would sell it to the one who could guess the car's exact registration date.

She listed 10 possible dates, whispered the month to one dealer and the day to the other.

Neither wanted to play her silly game and walked away.

If Cheryl were not part of a mathematics Olympiad question, she - or anyone for that matter - would have no problem getting a decent offer for a used Camry.

A quick check on sgCarMart will reveal that among Japanese executive sedans, the Toyota commands the highest price on average.

No prizes for guessing why. The Camry has established itself as a car with unbeatable value for money and, like all Toyotas, it has a reputation for dependability.

A heavily revised version of the current model has just been released. It may be a face-lift, but the car looks and feels like an all-new model.

Appearance-wise, the sedan takes on a more dynamic countenance, with design cues aligned with those on the latest Toyota Corolla. Although not as aggressively styled as the American Camry, the car is now a tad more continental and in a better position to compete with the shapely Mazda6.

Inside, a new high-definition digital instrument cluster, darker veneer, blue courtesy lights and new infotainment system give the car a fresh feel.

The infotainment set comes with hand-gesture control - novel, but as silly as Cheryl's games. First, it is not very sensitive and you end up looking like you are swatting flies. Second, there are convenient controls on the steering wheel and voice control too.

The main change lies beneath the bonnet of the 2-litre variant. The engine is now a high-compression, directinjection unit with a variable valve timing system that is more responsive to throttle input.

On paper, the 2-litre Camry has 164bhp and 199Nm, compared with 148bhp and 190Nm previously. Its top speed is unchanged at 187kmh, but it is significantly quicker in the century sprint, clocking 10.8 seconds instead of the previous 12.5.

Toyota also claims the car is more frugal, with a consumption figure of 7.1 litres/100km, noticeably better than the previous 8.3.

During the test drive, the 2-litre was actually thirstier than the 2.5 (which has the same engine as before). But this could be because one tends to be a bit more heavy-footed in a smaller-engined car.

Although the car matches the 2.5-litre in low-rev situations, it is not as perky from the mid-range. So one is often tempted to open the throttle a bit more along the way.

Also, the engine is so creamy and willing - all the way to 6,000rpm - that you feel no resistance to hold back. It is hard to think of a naturally aspirated 2-litre that is smoother or more obliging.

Like the 2.5-litre, the 2-litre is now equipped with a six-speed autobox which is as seamless and responsive as any. It works perfectly with the engine to offer a balance between efficiency and performance.

In terms of ride and handling, the revised Camry is a tad more European than before, although Toyota makes no mention of having tweaked the suspension.

The chassis feels more stoutly sprung and its steering feels noticeably weightier. Combined with the unburstable nature of its engine (especially the 2-litre), the Camry makes for a more enjoyable driver's car.

The Toyota sedan almost matches the verve and enthusiasm of the Mazda6, while offering better economy.

On the go, it actually feels nearly as refined as its costlier twin, the Lexus ES, which has slightly better insulation and a plusher interior.

As always, the Camry is the gold standard when it comes to space packaging. Its cabin lets plus-size individuals stretch out in comfort, while its boot is a black hole for golf bags. Its air-conditioning system will be adequate for a far bigger car.

Its build quality is also unrivalled, although the 2-litre test car produces clicking noises when the steering is in full lock.

The latest revision comes with more features, such as follow-me-home headlamps, daytime-running lights, hill start assist (which helps you move off from a slope without rolling back) and an emergency brake signal.

With this enhanced package, Toyota will have a harder time coming up with a new model. And Cheryl might even keep her car beyond the fifth year.

christan@sph.com.sg