Toyota Camry 2.4 XLi (2005) Driving Impression

4 XLi

There was a time when large sedans such as the Toyota Camry were a staple of the South African market, but the rise of the SUV, crossover, MPV and, not to mention, the compact German executive, has all but erased this segment from existence. Ford and Opel no longer offer such products, with the former having shifted its attention to the smaller Mondeo.

Toyota, however, is not giving up. Its Camry was once one of the top sellers in the local market and the company hopes that the recent facelift and (downwards) price adjustment of the Aussie-made Camry will inject some interest back into the large family sedan.

Dull as dishwater

That’s just as well, seeing as the car’s design certainly is unlikely to ignite any kind of desire. At just over 4.8 metres in length, the Camry dwarfs all other sedans at this price point and on this large canvas Toyota’s designers have painted a rather sombre picture.

The car’s pointy nose, high ground clearance and long rear overhang make it appear almost American, and the 15-inch alloy wheels struggle to fill the wheel arches with any kind of conviction. The facelift has, however, neatened up the appearance – the front headlamps, grille and bumper are new, and the rear lights look a tad more modern. Still, it remains a car for conservative folk that lack any kind of interest in automotive aesthetics.

Still awake after viewing the exterior? No worries… the drab grey interior will leave you comatose within minutes. Again seemingly inspired by large American sedans, the Camry’s facia is high and wide, placing some of the controls awkwardly out of comfortable reach of the driver.

Remote audio controls (as well as switches for the cruise control) would have solved some of the bigger ergonomic issues were they mounted on the steering wheel, but they’re not. Everything, barring the audio system’s black faceplate, is in a shade of grey.

The upshot

Will all of this matter much to the target customer? Unlikely. Of far bigger importance is cabin space and overall comfort levels. In this regard the Toyota Camry 2.4 XLi will put a few MPVs to shame… Its long body translates into vast rear legroom and a boot the size of which the South African market has not seen the likes of for some time.

The rear seats can also fold down to further boost practicality, and there’s a large storage box between the front seats. Rear seat occupants get their own ventilation outlets and a fold-down armrest with built-in cup holders.

The seats are large, padded for comfort and trimmed in cloth (leather is optional), but lack significant side support. The driver’s seat is height-adjustable, as is the steering wheel. Unfortunately the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel means that some of the car’s bigger drivers may be forced to drive with their arms outstretched.

The significant downwards price adjustment announced by Toyota did not come as a result of a specification downgrade. In fact, the Camry still offers a decent number of features, including cruise control, electric windows, electric mirrors, air-conditioning, a radio/CD player, ABS with EBD and two airbags. Rear seat child anchorages are also fitted.

Smooth engine

Power comes from a refined 2.4-litre petrol engine that delivers class-leading outputs of 112 kW and 218 Nm. Given the car’s size and weight, the performance may come as a surprise, because the Camry feels eager from low revs and the power delivery remains strong as the revs build.

It should have ample power for family use, even at altitude. Of course, as is to be expected, a 2.4-litre petrol engine is never going to win economy contests, and owners should be prepared for figures of just over 10 litres/100 km.

With anti-vibration sub-frames at both ends, the emphasis during the development of this Camry was on ride refinement. This car just wafts along, seemingly unperturbed by changing road surfaces and bumps. Also assisting in this regard, of course, are the plump tyres, but overall Toyota has to be commended for delivering a car with the type of ride comfort that the target customers will crave. Now add in impressively low levels of wind, road and mechanical noise, and the Camry must rate as an ace of a long-distance cruiser.

For those customers looking for a car that is also fun to drive, there isn’t much appeal here. The Toyota Camry 2.4 XLi is by no means a sloppy handler for what it is, but the steering is vague and the bias certainly towards safe understeer.

Verdict

There is much to like about the Camry; it should be extremely reliable, is superbly comfortable and spacious, and impressively refined. The 5-year/90 000 km service plan adds further peace of mind (as if that was necessary). And yet it is hard to believe that, even with the more affordable price tag and a solid number of talents, the Camry will be around for much longer.

More compact sedans from the likes of Ford, Mazda and even Hyundai may lack the ultimate stretch-out space, but they’re not far behind in that aspect, and also manage to add a measure of style, sportiness and upmarket appeal. For some customers out there, the Camry will be all the car they’ll ever need but in these image-conscious times, we suspect the number of them is dwindling.

We like:

Very spacious

Build quality

Value

Quiet cabin

Ride quality

We don’t like:

Bland design

Ergonomics

Quite thirsty

Fast facts

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 112 kW @ 5 600 rpm

Torque: 218 Nm @ 4 000 rpm

Transmission: five-speed manual

Wheels: 15-inch alloy

Top speed: 204 km/h Est

0-100 km/h: 10.6 seconds Est

Fuel economy:  10.64 litres/100 km

Also consider:

Mazda6 2.0 Elegant A very sporty looking car with the dynamic behaviour to back up that impression. That said, the “6” is also a comfortable family sedan, though the cabin is not as quiet as the Camry’s. The boot is significantly smaller.

Ford Mondeo 2.0 Trend Probably the best option here, offering a measure of style in addition to its comfortable, spacious cabin and good performance/economy balance. Offers six airbags, too.

Hyundai Sonata 2.0 GLS Soon to be replaced, and it’s necessary, because the current model is outclassed in a number of areas. The engine isn’t very powerful, and is also quite thirsty. The cabin lacks the perceived quality of its rivals. And the design is extremely polarising.

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