Welcome back to an old friend you can rely on
Enter the Camry and say goodbye to the Avensis. Some say it is like a bulbous Corolla, some say it is really a Lexus. I think there is an element of truth in both beliefs. The reason - years ago I passed a very decent-looking car with badging which proclaimed is was a "Camry" and further along the bodywork there was another badge which denoted that it was a "Lexus". A Japanese import maybe, but somewhere in the world the twain met and meshed into one.
Toyota or Lexus, there appears to be real joy that one of the most popular saloon cars in the world is returning to our shores after an absence of 14 years. It is sold in 100 countries with 19 million sales notched up. Currently, it sells at the rate of 700,000 a year.
The new model definitely has a Corolla big brother look about it. It shares the same new Toyota chassis as the new Lexus ES executive saloon, which is also used in the Toyota Auris, Prius and RAV4. The Camry also shares the same engine as the Lexus ES, a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol unit with a self-charging hybrid electric motor and has a similar CVT automatic transmission. With the new arrival, due next spring, Toyota will have eight hybrid models on sale.
There will be different targets in the fleet markets - with the Camry having models like the Ford Mondeo hybrid in its sights while the Lexus ES will woo the Audi A6, 5-Series BMW and Mercedes-Benz E-Class customers.
Pricing will be important if the Camry is to take up where the low-selling Avensis left off. But this is a much bigger vehicle, more luxuriously kitted out and with hybrid technology one can expect a considerable jump in pricing. Staying close to Mondeo hybrid and models like the VW Passat and Honda Accord may be a challenge but the flamboyance which we have come to expect with PCP arrangements could well be a bonus for Toyota.
For the European market, the Camry has got stiffer suspensions to give a more responsive feel and front wheel drive will add to the improvements drivers can expect. So Toyota's loyal fleet customers still have a saloon option and the hybrid technology will take the sting out of having a 2.5-litre petrol engine under the bonnet. There are claims that the 215bhp power output engine with hybrid can achieve 4.6L/km (60 mpg) and 106g of Co2.
The trump card in the Camry armoury is the bullet-proof reliability associated with the models. Owners of the previous models still talk of their near-faultless performance, and speaking of which the JD Power Reliability Survey gives the Camry 4.5 out of 5 for reliability. Welcome back to an old friend.