2015 Toyota Camry: NASCAR in Your Driveway
2015 Toyota Camry on the track in Charlotte, North Carolina.
By LC Media
The Toyota Camry is North America’s top-selling sedan, but that doesn’t mean that Toyota is resting on its laurels. On the contrary, a little more than two years after unveiling a new generation of this model, they are moving ahead with an elaborate mid-cycle makeover. The silhouette is now more dynamic and a multitude of technical improvements have been made to enhance the vehicle’s handling and ride.
To prove that this is a better touring car, Toyota Canada invited us to test drive the new 2015 Toyota Camry at the legendary NASCAR circuit in Charlotte, North Carolina. Until now, the Camry’s clientele was interested primarily in its roominess, reliability, resale value and above-average soundproofing for the category. But Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s head honcho, ordered his engineers and designers to create a car that not only featured a more aggressive silhouette, but was also more fun to drive. We’ll see how well they followed orders… Note that the improvements and changes made to this new generation Camry were done in North America and not in Japan, bucking this manufacturer’s usual trend.
The new exterior isn’t exactly revolutionary, but the Camry is much less dull than it used to be, thanks to a bunch of modifications to the front treatment, LED headlights on some trims, a slightly redesigned tail end, and significant changes to its size. With the exception of the roof, all of the metal on the body has been replaced. The mid-size sedan is 45 mm longer while the front and rear track widths have gained 10 mm. All of these things, although sometimes minor, combine to create a shape that has a little more punch than the previous version.
In the passenger compartment, the vertical console that houses the navigation and information screen has been widened, while the clock that used to overlook the dashboard is now integrated into the display screen. New materials have been used, the plastics are softer, and on some trims stitching has been added to the seats, doors and even on the front of the dashboard. A multi-display information screen has even been included between the two main gauges. In the XLE version, there’s a charging tray for your mobile devices. Of course, as in all Toyotas, the quality of assembly is impeccable. And lest we forget, the front seats are comfortable and offer good lateral support, while the back seats are spacious.
Revised platform, same engines
You mustn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a mid-cycle revision. The original platform and mechanics are still there, but in an effort to improve handling, the engineers updated the platform and increased rigidity by using more welds. The front struts’ shock absorbers are firmer, as are those of the multi-link independent rear suspension. Additionally, rebound springs were used in the more sophisticated XE and XSE versions’ shocks with the aim of offering better handling. Finally, the steering is less assisted. The same changes apply to the hybrid version.
Some people were probably hoping to see more powerful engines and one or two more gears on the automatic transmission, but the engineers decided that the status quo would be OK for now. Thus, under the hood you’ll still find either the 2.5-litre 178-horsepower four-cylinder or the 3.5-litre V6 producing 268 horsepower. Both are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
It’s status quo for the hybrid as well. That means the hybrid drivetrain includes an Atkinson cycle 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that combine to develop 200 horsepower. According to Toyota’s data, the hybrid uses less than 6 litres of gas per 100 kilometres. During our relatively brief test drive on the roads of suburban Charlotte, our estimated average consumption was 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and it should be noted that a good deal of our ride was done in urban conditions. At times, we drove up to 40 km/hr exclusively in electric mode. Despite all that—and this goes for the four-cylinder and V6 engines as well—it would have been nice if Toyota had taken advantage of this mid-cycle revision to reduce, even a little, the fuel consumption.
Stable at 220 km/hr!
The brass at Toyota Canada was quite determined to prove how sporty the new Camry is. So to convince us beyond the shadow of a doubt, they hired Kenny Wallace, a seasoned NASCAR driver, to drive a Camry XLE with a V6 engine on the Charlotte oval. Most of the time, the car reached a speed of 220 km/hr on the straightaways while demonstrating impressive stability while taking corners at a minimum speed of 180 km/hr. And this was despite using a passenger car that was not modified in the least, with the exception of having low-profile, high-performance tires.
While it’s not as sporty as a Mazda6 on the road, this new version of the Camry turned out to be more fun to drive thanks to its less intrusive power steering and a firmer suspension that reduces roll in turns. When accelerating, the torque effect in the steering wheel is barely noticeable while the hybrid version offers better-than-expected performances. Although you have to take some of Toyota’s enthusiastic claims with a grain of salt, you’ll have to admit that the new-generation Camry is not only more refined, but it’s also more fun to drive without sacrificing any of its original strengths.
To make the offer more attractive, Toyota created nine different trims with prices ranging from $23,850 to $34,550, so there’s something for all tastes and needs.