Review: Toyota Camry Excel

The Camry is back in the UK as an electric-petrol, self-charging, hybrid automatic. It is 14 years since Toyota sold this large saloon car in Britain. It has been America’s best-selling car shifting 400,000 a year, and sometimes the world’s best-selling saloon. Total sales since 1982 exceed 19 million.

The 2019 Toyota Camry is elegant and and long - 16 feet from bumper to bumper

In its absence, so to speak, it has grown and, I think, becomes a significant challenger for much more expensive German and British prestige marques.

The new one is more than 16 feet long – that’s nudging five metres. The length gives it an elegance, enhanced by some smart design, with a distinctive bank of vanes dominating the face. This fat face is the only mentally disruptive styling feature. It didn’t bother me. Otherwise I think you’d have to be grumpy to moan about the “looks”.

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There is plenty of space inside with a rear seating area which borders on limousine comfort in head and leg space. There are two USB points in the back but only one in the front. The system does not link to smart phones either, which is unusual.

A bank of vanes dominates the Camry's fat face

Tested here is the Excel. At £31,295, it is one of two offers in the Camry UK catalogue. The other is the Design at £29,995.

Toyota is the world’s largest producer of many things, including hybrids. It has been making them since the late 1990s. The most familiar is the Camry’s self-charging system, where the operation of the car charges the battery which powers the electric motor which adds power to the petrol engine which can charge the battery, etc, etc.

The other full hybrid method, offered on Toyota’s Prius and in other marques, is a PHEV, or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. This means the battery can be brought to full power by charging from the mains. The advantage is the ability to run for longer distances without needing the petrol engine. In this mode they emit no pollution. They cost more, don’t always match the headline overall mpg claims, and sales have slumped since the UK ditched grants.

Hybridists will know that your normal electric-petrol hybrid will run only for a mile or two at low speed on battery power. This needs a flat or downhill road and a sufficient surplus of charge in the battery. Drivers can manage the system by pressing an EV button. A green EV icon confirms if you are running on the battery. Quite often this was not possible on the Camry – with a message that there was insufficient charge in the battery. Never mind. At other times the battery adds power as and when it is available. Best just to drive and let the Camry sort things out.

The Camry also has a 2.5-litre petrol engine and is rated at 215bhp and a useful 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds. Hybrid top speeds are not daft-high and the Camry tops out at 112mph. Its quoted economy is 50 to 53mpg and the carbon rating is a friendly 101g/km.

This combination of economy and performance is exceptional. Last year, the makers’ economy claims were well shy of real-life results. This year the testing procedure is real-world certified and so far the cars I drive match the figures. Or improve on them, subject to the accuracy of the trip computer.

In the Camry’s case the typical average, whether on the motorway or a mixed 50-mile commuting route, was 56 mpg. A single 40-mile, mostly suburban journey reached 66mpg to average 62mpg. This is a new personal record, beating Ford’s excellent Mondeo Hybrid which reached 58mpg.

Surprisingly, between the Camry and the Mondeo as tested, the Ford was the nicer drive by a small margin. The Camry had a smattering of rear thump and sometimes a slight jerk in the gears at low speed – not deal busters if you like the Camry, which I did. The boot is huge and flat, while the Mondeo is let down by a large hump over the battery. The Camry’s battery is under the rear seats. Thus I could get a bicycle frame in the Camry boot; not so in the shorter Mondeo.

Triggers inside the boot drop the rear seats. There is a single grab handle to close the boot lid, positioned on the right.

Equipment includes a speed limit reader but it was not accurate, which is a shame. The CVT automatic gearbox can drag its feet accelerating at higher speeds but there is a manual over-ride which allows you to use it as a sequential six-speed shift. Drivers can also select eco, normal and sport response and the Camry can be whacked along happily and securely – but that’s not why most of us buy a green, economy car.

Verdict: Worth more than a second glance and its economy is hard to beat.