The word kanmuri means “crown” in Nihongo. Forty years ago, Toyota anglicized the term for the international market and dubbed their car the Camry. The moniker is in keeping with the Japanese carmaker’s tradition of crown-themed models. First of course was the Toyota Crown in 1955, followed by the Corona in ’57, and the Corolla (or small crown) in ’66. Then in 1979, the Camry was born. Toyota’s fixation with taking the crown turned out to be prescient, because at some point each of these nameplates ruled their respective categories in terms of sales, from full-sized to compact sedans. In the US, the Camry remains the highest selling mid-sized passenger car since 1997. Similarly, here in the Philippines, the Camry has been the king of its category for the past two decades.
This eighth generation, 2019 version looks nothing like its predecessors, and that is a good thing. It finally managed to break out of its boxy shell and look decidedly sporty. The front end is the most striking. The lines in the creased bonnet flow forward, puckering to the circled-T logo encased in a two-toned crest. The bumper is a head-turner, tall and wide with a jaw that juts out in a slanted L. The lower grille take up most of this section, filled with long, horizontal blades that discreetly hide the foglamps. Viewed from the side, the silhouette is curvier and sleeker than its predecessors.
For the first time ever on a Camry, the side mirrors now sit on stems. The magwheels look plain amidst the bold new sheet metal, but we appreciate that they are 18-inchers. The rear is where the Camry looks most like its Lexus cousins. The rear windshield melds into the boot at such an angle that it makes the car look like a fastback. The trunk door has been pinched into a ducktail, effectively giving the rear an incorporated spoiler. The tail lamps ape the shape of the narrow LED headlights, and their slender form tie in nicely with the vehicle’s extended proportions. Below the two-toned, rear bumper are twin exhaust pipes, which are technically unnecessary given this Camry’s engine, but which add to the coolness factor. The soft curves and sinews make this car appear smaller than previous generations, but it is actually the biggest Camry so far. The wheelbase has grown by 45 mm, the body is longer by 30 mm, and the width and height by 20 mm.
Beneath the bonnet, the new Camry is powered by a familiar engine, the 2AR-FE inherited from the previous generation. This 2.5-liter 4-cylinder has been updated to produce 182 horsepower and 231 Nm of torque at 4100 rpm. This is the only engine variant available for our market, as Toyota Philippines chose to forgo the venerated 3.5 V6. Given our road conditions, it seems a wise choice, as petrol and additional horses are just wasted idling in our unique brand of traffic hell. While we miss the punch and roar of the previous six-cylinder, the smaller displacement is more than adequate to push the Camry’s curb weight of 1,545 kg. Overtaking on the highways require a deeper push of the accelerator, but thanks to the intuitive six-speed gearbox, the timing is adequate.
Now as to cost of ownership, our 2.5V here sits on the higher end at P2.027 million, while the 2.5G with the same engine specs minus the toys costs P1.841 million. The price is just about what you would expect of a midsize executive car these days, but the new Camry is facing an uphill battle. With the popularity of crossovers and small SUVs, sedan sales have been taking a beating in recent years. The fact that this sedan costs P2 million will do little to entice potential buyers.
That said, the 2019 Camry is banking on previous owners trading in their old models, and at the same time reaching out to a new generation of car buyers who may like the improved drive, youthful looks, and heritage of reliability. If it plays its cards just right, then this Camry may yet manage to keep its crown.