Quick test: Camry Altise

Welcome to a big side-step

by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Workmanlike engine
  • Good interior space
  • Good ride
  • Some interior glitches
  • Competent fuel economy
  • Good auto trans logic

New Camrys don’t come along very often so the release in July 06 of the new shape Camry is a significant event. Or is it? Having driven the base model, we wonder if it’s actually more just a significant step sideways – it’s hard to see how in any area this is a class-leading car.

There are six plants around the world making the Camry – production numbers are expected to top 750,000 a year by the end of 2007. The Australian cars are manufactured in Melbourne.

Under the bonnet of all local Camry models you’ll find a 2.4-litre four cylinder engine coded 2AZ-FE. The engine, largely carried over from the previous car, develops 117kW (at 5700 rpm) and 218Nm at a high 4000 rpm. Pop the bonnet and you’ll have to search to find the engine in the huge bay. If the engine is running you’ll also see how much it rocks around; despite the fitment of twin balance shafts, this is never a particularly smooth engine – and is much rougher than the V6 opposition available for the same money.

The five speed auto trans is new but doesn’t offer tiptronic-style up/down driver control – instead there’s just a ‘wobbly gate’ selector. However, the trans control logic is very good – the transmission is seldom found in the wrong gear and incorporates niceties like automatic down-changes for engine braking.

On the road the Camry always feels ‘four cylinder’, rather than smooth and effortless. However, Toyota engineers have given the car good off-the-line response and in cruise, noise and vibration are well suppressed. But when you bury the foot, engine noise becomes clear and the performance of the 1500kg vehicle is only adequate. The engine also feels a bit ‘cammy’ for the application – it gets going at about 3500 rpm but spends 95 per cent of its time at much lower revs.

The suspension – traditional MacPherson struts up front and dual-link strut rear end – provides a comfortable, long travel ride. The seats are also good. In wet weather it’s easy to spin the wheels under power but the suspension remained well composed in all the conditions we threw at it.

Interior space is huge – but so it should be... this is quite a large car. Rear legroom is excellent, although rear headroom is tightish for tall people. At 535 litres, the boot is large, albeit with only a typical-in-class boot opening. The rear seat 60/40 split folds – but not completely flat – and the design allows easy seat folding from the boot without tangling the seatbelts. The dark interior of the test car made it feel smaller than it really was.

Critical in any analysis of the Altise is its pricing. In as-tested auto trans trim it’s stickered at AUD$29,500. That price gives you only two airbags, steel rims and lacks electric seat height adjust and traction control. Spend another $750 and you get side front and front/rear curtain airbags, and another $850 gives you alloy wheels and a rear spoiler. So really the minimum you should be paying (who buys a family car these days with only two airbags?) is $30,250, or with some dress-ups, $31,100.

And that’s too much. Drive it and the Altise is a $26,000 car, tops. Why? Well, in addition to the uninspiring engine, the cabin has some silly design glitches. The speed-alert (complete with tiny digital display buried in the top of the dash) is an obvious afterthought, while the lighting of the centre dash controls is massively bright at night – it’s a bit like having a camping fluoro in the middle of the dash. Even simple things like handbrake position (it’s on the left-hand – wrong – side of the console) show cost-cutting. The silver finish of the top of the centre console looks as if it will scratch easily and is sure to be dated styling in a few years’ time.

In urban driving biased largely towards freeways, we achieved a fuel economy of 9.3 litres/100 km. The ADR 81/01 test figure is 9.9 litres/100 km.

With the fresh new looks and strong “the car that reads the road” advertising campaign, we were expecting big things of the Camry. Instead we found what’s certainly not a bad car but equally nothing groundbreaking in any way. In terms of interior packaging, equipment level, driving dynamics, performance and fuel economy, the Camry doesn’t raise the bar. However, like all Toyotas, it’s sure to hold its value well and problems are likely to be rare.

Perhaps it’s simplest to say it’s the car for people who don’t care much about cars...

The Camry was hired for this test

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