2019 Toyota Camry First Drive Review
- Jan 26, 2019
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"What? You've parked? WHERE?", asked Kartik as he let me into his house. Confused, he grabbed a quick glimpse outside to find the two behemoths that Tushar and I had sneaked into his driveway. Not that we were trying to sneak around, but the silence of electric drive feels like a super power at times! But, the green tech also means neither of these cars is what you’d call affordable. So, for their own good, these cars had better be oozing luxury. I’ve been driving these two back to back for the better part of a week to figure out which one was more green, which was more fun, and which offered the richer experience. So, which one is it?
It’s in the thunk!
Sit inside the big Honda, pull in the heavy door and, surprise, it shuts with a nice reassuring thud. The fit and finish is almost on par with the German trio and that's as high as praise gets here. The minimalistic layout of the dash works well in the Accord's favour to give it that sophisticated edge.
The Camry, on the other hand, gives off a 90’s Merc vibe. The dash is upright and cluttered with more buttons than you’d actually use on a daily basis. Moreover, the buttons feel hard to touch and are clicky to operate. Not something you’d want on a car that costs as much as the flagship Toyota.
The Honda's cabin instantly feels more modern of the two. I initially presumed having two screens vying for my attention will get irritating, but it's anything but. The important stuff such as the navigation, time and audio information is displayed on the upper 7-inch screen. It also relays video feed from a camera mounted underneath the left wing mirror (LaneWatch in Honda-speak), that's immensely useful inside the city. The lower 7.7-inch touchscreen can be used to toggle between your music, pair your phone and get a live view of the hybrid system's working. The infotainment supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; connectivity is a breeze and the 6-speaker sound system sounds crisp. It also gets a sunroof, active noise cancellation and a remote engine start feature that starts up the air conditioning for you. Super cool!
The Camry gets none of these, instead offering its own unique recipe. To start off, the Toyota gets electric adjust for the steering wheel and ventilated seats. The Toyota saves steering position in its memory as well and ups the convenience by retracting the steering wheel to aid ingress and egress. Toyota recently updated the Camry with a 12-speaker JBL audio system, wireless charging, and a tyre pressure monitoring system - all of which are missing on the Honda. But, all said and done, the perceived quality of the Accord seems a generation ahead of the Camry.
Let’s get going
Both the cars start up in pure EV mode where they're as quiet as a classroom when the principal walks in. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if you found yourself second-guessing whether either is actually switched 'on' or not. Thankfully, the Accord displays a neat and crisp 'Ready To Drive' graphic on start-up, whereas the Camry has a little green light above the MID that says 'Ready'.
Step on the throttle and both pick up pace almost immediately - since torque from the electric drivetrain is available instantly right from the get-go. Provided there's enough juice in the batteries, both will chug along without consuming a drop of petrol. Now, there’s no hard and fast rule as to when the petrol motors kick in. On a full charge, using the right foot judiciously will let you cover close to 1.5 kilometres purely on battery power.
But it is when the petrol engines kick in that the differences come to the fore. The Camry is propelled by the engine directly, whereas the Accord's petrol engine simply acts as a range extender on most occasions. Inside the city, you'd find both cars in hybrid mode most of the time. Considering how the petrol engines serve different purposes in the two cars, it's no surprise that the Honda is a lot more fuel efficient. The Accord managed to return a super impressive 18.54kmpl inside the city, whereas the Camry returned 14.29kmpl.
Speaking of city runs, there's no running away from the fact that these cars are long and wide. It does take some time before you get comfortable with the dimensions of the cars, and know exactly where the four corners are.
Let's get one thing out of the way – neither of these two big boys are what we'd call 'fun to drive'. But, drive them back to back, and it's the Honda that makes the driver grin and giggle more, with its 215PS of power, which is 10 more compared to the Toyota. Power delivery is snap-your-finger quick and progress is swift. The only fly in the Accord’s ointment here is the sound of the engine. Owing to how the transmission functions, the engine sounds like it is 'stuck' at a high rpm while speeds continue to climb. I lost track of the number of times I yelled "C'mon upshift" in my head.
The Camry suffers from a similar problem – where the 205PS 2.5-litre engine screams itself hoarse when you break out the heavy foot. Also, unlike the Honda that simply darts ahead when you floor the A pedal, the Camry hesitates for a split second before picking up pace. In that stuttery second, you'll also notice a lurch or a forward throw which can make occupants feel slightly unsettled.
The numbers testify too – the Accord was half a second quicker compared to the Camry in the 0-100kmph sprint, taking 8.57 seconds compared to 9.13. Roll-on timings were more or less on par, with 20-80 kmph being dealt with in 5.83 seconds (Accord) and 5.99 seconds (Camry).
Drive the Camry spiritedly and it tends you disappoint you. The steering feels slow to turn in and the body roll doesn't inspire confidence to carry speeds into the bends. It does hold its line pretty well but simply doesn't feel engaging enough for you to wake up early on the weekends and scoot for a dash around the ghats. The Accord’s a few notches better. The nose turns in sharply and almost immediately. It's responsive and quick but feels slightly numb as you go from one corner to the other. The stiffer suspension setup means it doesn't rock about in a straight line and roll into the bends as much as the Toyota. In fact, the ride quality is very nearly German-car like. The cabin remains calm and composed at highway speeds, whereas the Camry exhibits some nervous vertical bobbing.
The Honda is almost comically fuel-efficient too, returning an unbelievable 22.67kmpl. The Camry returned 18.30kmpl, which itself is appreciable for a car its size. The high mileage number on the Accord is down to the fact that the petrol engine doesn’t drive the wheels directly on most occasions. On the contrary, the Camry relies solely on petrol power to charge up the batteries and drive the wheels. Both also rely heavily on brake energy regeneration to tank up the batteries and in effect, increase range.
It's no surprise then, that braking on either feels weird, since the cars first rely on the electric brakes to slow the car down and then resort to the mechanical brakes to come to a dead halt. The braking seems ‘digital’, without a lot of feel on the brake pedal. That said, you’re more sure of what the brakes on the Honda are upto compared to the Toyota, whose pedal feels spongier. The Accord came out on top in the 100-0 kmph braking test – 3.41 seconds (44.87 metres) vs 3.55 seconds (46.98 metres).
But, what about the rear bench? One thing is for sure – it's the Camry that offers more gizmos here. The rear bench can be electrically reclined, there's an extra zone of climate control, and an electric sunshade for the rear windshield. What's more, you can control all of this from the central armrest. Then there are manual blinds for the rear windows, in case you want some privacy from prying eyes. The higher roofline delivers generous headroom and that makes the cabin feel roomy.
In the Accord, the dark grey lining on the roof and its sloping roofline will make headroom slightly tight for taller occupants. But it makes up by offering better basics. Getting in and out of the Honda is easier, and the seats feel more comfortable as well. You 'slip into' the seats of the Accord and there's ample under-thigh support too. Legroom is more or less on par, and both cars let you move the front passenger seat from the rear via buttons placed on the seat's shoulder. Also, while cabins are wide enough to accommodate three abreast, it isn't something we recommend you to do. In case you absolutely have to - the Honda fares better since the armrest sits flush with the backrest. That said, don't expect to be comfortable sitting in the middle seat here either.
For the daily drive, the Camry's softer setup feels better suited and more forgiving on our roads. It absorbs potholes without upsetting the cabin, but continues to bob about after you're done dealing with broken roads. The Accord ensures you know you've gone through a pothole - blame the stiff suspension and the low profile tyres for this - with an audible thud. Over sharp-edged potholes occupants will rock from side to side as well, but thankfully will regain its flat ride almost immediately.
While the older or the backseat-oriented lot will prefer the cushiony ride of the Camry, I personally prefer the stiffer Euro car-like setup of the Accord. What also adds to the richness of the experience is the sheer sense of calm in the cabin – the active-noise cancellation system cuts out almost all the sound from the outside, leaving you in idyllic silence.
Face the Future
While neither of these cars makes a hoopla about their arrival, they're elegant. This is truer in the case of the Accord. Personally, I love the way it looks from the front three-quarters. The large 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in low-profile Michelin rubber take up all the space the wheel wells have to offer, lending the big Honda a squat stance.
But its appeal lies in its simplicity. The large wraparound taillamps with the blue tinge, the gently swooping roofline and the pronounced rear fender give the Accord some athleticism.
The Camry, on the other hand, looks a bit formal. It isn't awe-inducing like the Accord, and seems to be happier slipping under the radar. The Prius-esque fog lamps, the gaping grille and the large bug-eyed headlamps ensure the Camry looks distinctly Toyota.
Just like the Honda, there’s a blue hue to the taillamp lens and the Toyota badge gets a blue surround as well. The smaller 17-inch wheels get a busy design but thankfully doesn't look too tiny compared to the rest of the car.
Enough gyaan. Which one should I buy?
If you want a car immediately, the Camry is your only choice right now. Since the Accord is a CBU, you’ll be able to get your hands on one only after 8 months.
On paper, the Camry seems like a no nonsense, logical, completely value for money choice. The difference in on-road price (in Mumbai) is a whopping 10 lakh rupees, which makes it a no-brainer choice if you need nothing more than a comfortable big sedan to be chauffeured around in. BUT, and that’s a big but, there’s no denying that the Accord is a substantially better car. It’s built better, looks better, has the more comfortable rear seats, and lets you have a bit of fun when you get behind the wheel too. The Honda does deserve to command a premium over the Toyota for the quality and the sense of occasion it delivers. It's better at being a luxury sedan, there's no doubting that. But, a million rupee premium might be stretching things a bit too far.
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