We’ll admit, the Camry does carry a bit of a negative stigma in some circles. Being the vehicle of choice for salespeople, taxi fleets and the elderly may have something to do with that. Nevertheless, even at the bottom end of the Camry family tree Toyota’s humble sedan still has a lot working in its favour – and not just its stellar sticker price.
What is it?
This is the four-cylinder petrol-powered Toyota Camry Ascent, the entry-level variant of the Camry range and one of three in the family to retail for less than $30,000. In sheer metal-for-money terms, it’s one of the best value offerings on the market right now.
How much is the Toyota Camry Ascent?
Retailing at $27,690, the base petrol version of the Camry Ascent (a petrol/electric hybrid option also exists for the Ascent grade) is a sharp deal right from the get-go. Few of its mid-size sedan competitors can come close to its bargain pricetag – in fact just one, the Skoda Octavia, manages to sneak lower than the Camry.
Who is it for?
Low-specification Camry variants have traditionally been favoured by fleet operators, but even private buyers looking for a maximum of cabin space and comfort for as few dollars as possible should find themselves drawn to the Camry Ascent. Not bothered if you don’t have the latest gadgets and mod-cons? The Ascent grade might be your jam.
Is the Toyota Camry Ascent easy to live with?
The current Camry’s classification as a mid-size car is a red herring. It straddles the line between medium and large, and one need only step into its spacious rear cabin to realise the sheer amount of room on offer.
Seating five adults in reasonable comfort and four in great comfort, the Camry’s interior is packaged to preference its human occupants.
Backseaters get heaps of legroom and their own air vents, while the driver’s seating position is especially good with a low-ish seat mounting and a steering wheel/pedal relationship that’s just about perfect for the average body.
The asymmetric centre stack does mask some of the forward storage cubbies from the front passenger, but otherwise there are few ergonomic – or quality – fails here.
However, the sad-looking non-GPS infotainment screen and bare urethane steering wheel are constant reminders that you’re riding in the cheapest Camry of the lot. Infotainment, in particular, is one area where Toyota could gain a lot of ground, given most rivals now offer Android Auto and/or Apple Carplay smartphone mirroring at a minimum. It’s a step above being forced to suction-cup your phone to the windshield.
One other thing to note, though, is that the Ascent petrol carries a full-size spare wheel under its boot floor rather than the space-saver of other variants, which trims boot capacity to 493 litres (a 31-litre loss).
How well does the Toyota Camry Ascent drive?
This might sound odd, but in our opinion, the Camry Ascent is actually one of the nicest of the Camry variants when it comes to driving.
It has a lot to do with the tyres. While the rest of the Camry family roll on 18-inch wheels or receive a slightly sportier suspension calibration (the Camry SX), the base Ascent forgoes that in favour of modest 17-inch alloys and chubby tyre sidewalls. As a consequence ride compliance and refinement are superb and coupled with the Camry’s well-tuned suspension delivers exceptional comfort regardless of the road surface.
The 2.5-litre petrol engine and six-speed automatic are a good pairing, though obviously not overburdened with power - 133kW and 231Nm are the peak outputs, and the gearbox’s preference for high gears means you’ll really need to press the accelerator to feel either of those figures. It gets the job done though, and rarely feels flustered or overwhelmed by urban or highway driving.
In fact, it feels very much at home on the highway, with exceptional stability and direct (but not ultra-sharp) steering making it easy to drive at high speed. The suspension’s cushiness also comes to the fore in this environment, with just enough compliance to dispatch rougher country B-roads without being floaty and loose.
It seems strange to walk away from the cheapest Camry and be so impressed with it, but that’s how our week with the Camry Ascent ended. Normally the entry-level model of, well, anything, tends to leave you wanting, but we admire the Ascent’s ability to satisfy the core needs of those who simply want a spacious sedan that’s not just easy to drive, but above-par.
It could be better, though. A sportier transmission mode to help driver’s bypass the ordinarily snoozy gearbox calibration would be welcome, and a more modern infotainment fit-out would be even better. That aside, the Camry Ascent has all of the basics covered, and its long-distance comfort is truly exceptional. All that, and it’ll cost you under thirty grand.