KUALA LUMPUR - The medium-size segment Japanese cars have long been the "standard" item for the middle-class buyer in search of cars with solid reliability, unbeatable resale value and repute.
The Toyota Camry has been the top choice in the segment since 2006. The recently-introduced seventh generation Camry aims to enhance its appeal and further strengthen its best-selling status.
The Camry's name comes from the Japanese word kanmuri which means "crown".
The "crown" variant for the local market is the 2.5V which features a 2.5-litre engine with a six-speed automatic transmission, up from the 2.4V with a 2.4-litre block and a five-speed auto previously.
Looks-wise, the new model in addition to an elegant rising beltline gets a more distinguished and imposing front consisting of a trapezoid grille and projector headlights combination that probably drew inspiration from the Lexus LS limousine.
The taillights get a diamond-cut look with LED illumination and extra bright rear fog lights.
While just 5mm wider and still having the same length and wheelbase with the previous generation Camry, the new model feels more spacious inside.
Despite reusing the same platform from the previous generation model, Toyota engineers were able to squeeze out extra space by pushing the hip points of the rear seats rearwards while moving the front seats and pedals points forward in the new car.
Other space-liberating measures include making the back of the front seats thinner and curved, freeing up more centimetres for better rear legroom.
But more importantly, the front seats still feel as plush and comfortable, even during long-distance driving.
Those familiar with the previous generation Camry can spot some similarities in the general styling of the dashboard but the new car has a "three-dimensional" theme consisting of curves and ridges for a sculptured and premium look.
Woodgrain finishing, metallic trimmings and leather seats also add to the interior refinement.
The Camry 2.5V also gets a feature that is rare among cars of its class a front passenger seat headrest that can be folded down to give the "towkay" at the back a clearer view.
The driver can also reach to the switch at the side of the front passenger seat to electrically adjust the seat easily.
The Optitron meter cluster is equipped with a rather interesting new analogue/LED gauge that displays current and average fuel consumption levels.
Though not a hybrid, Camry 2.5V comes with an instrument panel ECO indicator that lights up if the car is driven efficiently.
But with a hefty 181bhp and 231Nm of torque from the four-cylinder dual VVT-i engine, I found it difficult to restrain myself from light-footed driving, especially when fast and satisfying take-offs can be done with little persuasion on the throttle.
Gearshifting is smooth thanks to the six-speed automatic transmission.
A day trip to Genting Highlands allowed me to pit the car against the steep and twisty stretches of the hill resort.
Going up the steepest slope is an easy job for the 2.5-litre four-cylinder block, which does not appear to strain or protest under any engine speed.
The Camry still performed well for an executive car in holding its line and body roll control at sharp and treacherous bends.
Driven hard around sharp corners, understeer creeps in slowly but there is ample time to react and ease off the throttle, which would allow the front wheels to regain full traction.
Curiously, the Traction Control and Vehicle Stability Control features, which were available in the older Camry 2.4V, were left out from the Camry 2.5V's specifications.
Despite these omissions, the Camry with 17-inch wheels still handles fine as its suspension has been tuned to be bit sportier than previously. At high speeds, the new Camry gets a higher level of planted confidence.
However, ride comfort has not been compromised by the slightly firmer suspension settings and the car easily absorbs jolts and bumps from potholes-riddled roads.
Another area worthy of mention was the improvement in sound and wind noise insulation the new Camry seems to be catching up with its more luxurious Lexus cousins in cabin quietness.
Getting electric power for its steering the very first time, the steering is effortless and precise to turn but relays little feedback back to the driver.
Features include six airbags, anti-lock braking system, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, front corner and reverse parking sensors, rear power blind, LED daytime running lights, dual zone air conditioner, high intensity discharge headlights with washer, keyless entry and go, 6.1-inch touchscreen audio system with Bluetooth/DVD/USB/AUX/reverse camera support, satellite navigation and cruise control.