Toyota's biggest global seller returns to UK for the first time in 14 years, with all-new design and ULEZ-friendly hybrid power

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Has the UK missed the Toyota Camry? Probably not. In fact, you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t noticed it’s been missing since it went off sale 14 years ago.

The model may be a high seller for Toyota around the world – 19 million since its launch in 1982, apparently, and 400,000 in the US alone last year – but it has never really caught on in the UK, especially given the lack of a diesel option. For most car-loving Brits, as forgettable cars go, it’s likely to be on the list (or perhaps not if it really is that hard to remember).

Hot on the heels of the attractive Corolla, this imposing saloon offers a welcome statement of intent from Toyota when it comes to eye-catching design

But that should finally be about to change with the launch of this, the all-new Toyota Camry, which bristles with safety technology and offers a compelling mobility option for those who put a priority on their prickling environmental conscience.

As sales of diesels continue to decline, Toyota is right on cue with a large saloon powered by a petrol 2.5-litre engine pepped by a fossil fuel-saving and ULEZ-friendly electric motor (there’s no charge for this car in low-emission zones). As Britain continues to play catch-up on electric vehicle charging infrastructure demands, the Camry sweeps away range anxiety for those who want to ‘go green’ thanks to its self-charging capability, because the battery automatically tops up as you drive. Toyota claims that 50% of average commutes can be completed emissions-free. Such are the key selling points in our changing world today.

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Thus, efficiency has to be the main calling card of this eighth-generation model, supported by a WLTP-confirmed economy figure above the 50mpg mark (around 44mpg during our real-world test). But beside its environmental credentials, Toyota is also keen to play up the Camry’s performance capabilities. The presence of a Sport mode beside Normal and Eco indicates as much. Flick the stubby console-mounted lever to the right and you’ll engage Toyota’s new Sequential Shiftmatic system, which allows you to mimic manual-style six-speed sequential changes.

Where does the Camry fit in the UK motoring landscape?

Toyota is not short of ambition or expectation, then, showing a desire to offer a comfortable, usable family saloon with the versatility to please those who want to enjoy dynamic driving. That sounds awfully like premium BMW, Mercedes and Audi territory.

At first glance, the Camry is striking. Whether that full-width trapezoidal front grille adds character or offers a face only its designer could love, we’ll leave for you to decide. But the substantial snout that sweeps low and the clean and purposeful lines to the rear do give the Camry a certain presence. Following hot on the heels of the attractive Toyota Corolla, this imposing saloon – 4885mm in length, 1535mm wide – at least offers a welcome statement of intent from Toyota when it comes to eye-catching design. Whatever your judgement, you won’t forget this Camry in a hurry.

Inside, the sense of game-raising ambition continues with a cabin of perceived high quality, especially for a car in this price range. The Design version tested here (£29,995) features leather soft surfaces, an attractive satin chrome trim and an ergonomically satisfying driving environment. There’s nothing too surprising in here, and that’s just fine. Controls are exactly where you’d expect them to be and the leather-bound steering wheel is well sized and fully adjustable, while the padded, electrically operated heated seats offer both comfort and support. This is a pleasant place to spend time.

Two 7.0in screens display easy-to-digest information, with the rev counter in the driver interface replaced by a hybrid dial. Drive without hard acceleration and you’ll keep the needle between nine and 12 o’clock, in ‘Eco’ mode; ask for a little more and the needle turns beyond noon into more thirsty ‘PWR’ territory; lift off or brake and it swings back between eight and nine o’clock into ‘Charging’ mode. All a little diverting, perhaps, but it does help you understand how Toyota's hybrid system operates and you can then drive accordingly.

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The infotainment touchscreen on the centre console feels a little meagre, with graphics that don’t quite date back to the last time Camrys were sold in the UK – but they’re not far off. At least the menu controls around the touchscreen are physical buttons, but here the Camry drops its premium pretentions, plus there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. Still, there’s everything else you’d expect to have to hand, from sat-nav and Bluetooth phone connectivity to a USB port and even a wireless smartphone charging pad. A basic voice recognition function is also included, as are a raft of safety features, including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, road sign assist and blindspot monitors. During our test, regular pings proved annoying until we realised that were warning of approaching speed cameras.

In the back, leg room is ample for adults and truly spacious for children, the seats splitting in a 60/40 configuration. The boot is generous at 524 litres, thanks to clever packaging of the electric motor’s battery. By placing it under the rear seats, it doesn’t compromise luggage space and has the added benefit of lowering the centre of gravity.

How does the Toyota Camry perform on the road?

The driving experience is largely pleasing. Thanks to the hybrid capabilities, step-off is as smooth as you’d find in a fully electric car and the integration between the combustion engine and motor is seamless. A graphic on the infotainment screen shows when either or both are driving the front wheels, adding to useful – if slightly diverting – economy information. At slow speeds, it’s fun to drop into full EV mode and run quietly just on the electric motor.

Cruising capabilities are such that passengers tend to fall asleep on motorways and smooth A-roads (always a good sign), while the ride is firm enough to allow for a decent road feel through the well-weighted steering, but soft enough to soak up the ‘challenges’ most British roads will offer. The Design version tested runs on 17in wheels, so nothing extreme in size, but they proved more than adequate to the task, with both road and wind noise offering little to comment on.

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In Normal or Eco mode, the CVT-type gearbox has a tendency to rev slightly frantically when you make greater demands of the engine under acceleration, without offering anywhere near the pulling power it is sonically suggesting. The 8.3sec 0-62mph time tells a story here, while the limited torque should be kept in mind when overtaking.

In Sport mode and with the sequential shift function activated, there is a noticeable heightening in performance and it’s not unenjoyable – but let’s face it, the Camry isn’t about to trouble the BMW 3 Series for experiences of heightened driver engagement. 'Sport' should be considered as a relative term in this case.

But should we judge it too harshly for this? After all, as much as Toyota wants to offer a pleasing dynamic experience, how many potential buyers will be considering the Camry because of its Sport mode? For most, it will be a long way short of either a deal clincher or breaker, whereas the refined cruising capability will be of much greater importance.

If you find yourself out of step with the fashion for SUVs and prefer a good-sized saloon with family-friendly practicality combined with both pleasing environmental and wallet-considerate economy, this should be a contender. Don’t allow badge snobbery to put you off, either. Yes, it’s ‘only’ a Toyota, but there’s enough character and day-to-day qualities on offer here to give so-called premium brands something to think about, but at a price that offers decent value, too.

Welcome back to Blighty, Toyota Camry. This time you won’t be so easy to forget.

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