Review: 2020 Toyota Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid

Mike Boyd - April 3, 2020

Growing up, my Dad worked for a company specialising in agriculture. We spent many hours of our school holidays cris-crossing Western NSW visiting cousins and friends whilst Dad went about his business.

His company cars back then were always Fords. First a couple of Falcons, then a Fairmont, before a few Fairmont Ghias, then Fairlanes as he ascended the corporate ladder.

I can recall the last Ford Fairlane Dad had being one of the most comfortable cars he ever had. Cosy in Winter and not too hot in Summer. He’ll say because it was white on the outside and from memory it had a light tan interior – his favourite combination. My younger sisters and I had plenty of space in the back whilst Mum and Dad recited Banjo Patterson poems together in the front – with The Beatles as the background soundtrack – as we thundered along dirt roads between places like Goodooga and Brewarrina.

These memories came back to me this week as I spent time with the Toyota Camry Hybrid Ascent Sport. Stay with me…

In these more modern times, the trusty saloon has fallen victim in terms of popularity to the SUV. What we’ve all probably forgotten is that the 4 door saloon is a very comfortable place to be, and in terms of cubic metres for your dollar – they are very hard to beat.

Combine this with Hybrid technology and you have the winning combination of reasonable purchase price, lots of room and comfort, and relatively low operating costs. The Camry Hybrid Ascent Sport is that kind of triple threat.

Highlights

PriceFuel EconomyLooksComfort
$34,559 drive-awaySub 5.5 L/100km6/108/10
Life StyleLife StageSafetyOn The Road
High milers looking for comfort.Families with more sense than money.⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
ANCAP
8/10

Interior

The modern day SUV is excellent but for some reason I’ve not come across one (yet) that has everyday comfort that can hold a candle to a four-door saloon.

In order to house all that dynamic-torque-vectoring-variable-four-wheel-drive capability, an SUV has to be tall, have robust (harsh) suspension, and wheel and tyre combinations that are not built for suburbia.

Lovely, chunky seats front and rear are just the way to start with the Camry Ascent Sport. Like a well broken in armchair. Lots of support in the base and the back. Plenty of cushioning and set at the perfect height.

The driving position as a result is very relaxed with very good visibility across a full 180ยบ field of view for the driver.

As you know, I judge a car by the steering wheel and the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid does not disappoint. A four-piece leather-bound wheel with great feel and plenty of communication with the road. As ever, buttons galore under both thumbs that provide controls for the Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatible 8 inch touchscreen head unit with 6 speaker sound and voice activation.

The other very nice interior design element of the Camry is that way the curvature of the centre console is geared to the driver. It creates this sweeping effect from the gap between the front seats right up to the instrument cluster. It gives the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid a premium look and feel – and it works.

Good sized cup-holders and plenty of storage bins for mobile phones and keys adorn the centre console and all four doors. On the next model up – the Camry SL Hybrid – the main storage bin for your phone is replaced with a Qi standard wireless charging pad.

The other very luxury feel of the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid is the switchgear for the dual zone automatic climate control system. The temperature selector knobs for each passenger have a really nice weight to them – like the oversized volume control dial on an old-school Technics Hi-Fi amplifier.

The only downside with these single-glass fronted touchscreens and climate control systems is that they are magnets for dust and fingerprints. Giving them a regular clean with a lint-free cloth makes such a difference.

For the rear passengers, the legroom is very good as the wheelbase for the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid is generous at 2.85m. Like the front, the seats in the rear are generous and very comfortable. My younger self and my sisters would have been very happy back there.

Exterior

The current Toyota Camry styling has been around since the early 2000s when the XV40 hit the showrooms. The current incarnation (the XV70) is very pleasing to the eye from almost every angle.

Some very subtle styling cues have stood the test of time and with the benefit of manufacturing technologies have been retained to give the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid a modern look.

The rear corner view in particular is a great angle where the swept lights and the deep boot lip give the Camry a great sense of width. The higher profile tyres (215/55R17) fill the arches nicely and the track is such that there is very little overhang on the tyres.

Our test car was finished in Steel Blonde with the Black Fabric interior. Not the most creative combination, but it won’t date and with the colour matched door handles and very little chrome the lines from all angles are clean.

On The Road

The expectations were high as we embarked on our week with the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid.

The engine and drivetrain combination is very smooth and some of the very clever engineering from Toyota mean frugal driving doesn’t have to be boring driving.

The power-unit is a 2.5 litre 4 cylinder Hybrid system that’s mated to electronic continuously variable e-CVT gearing. No gears as such – just an adaptable ratio of gearing like you find on a Vespa. Very common on Hybrid and EV cars as it reduces weight not having to lug around a traditional gearbox.

Speaking of weight, the Toyota Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid is surprisingly svelte – tipping the scales at 1,635kg. That lack of weight is very evident in a couple of areas.

Firstly it makes the overall driving experience of this four-door saloon really fluid. Whilst traditional sedans are very comfortable, they have never been what you would call featherweight. Just look at the Rolls Royce Phantom – 2,560kg. Nearly a whole tonne heavier than the Camry This fluidity means the Camry can be very brisk when you need it to be and this is excellent for energy recovery.

Which leads me onto the second benefit of lightness. The Toyota Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid has a very clever Hybrid System where the attention to detail and efficiency of the meagre use of petrol is impressive. This is not my first Hybrid, but it is a Hybrid that cannot be ignored if avoiding petrol stations is one of your key motivators for buying one.

The system uses the electricity stored during driving to power the starter motor only once the car is underway via the electric motor. Think of it like jump starting the car once it’s in motion. Mash the pedal and the 2.5 litre engine does all the work with some help from the electric motor. The Camry is front wheel drive, so the power is not as savage as in the Volvo XC60 we tested earlier in the year.

All braking and deceleration seeks to harvest as much energy as possible and unlike some other Hybrids we have driven, this is much more refined in the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid. A little clock in the instrument cluster lets you know how much theoretical time you could drive the Camry in full EV mode. Interestingly this measure is time – not kilometres – as I suspect the battery storage isn’t that large.

All of this petrol rationing means the overall fuel economy of the Camry is very easy to keep in the sub 5 Litres per 100km territory. That’s 56 MPG (or better) in the old-money.

Of course the Camry also comes with a raft of active and passive safety systems that ensure the 5 Star ANCAP rating is very well deserved.

The Pre-Collision warning system did seem to zero in on cyclists and parked cars on a tighter suburban bends. The Active Cruise control was far more suited to Australian Motorways than most European systems that I think are calibrated for much higher speeds and as such even higher closing speeds.

I had occasion to jump on the brakes hard one wet evening and again the lack of bulk to haul around meant that the Camry stopped dead in a very controlled manner.

A very large boot with easy single button folding of the rear seats will be very useful. Little luggage hooks will keep the shopping from scattering about on the way home.

Who Will Love This Car?

It goes without saying that this car is a favourite with Taxi Drivers and drivers for all the various ride-sharing companies in Australia. I can see exactly why after my experience. This is a business tool that keeps margins high by taking care of HR and costs. At $34,559 drive-away, this is very good value.

For the real-world, this is a fabulous car for anyone lamenting the demise of the Ford and Holden brands, that doesn’t want to spend a fortune on an SUV or petrol/diesel. If you have to cover large chunks of kilometres on a regular basis this is perfect, comfortable and easy to live with.

If I was in my father’s position right now – needing to get about in the bush with a family in tow – and preferred a four-door saloon, I’d probably go something with a 3.0 litre V6 engine, but it would still be a Toyota Camry.

Pricing

As you see it here in Steel Blonde the Toyota Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid is $34,559 drive-away.

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