You’re looking at the mid-range Toyota Camry, designed to fill that goldilocks zone between the bare-bones fleet special and lavish, range-topping hero.
Like the rest of the Camry range, the 2021 Camry Ascent Sport won’t necessarily set your pulse racing. What it will do, though, is get you where you need to go safely, quietly, and with more style than you once might have expected from a Camry.
Although it lacks some of the headline-grabbing features of the more expensive Camry SL, you could make a strong case the Ascent Sport is the smartest buy in a range full of smart buys.
The fact you can have it with a punchy, efficient hybrid powertrain for barely any extra money is just the icing on the cake.
You can get into a Camry for $27,690 before on-road costs, and the cheapest Camry Hybrid is priced from $29,990 before on-roads.
The Ascent Sport is a small jump over the base Ascent, with the petrol retailing for $29,990 before on-road costs and the hybrid on test here priced from $31,990 before on-road costs.
It sits below only the Camry SL Hybrid in the range, which is priced from $40,990 before on-road costs. The mid-range Camry SX is only offered with petrol four- and now-defunct V6 options, with no hybrid available.
Despite only carrying a $2000 price premium over the base Camry Ascent, the Ascent Sport packs plenty of extra equipment.
Standard across the range are 17-inch alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 4.2-inch trip computer display, adaptive cruise control, a reversing camera, and automatic high-beam.
Jumping to the Ascent Sport ups the infotainment screen to 8.0 inches and adds factory satellite navigation, and enlarges the trip computer display to a 7.0-inch unit.
Externally, you get a matte finished sports grille. Inside, it also brings a leatherette steering wheel, stainless steel sill plates, keyless entry and start, and an eight-way powered driver’s seat. There’s also parking sensors.
The 2021 Toyota Camry has an ANCAP rating of five stars, based on testing carried out in 2017.
It scored 36.16 of a possible 37 points, with good whiplash protection and acceptable pedestrian protection.
All models feature autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, a reversing camera, and automatic high-beam.
Higher-end models gain blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, none of which are fitted to our test car.
Toyota has the balance between interesting looks and friendly ergonomics nailed in the Camry.
The sweep of the dashboard and textured trim details both go a long way to lifting the ambience beyond what you’d expect of a one-from-base hybrid sedan. Neat little touches like the sliding storage space beneath the dashboard also give the impression some real thought has been put into the cabin.
As you’d expect of a car best known for its role on taxi and Uber fleets, you could while away weeks behind the wheel without any aches or pains. The electrically-adjustable driver’s seat and manually-adjustable steering wheel are set the perfect distance apart, and adjust enough for even the lankiest of pilots to get comfortable.
At six-seven, the Camry is one of the only cars where my seat isn’t squeezed all the way to the back of its runners. Although it’s not as premium as leather, there’s nothing really wrong with the grey cloth trim of the seats – you won’t have your legs scorched by molten trim in summer, either, which is a bonus in Australia.
Toyota has made huge strides when it comes to cabin tech, but the 8.0-inch infotainment system in the Camry is still functional without feeling particularly flashy. The addition of smartphone mirroring was a big step forward, and the system itself is easy enough to jump around, but it’s not the snappiest screen on the market and the graphics are fairly basic.
The 7.0-inch trip computer in the instrument binnacle also has basic graphics but features all the information you’ll ever need, including plenty of detail about your fuel consumption.
Storage spaces are plentiful, from the deep bin beneath the dashboard (complete with sliding tray), the cupholders on the transmission tunnel, the spacious cubby beneath the central armrest, and big door pockets.
You’ve probably already sat in the back of a Camry. Legroom and headroom are good, and the bench itself is soft and supportive. The fold-down armrest has cupholders in it, there are air vents back there, and the seats can be folded to free up luggage space.
Boot space is 524L with the rear seats in place. There are ISOFIX points on the outboard rear seats, and top-tether mounts on all three of the rear seats.
Power in the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid comes from a combination of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor, the latter of which draws on a nickel metal hydride battery.
They output 160kW of power and an unspecified amount of torque. The petrol engine makes 221Nm and the electric motor adds another 202Nm, but they do so at different points in the rev range.
The electric motor is on hand for low-speed running and usually hands to the petrol engine around 30km/h when you’re accelerating. It’s also provides a boost when you bury the throttle, and allows the engine to turn off when coasting.
Power is put to the front wheels through a CVT. Toyota claims the Camry Hybrid uses 4.5L/100km on the combined test cycle, and we came close to matching it in the real world, returning 4.8L/100km with a skew towards city driving.
Sure, the Toyota’s latest TNGA chassis has more sportiness tuned in than its predecessors, but the Camry isn’t a sports car. Instead, it’s a relaxed and plush cruiser.
The relaxed suspension tune, combined with the Ascent Sport’s sensible 17-inch alloy wheels and chubby tyres, makes the Camry a seriously nice place to spend time.
It smooths out the city bumps better than almost anything else I’ve driven in the last year, especially when you consider its $32,000 price tag.
With light steering and a smooth, friendly throttle – especially when you’re using electric power at low speeds – moving through the urban jungle is effortless.
Like the more expensive Toyota Camry SL, the Ascent Sport is a rolling isolation chamber. The powertrain is silent when you’re rolling on electric-only power, and the petrol engine rarely raises its voice above a murmur when it’s called on.
Barely any wind or road noise sneaks into the cabin, making it easy to understand why people who drive for a living flock to the Camry.
Just as impressive as the sorted suspension is the hybrid powertrain. Unless it’s (very) cold out, the car will start on pure-electric power so you can creep out of your garage in near silence, and most driving between standstill and 30km/h is handled without petrol interference.
When it first fires the petrol engine can be a bit coarse, but once warm it switches on and off smoothly. With the electric motor on hand to provide a boost when you mat the throttle, the engine doesn’t need to work too hard unless you’re asking for maximum power.
Although it isn’t a rocket ship, the Camry will happily cruise at the legal limit in Australia. It’s near silent, and slight downhill stretches will see the petrol engine cut out completely.
The 2021 Toyota Camry is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000km.
The first five services will set you back $200 each, which makes this a remarkably cheap large sedan to run.
Comfy and quiet
The Toyota Camry Ascent Sport irons out the bumps of the city like nothing else in this price band
There is no better all-rounder for around $30,000 than the Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid.
For the same money as a three-cylinder SUV built on underpinnings shared with a city car, you can have a spacious, refined, efficient family sedan that’s all the car most people will ever need. It’s ego-free motoring at its best.
That it lacks rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot is a bit disappointing, but an updated Toyota Camry is due in the middle of 2021.
Along with its updated infotainment screen, that seems like a perfect time for Toyota to give the Ascent Sport the only things it’s really missing.
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