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2015 Toyota Camry and Yaris Previews by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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2015 Toyota Camry

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

      • SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyers Guide - Reviews, Prices, Comparisons an Specs


New Toyotas from a new Toyota? That was the concept, demonstrated recently by Toyota at a press event in Berkeley, California and featuring the 2015 Camry, Yaris, and Sienna. In typical press intro form, the day started off with briefings on the cars, followed by drive time on short routes through the Berkeley Hills. No problems finding steep grades and challenging corners in that area, with a variety of pavement from new and smooth to seriously chunky for better suspension testing. Because of time constraints, I was only able to drive a Yaris and two different Camrys, but I did get shuttle time as passenger inside a couple of Siennas. I'll start with the Camry.

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2015 Toyota Camry

CAMRY: Toyota's Camry has been the best-selling car in the country for 16 of the past 17 years, and when it wasn't Number One it was number two. Over ten million Camrys have been sold in the US since its debut for 1983, and, according to Toyota, 6.6 million are still running. So it's delivering what American mid-size sedan buyers want. That could be a signal to leave well enough alone, but that's not how Toyota got to the top. There is always room for improvement.

Which, in the 2015 Camry, means new styling inside and out and a revised suspension tuning, meant to give a better driving experience. The last major change to the Camry was three years ago, so the usual "mid-cycle freshening" might be expected now. While not a completely new vehicle, the 2015 Camry is quite a bit more than a the usual minor styling, trim, and option changes. There are over 1900 change points, and 2000 new parts. Externally, only the roof remains the same as all other exterior panels are new, styled by Toyota's California-based CALTY studio. The underlying unibody structure has been reinforced, and the fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension retuned to take advantage of that. With a new XSE grade to take advantage of that. Nearly all interior panels are new, with soft-touch materials replacing the much-maligned hard plastics.




Under the hood, things haven't changed. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque or a 3.5-liter V6 with 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft still drive the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. All grades -- LE, SE, XSE, and XLE -- may be specified with the four, with the V6 optional in the top three. Brakes in all are discs, with antilock. Electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, vehicle stability control and traction control are standard in all, as are ten airbags -- frontal, side, and knee for front passengers, plus side curtain and outboard rear side.

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2015 Toyota Camry XLE

XLE and XSE V6 models were available for the ride and drive session, and I drove and rode in both. First out was the XLE, and it felt little different from its cousin ES over at Lexus. Steering was not overly-assisted by the electric power system, and road surface defects are handled unobtrusively and smoothly. The suspension tuning is contemporary world-spec luxury, compliant but not overly soft. It's a pleasant car to drive -- as opposed to merely operate -- even on the sort of roads usually thought of as sports car or sport bike habitat.

Then into the XSE. Whoa! This is a Camry? My compliments to your suspension engineers. It's firmer and crisper than the XLE, and if not really "sports sedan" in mien, at least sport-touring. It's still as quiet and comfortable as expected of a Camry, but it just happens to actually be fun to drive and feels nicely connected to the road. This is a good direction to see Toyota moving towards.

Yes, there is a 2015 Camry Hybrid, offered in LE, SE, and XLE trim. None were at the event.

2015 Camry MSRPs range from $22,970 for a four-cylinder LE through $31,370 for the V6 XSE and XLE. All prices without destination charge, tax, license, etc.

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2015 Toyota Yaris

YARIS: The subcompact Yaris lineup is now all-hatchback, all the time, with a choice of three or five doors (hatch being considered one door). All-new, it looks and feels European only because at heart it is, designed and built at a Toyota facility in the South of France. Compared to the previous generation, it's only two inches longer so should still be easy to park. The wheels are pushed to the corners of the car for improved interior space, and that interior is all new and considerably improved. Tacky-looking hard plastic is banished, and redesigned seats improve comfort. The instrument panel is much-improved as well. Nothing looks or feels cheap -- in the pejorative sense -- here, something that could not be said of its forebears. A 25 percent increase in sound-absorbing material is most welcome.

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2015 Toyota Yaris

The Yaris's unibody structure is more rigid, and its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension is tuned for sporty fun. No, really… Power is from a 1.5-liter four, typical Toyota design with dual overhead cams and VVT-i valve timing and lift control for 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque driving the front wheels through either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Front brakes are disc, with drums in the rear for L and LE grades and discs for the SE. L and LE get 15-inch steel wheels; the SE gets 16-inch alloys. With an overall length of 155.5 inches on a 98.8-inch wheelbase, width of 66.7 inches and height of 59.4 inches, it should be easy to park anywhere. Even in Berkeley, although thankfully we didn't have to do that. At stated weights of 2315 pounds with the stick or 2335 with the automatic, performance should be sprightly and thirst minimal.

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2015 Toyota Yaris

Standard equipment levels are high, with even the L having air conditioning, Entune audio with AM/FM/CD (all common formats)/USB/auxiliary jack choices and Bluetooth connectivity. And power windows, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat. All have Toyota's Star Safety System with ABS, VSC, EBD, BA, and Smart Stop Technology and nine airbags.

The examples available for driving were all well-equipped SEs, of course. With automatics. Well, better than than a CVT tuned for economy at the expense of any fun… Toyota was the last to use a three-speed automatic twenty years ago in the Tercel, so no real surprise. Cost is an issue in this class, and with the torquey engine, money was better spent on four-wheel discs and a lovely suspension tuning. This is one entertaining car, something that could not be said of any of its predecessors, at least in stock form. In D, the four-speed had no problem getting the little hatch up steep hills -- light weight solves lots of potential problems. I could tell that there was a road at the other end of the steering column -- lessons learned about EPS with development of the Scion FR-S have been passed around. A stick would have been even better, but the automatic is not a serious ability-killer. Previous Yarises have not been on any "fun inexpensive hatch" lists. This one is right in the thick of things there.

MSRP ranges from $14,845 for a 3-door L with the stick through $17,620 for an automatic 5-door SE. The 5-door SE with stick is $16,820. All prices without destination charge, tax, license, and so on.


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SIENNA: No driving and not much passenger time but I can say that the newest Sienna minivan is a great improvement inside. Not a bit of that old cheap-looking textured hard plastic to be found, just good design and materials. Extra soundproofing and unibody reinforcement help, too. It's more a traditional mid-cycle refresh, so no powertrain changes and plenty of versatility and choice in feature levels from basic to opulent. All Siennas get a backup camera, a good thing for a family vehicle that may be surrounded by small children.

The 2015 Toyota Camry, Yaris, and Sienna should be available as you read this.



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