The iPhone 5 has just been launched, in less than five years Apple has offered its sixth all new iPhone. That's one new phone launched every year. Each year the newer model outsells its predecessor and the line only gets longer outside Apple showrooms across the globe. Any business in today's fast moving environment needs to embrace change or be left behind. This applies to cars as well and most manufacturers in our market are quick to apply this rule in our market. Case in point Toyota who has always launched newer models in the country whenever the car is available internationally. The Camry is the latest to join this bandwagon, and we recently drove the third generation car that was recently launched in India. How then does it fare against its arch rivals, the Accord, Sonata and the Superb? Read on.
Let's start with the oldest car in this test and the Camry's arch rival, the Accord. Even after being around for quite some time and already getting ready to be replaced by an all new generation model, the big Honda still looks like it was just launched yesterday. The mid life facelift was very mild but it freshened the Accord's appearance. The traditional Honda grille stands out well since there is not much chrome used on the car. From the sides the prominent shoulder line adds character while the rear looks smart. The overall design of the car isn't loud at any point and the design appeals to everyone. The number of Accords you see on road today is enough proof.
The Superb on the other hand takes a more elegant design approach, it has what it takes to be a presidential limo. In fact the Superb is always the chosen car to ferry Czech diplomats around the world. From the front, the car has a no-nonsense approach and as one moves to the side, the profile is more limo like. Its not a very appealing profile but that definitely has not affected how the car has been so encouragingly received in our market. However, the Superb has been around for a while now and a design update will make it even more appealing. That will happen shortly.
Hyundais are the most talked about brand recently in terms of styling, the fluidic treatment on their cars have only made all their models look striking and at the same time carry a family look. The Sonata is the company's flagship car in the country and is definitely one of the most stylish in the fleet. The car stands apart from its competition and has a 'look at me' design approach. It is futuristic and is a big departure from the previous generation Sonatas we are used to seeing. The big chrome front grille takes centre stage to grab attention. The headlamps are sharp and sleek and along with the standard HID headlamps, the car looks meaner than the rest. From the side, the familiar upswept shoulder line adds a lot of character while the angular Mercedes CLS like roofline is unique and attractive. At the rear the twin exhausts give the car a sporty look while the tail lamps too are sharp and sleek.
That leaves us with the Camry. This is the newest car among the lot but it is hard to tell by looking at it. The previous generation Camry looked very modern when it had arrived but the present car follows a more simplistic and elegant design theme. The car tends to feature more flat and sharp edges that successfully keeps it understated yet pleasing. From the front, the sharp angular grille and headlamps can easily make one think it's a Lexus, the Toyota badge being the only give away.
The front grille and fog lamp inserts are finished in chrome (Indians should love it). The sides as said earlier, are plain and flat devoid of any outrageous lines running around. A healthy dose of chrome has been used on the door handles, window beading and on the floor line as well to spice up the luxury factor. The tail lamps are nicely designed and give the rear a mature appearance. Overall though, the Sonata is definitely the most attractive car in this segment and is clearly the winner in this aspect while the rest are more or less evenly placed.
Step inside most of the cars and the interiors complement the exteriors. The Accord's cabin is a nice place to be in, the materials used and overall build is good. There are a bit too many buttons in the central console but apart from that there isn't much to complain. The beige-black dual tone shade gives the car a premium feel but the car is showing age. Use of faux wood inserts is perfect, neither are they overdone nor do they look plasticky. In terms of space and comfort, the seats are soft and comfortable, this makes it a great car to travel long distances, however the seats tend to get softer in time. At the rear, the seat is wide enough to accommodate three adults but the transmission tunnel comes in the way and hence makes best sense for two passengers only. With two at the back, the fold away armrest can also be used to control the stereo, this comes in handy especially if one is chauffeured.
Inside the Superb, a brighter and lighter cream shade of upholstery is used instead of beige. This makes it look classy but is prone to get dirty. The centre console is simple and functional while controls are easily accessible. The Superb also features faux wood like the rest. The seats are more firm and supportive, the rear is spacious and comfortable and offers the most room in this segment. However, the Superb also has a rather high transmission tunnel which means only two people can be seated comfortably. Air-con vents are placed in the B-pillar and this ensures better cooling than the rest. It is also the only car that offers rear sun blinds, a good feature especially since window tints are now banned in the country and we should soon see this feature incorporated in the other cars as well.
Step inside the Sonata and the fluidic design theme continues. The beige-black combination gives the car a premium feel but the beige used in the car is not to everyone's liking. The car also features faux wood inserts but instead of the usual brown shade the Sonata features a unique black hue making it look more luxurious. The seats are plush and one will just sink into them, but just like the Accord we feel over time the seats can get softer than required. At the back, one gets air-con vents and since the transmission tunnel isn't very high, three people can be accommodated a bit more comfortably than in the other cars. It still makes best sense for two since the foldable arm rest features stereo controls and seat cooler controls. This is the only car in this test to feature cooled seats, the feature makes so much sense in our country. However the Sonata with manual transmission features cooled seats at the rear while the automatic variant gets them in the front, so Hyundai why couldn't all seats be equipped with this feature?
The Camry's interiors are smart and functional, it definitely looks fresh and modern. The dash here is also a dual tone black-beige combo with you guessed it, faux wood inserts. There is faux wood on the steering wheel as well giving the car a luxurious touch. The controls on the steering wheel for the stereo and settings are well thought of and feel good to operate. Materials are nice while the knobs and switches feel built to last, the entire cabin in fact is elegant and is designed with comfort in mind. The car even features a 2DIN touchscreen stereo that also displays fuel economy history every time the trip meter is reset. The Camry has always been a comfortable car to be in and the new model takes it to another level. Though it may not be more spacious than the Superb when it comes to rear knee room or even match the Sonata's features, in terms of overall space and comfort, the Camry is hard to beat. Did I mention the front seat can be adjusted by the rear passenger by just pressing the buttons placed on the sides of the front seat. The Camry just made itself the new benchmark in this segment .
All the cars in this test feature petrol powertrains, the Superb is also available in a diesel variant but since the rest aren't, we chose to use the Superb petrol. The 1.8-litre TSI engine in the Superb then is the smallest unit of the lot since it is the only car that is turbocharged. The engine produces 160PS between 4500-6200rpm and a maximum torque of 250Nm from as low as 1500rpm all the way to 4500rpm. It's a very refined engine and power is always on tap, turbo lag is minimal and power delivery is quite linear. Also because there is good low end torque the car is quick through the gears.
The Honda Accord packs in a 2.4-litre i-VTEC engine that produces a maximum power of 180PS at 6500rpm and a maximum torque of 222Nm at 4300rpm. The engine is a rev happy unit and quite powerful but an engine that was once regarded the most refined in its class is beginning to be overshadowed by its newer rivals. The 5-speed manual gearbox doesn't offer the smoothest shifts.
Coming to the Sonata then, this is the only car featuring a naturally aspirated direct injection engine. The 2.4-litre unit is good for a class topping 201PS at 6300rpm and a maximum torque of 250Nm at 4250rpm. The engine is similar to the Accord in nature, rev happy and powerful at higher revs. However it has a heavy clutch and the car feels jerky every time the gears are shifted especially at lower speeds while crawling in traffic. Gear shifts are smooth though.
The Camry features the biggest engine in the class, the 2.5-litre DOHC engine features dual VVT-I (variable valve timing now with lift for both intake and exhaust valves). The engine produces 181PS at 6000rpm and 233Nm of torque at 4100rpm. As mentioned in our first drive, this engine's strong point is refinement. NVH levels are also low. In fact while shooting the car, Gaurav couldn't believe that the engine was actually running. The engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission (there is no manual transmission variant) and is quick to accelerate. Power delivery is linear throughout the rev range, however the engine does gets whiny above 5800rpm till its 6200rpm redline. What are the numbers like? It's a very close battle on paper and it's the Honda that comes in at last place, the car takes 9.93 seconds to hit the ton while the quarter mile marker is crossed in 17.65 seconds. Top speed however is an impressive 198kmph. It's also the least efficient returning an overall fuel efficiency of 8.9kmpl. Understandably sales for this once powerhouse car have been dwindling in the face of quicker and more efficient cars.
Coming in at third is the new Camry and though it doesn't feature a manual gearbox it takes just 9.56 seconds to reach 100kmph and 16.88 seconds to cross the 400m mark. Fuel efficiency is one of the car's strong points, the overall figure is an impressive 10.45kmpl. We achieved a top speed of 203kmph. The Superb finishes second, the car takes 9.5 seconds to reach 100kmph while the quarter mile time is 16.80 seconds. Top speed is 202kmph. In terms of fuel efficiency, the Superb comes out on top returning 11.15kmpl.
Most new Hyundais boast of best straight line performance and it's not a surprise that the Sonata is the quickest car in this test. The dash to 100kmph comes in 9.43 seconds while 400m is crossed in 16.72 seconds. The top speed is 194kmph. The Sonata returns an overall fuel efficiency of 10.35kmpl. The Sonata then is the quickest car of the lot but it's no match to the refinement the Camry offers nor as efficient as the Superb. The Skoda is also more refined than the Accord and Camry and is only slightly slower than the leader in terms of outright performance.
The Accord's ride is smooth, the suspension is tuned more towards the softer side and this means the car glides over bumps and small potholes. It's great for long distances too. The car holds its line well around corners and gives one the confidence at higher speeds. There is a hint of understeer though but only when pushed really hard. The steering offers good feedback and is heavy enough. The Superb on the other hand is a nimble car and feels more confident to drive enthusiastically. The suspension is tuned well and has the right balance in terms of ride and handling, body roll is minimal and it offers a smooth drive even over bumpy roads. The steering is also the best of the lot and though the car is quite long, it doesn't really behave like one.
The Sonata on the other hand offers a good ride as long as the roads are smooth like they are on freeways abroad. Slight undulations can upset the car's dynamics and the car tends to wallow more than usual making the passengers nervous. The steering is unusually heavy at parking speeds and lighter at higher speeds. The new Camry offers the best ride in this class, the suspension has been stiffened mildly and this has improved the car's ride and handling. Driving over Mumbai's potholes thanks to heavy rain, one doesn't feel a thing. Even while cornering hard, there is not much body roll. It is not as good as the Superb but is definitely better than the Accord and Sonata. At higher speeds above 180kmph the car starts to get slightly hairy but until then its perfectly composed. So overall, the Camry has the best ride but it's the Superb yet again that offers the best overall ride and handling package.
The last time we visited this segment, the Superb was the clear winner when it competed against the Sonata and Accord. The car has better ride and handling, is more spacious at the back, has the biggest boot and is livelier to drive. All that at a very competitive price. The Camry enters the picture and proves to be a better car than the Accord and Sonata as well, the ride quality is phenomenal and it is more efficient while offering better performance too. The only negative being its price, it is the only automatic among the lot but even if it did have a manual transmission we reckon the car would still be considerably more expensive. Though the price has come down due to Toyota assembling the car locally, at Rs 23.80 lakh ex-Mumbai it is almost Rs 4 to 4.5 lakh more expensive than the rest. But price aside, the Camry is the second best car in this segment. Except for the ride, the Superb betters the Camry in every aspect and retains its crown as the best premium D segment car in the country.