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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Road test: 2018 Toyota Camry

We test out the UAE’s taxi model of choice from the driver’s seat

Perceptions of cars can change an awful lot depending on your geography. When I was growing up in England, my favourite grandfather loved Toyota Camrys so much that he bought several in a row – all white, so far as I recall. In India, many drivers see the marque as an aspirational status symbol amid crowded roads and beaten up jalopies. And naturally in the UAE, you have probably spent more time in Camrys than any other car apart from your own thanks to their status as the de facto taxi of choice in the Emirates.

Indeed, it is somewhat akin to seeing a work colleague wearing civvies for the first time when you clap eyes on the new, eighth-generation Camry. And when not clad in Abu Dhabi silver or Dubai, err, beige, it takes your gaze far more effectively. Particularly in my test model’s resplendent red – one of nine exterior colour choices.

Those seemingly omnipresent taxis have no doubt aided the Camry’s ascent to being the bestselling mid-size saloon in the GCC, with tens of thousands of Middle East units shifted per year, hitting six figures in the past few decades. Since the model was introduced in 1982, a total of 19 million have hit the world’s roads.

I get my hands on the V6, in SE+ form, which is the entry designation of the larger 3.5-litre engine, paired with a new eight-speed automatic gearbox. The 2.5-litre of taxi fame is also available, soon to be followed by a new hybrid Camry, which Toyota says will be delivering in the Emirates “by Ramadan”.

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The V6’s stats are not inconsiderable when put into the context of other cars that you would probably consider to be rather nippier than a Camry. The 298hp on offer is only a few equine units below my current daily driver, a Ford Mustang. A few Pony Cars could yet get embarrassed at the traffic lights.

Not that I quite get to put the Camry’s full velocity to the test, because a couple of laps of the Dubai Autodrome as part of its launch, intended to show off the Camry’s dynamics, are rendered fairly pointless by slower drivers in the cavalcade turning the whole thing into a moving traffic jam.

On the road, though, it moves through its eight gears with enough urgency to dispel its cab-based rep, with a lower centre of gravity and less body movement when accelerating and cornering.

It also has an almost immeasurably more agreeable cabin than some of the tatty and drab offerings you may be more used to seeing from the rear seat of a taxi. Forward visibility is improved, while the dash has a nice flow to it, even if the eight-inch navigation screen somehow looks a tad miserly.

Storage space is pleasingly plentiful, meanwhile – handy for all those taxi drivers who often have two-litre bottles of water squirrelled away around the interior of their cars.

The back end of the car won’t be attracting too many amorous gazes, with the twin tailpipes being just about the only feature with much in the way of character, but the front is another matter, with the Camry having evolved into a much less friendly contender. The V6’s slanted lower grille gives it a sense of real menace, with the slanted headlights evoking hawk-like eyes.

As you might expect given its primary use here, the Camry’s fuel economy figures are on a drive-all-day scale. On paper, it can manage 850 kilometres before you have to hit your local – or, by then, possibly not so local – petrol station.

With improved looks, balance and the ability to drive the entire coastline of the UAE and almost halfway back again on a single tank of fuel, then, it is going to take a slightly special everyman car to usurp the Camry’s reign of the UAE’s roads.

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The specS: 2018 Toyota Camry

Price: base / as tested: Dh91,000 / Dh114,000

Engine: 3.5-litre V6

Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic

Power: 298hp @ 6,600rpm

Torque: 356Nm @ 4,700rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 7.0L / 100km