What is prestige? Prestige is a word you'd readily associate with a Mercedes-Benz or a Lexus, but not with a Toyota Camry — at least, not in the UAE. It's certainly durable and utterly reliable, but by no means prestigious, what with the thousands ferrying people around the emirates day in and day out in the form of taxis.
It's favoured by cab operators because of its core qualities of sturdy build, bullet-proof dependability, low maintenance costs and high residual value, which have made the Camry a global hit since its launch two decades back. But it's these same attributes that have contributed to its image as an almost characterless workhorse with a diminished social standing.
So it was with a sense of bemusement that I noted the liberal use of the word ‘prestige' in the press release for the 2012 Aurion. Now at this point at least a small percentage of you will be wondering what an Aurion's got to do with the Camry. The answer is it's got everything to do with a Camry. In fact it is a Camry, but with a 3.5-litre V6 engine in place of the 2.4-litre unit that beats under the bonnet of the ubiquitous Dubai cabs.
The Aurion was born in 2006 after Toyota realised that it wasn't easy to convince potential buyers to part with a few thousand dirhams more to upgrade to the V6-powered Camry Grande without offering them something to further differentiate the two.
The first step was dropping the Camry name altogether from the V6 version. The change was more than nominal, with the front and rear getting some cosmetic modifications to make it look different from the four-pot Camry. Although not a resounding sales success, it definitely did the trick for Toyota, with many customers signing the dotted line without realising that they were buying a V6 Camry. Never having driven the first generation Aurion, I was keen to see if the latest iteration does live up to Toyota's claims of the car having a "prestigious appeal".
If chrome can add to a car's prestige, then the new Aurion Grande has lots of it. The shiny stuff is lavishly used to embellish the redesigned, half-a-spindle grille, the fog lamp assembly and the boot lid. These tweaks to the front and rear do make the Aurion look different from the new Camry, with the only angle that gives it away being the side profile.
If prestige means having a surfeit of features that are not common in the given segment, then the Aurion has that in abundance too. Features like proximity key, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a reversing camera, parking sensors, sat-nav, eight-way memory power seats, power-retractable rear sunscreen, rain-sensing wipers, auto HID headlamps… the list of class-leading features goes on.
The greatest manifestation of prestige is apparent in the Aurion's cabin, which, although similar in design to the Camry, is a few notches up when it comes to the quality of materials. Most of the switchgear is good old fare from the Toyota/Lexus parts bin, and the 2012 Aurion Grande's cabin with its high-quality faux wood dashboard trim and soft-touch plastics, would pass off as an entry-level Lexus's but for the badge.
Interestingly though, the main reason for the Aurion's existence — the 3.5-litre V6 — remains unchanged. The engine, together with the six-speed automatic, is carried over from the previous generation. However, that doesn't place the Aurion at a disadvantage at all. In fact, the 268bhp, 336Nm powertrain is a super-smooth unit that's more than enough for a car this size. Handling and ride characteristics are pretty much the same as the new Camry's, which means a comfortable, soft ride without being wallowy. However, despite Toyota's claims that fuel efficiency has been improved in the new car, the best average I could get over the weekend was 11.2 litres-per-100km.
The 2012 Aurion is no groundbreaking model, but is overall a more convincing attempt at distancing itself from the Camry. Whether these changes add any prestige to the car or not is subjective. If you were one of those who envied Camry owners for the money they save on maintenance and repairs but didn't want to buy one because of its taxi car image, the Aurion could be a perfect compromise. But to me a Camry by any other name is still a Camry.