2012 TOYOTA CAMRY REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Midsize sedan
Price: $39,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 7.8 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 9.9 l/100km
The Camry - safe and reliable, that's a given. And did I hear you say "but boring"? Well, not any longer; Toyota has totally revitalised its mid-size mainstay.
The new Camry, released this week, comes with significant improvements to interior quality, driving dynamics and spaciousness. The result is a car that, although it wears the Camry badge, is nothing like the Camry many may have expected.
This, the Atara SL, replaces the Camry Grande and offers impressive value for money.
Quality: There are soft-touch surfaces galore, and the dash looks - and feels - like something you’d find in a more premium car. The centre stack is well laid-out, and the leather upholstery is soft and appealing.
Our only quibbles are with the plastic knee-pads either side of the centre stack, whose rough edges detracted from the high-grade appearance of the rest of the cabin. Also the a-pillar trims appeared to suffer from poor fitment.
Comfort: Generously padded electric front seats on the Atara SL provide plenty of comfort for long country drives, and the steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake. Front lumbar support is adjustable too.
With a reconfigured interior that puts the front seats further forward and the back seats further rearward, there’s now plenty of room for back seat passengers. The rear bench offers excellent leg and knee room, with plentiful headroom.
A low floor and unobtrusive centre console also make the centre-rear position habitable for adult passengers, although the backrest is too firm for long trips.
Rear passengers will also appreciate the face-level air outlets built into the back of the centre console, as well as the Atara SL’s power-retractable rear sunblind.
Equipment: There’s a lot of tech here for a sub-$40k car. Power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, trip-computer, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, a reversing camera, satellite navigation and digital radio are all standard on the SL, as are 17-inch alloys and front foglamps.
The SL also features a blind-spot monitor and auto high beam system. Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity is standard, as is a JBL 10-speaker premium audio system, and 3.5mm auxilliary and USB inputs.
Storage: The glovebox and centre console box are sizable, and a smaller lidded cubby at the base of the centre stack also contains the USB and 12-volt jacks.
The boot’s 505 litre luggage capacity is slightly down on the previous model’s 535 litre volume (a result of the repositioned back seat). Under the boot floor lies a full-size alloy spare wheel.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Behind the wheel, the new Camry feels livelier than its predecessor.
The extra midrange torque produced by the 2012 Camry’s all-new 2.5 litre inline four provides good tractability around town, and the six-speed automatic is smooth-shifting and well matched to the engine’s output (a reasonably healthy 135kW and 235Nm).
Kickdown performance is slow, but it's got paddle-shifters (another unexpected surprise). We’d recommend manually downshifting prior to overtaking when at highway speeds.
Refinement: Extra sound-deadening and improved aerodynamics reduce the intrusion of road roar and wind noise, although we detected a hint of wind rustling about the A pillars as speeds rise.
Our test car also had a rattle coming from the centre-stack, however it was isolated to that particular car.
Suspension: Toyota Australia developed its own locally-tuned suspension for the 2012 Camry, with unique spring and damper rates, as well as a firmer front swaybar.
It feels tauter than the last-gen Camry’s suspension, but is well-sorted and doesn’t sacrifice much in terms of ride comfort.
On the fast, undulating country roads of our drive route, the Camry's suspension control and resistance to body-roll was excellent. Mid-corner ripples and bumps failed to upset the Camry’s composure, and it felt controllable and predictable at all speeds.
The new model features electric power steering. Its advantage is in the weight savings compared to a conventional hydraulic system, and reduced drag on the engine.
Tuned to be light at low speed and weightier at high speed, we liked its quite direct feel.
Braking: Braking revisions for 2012 include a shorter pedal stroke, which eliminates the mushiness of the previous model and delivers a firmer, more responsive pedal feel.
Even with some heavy braking on a sustained downhill run, the all-disc brake package was quite fade resistant.
ANCAP rating: Not rated.
Safety features: Standard safety features on all Camry models include seven airbags (front, front side, curtain and driver’s knee), three-point seatbelts, stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist.
The Atara SL gains a radar-based blind-spot monitor to warn of traffic lurking just behind and to the side of the car. SL models also get an automatic high beam feature to reduce the chance of dazzling other drivers when driving at night.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Under Toyota’s Service Advantage program, which covers the car for the first four years or 75,000km of ownership, the first five services are capped at a very friendly $130 each.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mazda6 Luxury Sports automatic ($43,115) - The Mazda6 produces less power (125kW) from its 2.5 litre inline four, and only a five-speed automatic.
It’s more involving to drive than the Camry, but comes with slightly less equipment. (see Mazda6 reviews)
Ford Mondeo Hatch Titanium Ecoboost ($44,990) - Equipped with a turbocharged inline four that produces 149kW and 300Nm of torque, Ford’s Mondeo Ecoboost soundly beats the Toyota for outright muscle.
Its slick-shifting twin-clutch transmission is another plus, and the Titanium also gets active cruise control, lane departure warning and blind-spot monitor. The Mondeo carries a $5,000 premium over the Camry though. (see Mondeo reviews)
Volkswagen Jetta 147TSI Highline ($37,990) - The Jetta’s interior doesn’t have the spaciousness of the Camry, however its 147kW turbocharged inline four, like the Mondeo’s Ecoboost engine, gives it a lively sporting feel.
Like many Volkswagens though, the Jetta’s pricey options list can see its price advantage over the Camry quickly erode. (see Jetta reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Toyota has high hopes that the new Camry range will win over more private buyers. In the case of the well-equipped and nicely furnished Atara SL, we reckon it compares very favourably to cars like the Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo.
The myriad improvements to refinement, interior quality and interior space are certainly welcome, and elevate the 2012 Camry to a level significantly above its predecessor.
It has the right balance of equipment and price, and considering the amount of car that you get for your money, it’s a solid and very dependable buy.