The Skinny: Toyota’s top-drawer Camry Atara SL sedan has two years of duty before local manufacture ceases. To celebrate, or commiserate, it gets a new face, more features and a sweeter ride to appease fleets and loyal Camry buyers.
It’s a more polished car, but there’s not a lot of change in the new model. Solid and dependable, it treads a middle course in the segment - undoubtedly an important part of its appeal to the Camry's loyal army of buyers.
However, with big discounts on offer for the outgoing model (and quite a few still about), buyers might be better-tempted to look there first.
Vehicle style: Medium sedan
Price: $37,440 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 135kW/235Nm 2.5-litre petrol 4cyl | 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.8 l/100km | tested: 8.5 l/100km
Anonymity is as hard to achieve as it is to pronounce. But it’s something Camry owners have either thrust upon them or something they actively seek out.
Regardless, the Toyota Camry has been with most of us for our lifetimes. Ubiquitous, an inescapable traffic filler that rarely stands out from the crowd. You never hear anyone say: “Hey, did you see that red Camry?”
But it sells like hotcakes.
This year alone 12,550 Camrys found owners. That’s four times as many as the next best, the Mazda6.
The huge sales are remarkable given the medium-car sector is full of some really interesting cars. Cars that are more comfortable or quicker, more fuel efficient or roomier, better equipped or prettier.
And that’s the issue – all the rivals are good at something – whereas the Camry treads a safe middle course; solid, steady and conservative, its attributes reading like a borderline school report: passable in everything.
New for 2016 is a big, fat grille. In some models it’s a gloss black, others a more demure silver.
It’s about the only give away. Yes, there’s more work on ride comfort and refinement but the bottom line is same-old, same-old.
Quality: It’s a Toyota so it’s built to last. That’s not a question, that’s a statement and every household in (nearly) every Australian street could tell of the reliability of their/their friend’s/their cousin’s Toyota.
Sadly, the quality in the latest Camry is acknowledged but simply not visible. The cabin is neat but ordinary and would bring a smile only to a first-time car owner or a fresh cabbie.
Things like the 1950s foot-operated park-brake and the mismatched buttons and switches show that either not enough people are caring or the cash-cow Camry doesn’t deserve any more investment. Even in a switch.
Comfort: Again, not a lot has changed. This car fits all shapes and sizes and obviously there are compromises. But seat comfort is good and there’s enough variance in the seat and steering wheel to adjust to the majority of drivers.
There’s also heaps of space and it’s easy to see why the Camry – in Hybrid form – has become the darling of Adelaide’s taxi fleet (and, increasingly, Sydney's too).
Ride comfort is good and families and business buyers will appreciate the impressive noise suppression from road, wind and the outside world.
Equipment: My wife threw a spanner when she found there were no seat heaters. Funny, it’s the little things, isn’t it? That aside, the Atara SL has standard features including leather upholstery, satellite navigation, 10-speaker audio with digital radio, a sunroof and 17-inch alloy wheels.
It also has dual-zone climatic air, steering wheel paddles for the automatic gearbox and a comprehensive safety inventory that will make every family man – and fleet manager – smile.
Storage: It is designed to seat five and does it in style. No arguments about the comfort or the available room. Even the boot is impressive at 515 litres and has a fold-down rear seat to expand cargo room even further.
Or so I thought. The fold-down seat reveals a relatively small hole and is designed for long objects – a short ladder, golf bags, a wheel-less bicycle, a collapsed pram and so on – and is constrained by the parcel shelf.
As such, it lacks the flexibility of wagons and SUVs and is designed more for suitcases and the like.
There is however a big glovebox, decent centre box with lid, door pockets and a handy lidded cubby-hole ahead of the gear shifter.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Reliability comes at a price. The Camry is not the most invigorating drive out there, but neither is it lacklustre.
The drivetrain remains as before, with the 135kW/235Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder aspirated mill attached to a six-speed automatic that drives the front wheels.
Momentum builds, rather than reacts, so acceleration is progressive and if you’re quick on the draw, brisk enough to lead most traffic away from the lights.
Want more? Use the steering column-mounted paddles to access the manual mode of the gearbox.
The engine wakes up from about 3500rpm onwards and despite the background noise (just ignore it) there’s a lot more response and urge. But, like the sweet spot on a golf wood, I doubt if many owners will find it.
Camry is destined for a life in suburbia and alongside thousands of doppelgangers on crowded freeways. Here, the engine is barely breathing, and will whisper its driver and occupants along at freeway speeds.
It’s a faithful servant that’s never expected to be left off the leash, so it’s designed to suit. And in this role, it’s perfectly docile, dependable and unstressed.
Refinement: Improvements for 2015 extend the soundproofing and replace some suspension bushes. That makes the car slightly quieter and maintains the suppleness of the ride, but only by minor degrees.
The drivetrain is smooth and, driven cautiously (as most tend to be driven), there’s a pleasant seamless nature of the transmission.
Ride and Handling: New for 2015 are suspension tuning and some steering tweaks introduced to create a better balance between handling and ride comfort.
Those familiar with the Camry badge will note improved solidity in the way the car feels on the road.
It is certainly more confident, but against the Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata, for example, it lacks directness in the steering. You will notice some initial dullness when first turning the wheel.
But it soaks up bumps better than these two, especially at speeds above about 60km/h. Below that speed, and road irritations can cause some nervous jiggling but for freeways, the Camry just glides along.
While comfort remains a priority, handling will never be pitch perfect. Bodyroll is noticeable and there is some understeer evident when it’s pushed into a corner – actually a built-in warning system telling amateurs to slow down – which is corrected by the stability control.
Braking: Four-wheel disc brakes and a suite of electronic brake aids make this as sure-footed as its rivals. The foot-operated p[ark brake is a bit of a let down – an electric brake button should be the go – but to be fair, it swings out of the way to give the left foot plenty of resting space and it clears up the centre console.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – Camry received 36.27 out of 37 possible points in ANCAP testing.
Safety features: Standard across the Camry range are mandatory stability and traction control, a reverse camera, ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution.
There are seven airbags, automatic dipping mirrors when reversing, LED daytime running lights, front and rear park sensors, automatic dipping headlights, and auto headlights in low-light conditions.
The Atara SL (and SX) adds important safety kit to the standard list. This includes low-speed collision avoidance, lane change monitor, blind-spot indicator and rear cross-traffic alert.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Service intervals are every 9 months or 15,000km. Toyota’s Service Advantage capped-price service program covers the car for to up to 5 standard scheduled services at $140 each for the first 4 years or 75,000km (whichever occurs first).
Resale value: The resale value after three years is estimated to be 45 percent of the purchase price. This is down on its main rivals with the Mazda6 at 54 percent and the Subaru Liberty at 57 percent. However, the Camry and rivals including the Nissan Altima (resale at 38 percent), the Hyundai Sonata (45 percent) and Ford Mondeo (48 percent), have a high concentration of fleet use which is responsible for a weaker resale value.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY RATING: 3.5/5 stars
Ford Mondeo Trend ($37,290) – It’s a bigger car than the Camry and its lift-back hatch design makes it super handy for luggage storage and awkward cargo shapes.
The turbo-petrol engine is also much more powerful to make it a more fun drive. But it’s heavier on fuel at 8.2L/100km and needs premium grade juice. There’s a few more features in the Mondeo, too. (see Mondeo reviews)
Mazda 6 Touring ($37,280) – Mazda recently refined its biggest sedan with more refinement and more value-added equipment. It’s a nice ride that despite the price being equivalent to the Camry, feels more upmarket.
The aspirated engine is the same size as the Camry but is more economical at 6.6L/100km. Boot space isn’t as good as the Camry. (see Mazda6 reviews)
Hyundai Sonata Elite ($36,990) – The surprise entrant is actually a really good drive with excellent handling to make it one of the most fun machines in its segment. But the 180kW/350Nm output from the turbo-petrol engine kicks the fuel average to 9.2L/100km, above its rivals. Boot space is on par with the Camry. (see Sonata reviews)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL 3.5/5 stars
Here’s the thing: This is a well-built and sensible sedan for the fleet operator who wants no downtime, and the private owner who rates “getting there” more important than flirtatious nonsense like style, performance, handling accuracy and heated seats.
Yes, the new Camry is good, better than its predecessor.
The new bold face, a higher-featured safety pack and improved drivetrain smoothness are the hallmarks of this solid, evergreen family car.
The price is right but then again, it’s priced hard up against some fierce rivals. The comfort is good, the cabin space is taxi standard and the audio and connectivity are right up with its competitors.
There’s also the knowledge that when you wake up on a freezing cold winter’s morning with incessant rain and flesh-stripping wind, the Camry will start. First time.
And it will plug on through an atrocious winter until you get to work. And bring you home. No dramas, no hissy fits – just get in and drive.
For many, that’s exactly what they want in a car.
MORE: Toyota News and Reviews