While it’s never going to attain bedroom pin-up status, the Toyota Camry Atara SX offers a slightly edgier take on the standard four-door family chariot.
The Atara SX assumed the role of the ‘sportiest’Camry in the range in 2011, when Toyota ditched the familiar Sportivo grade nameplate and ushered in the seventh-generation Camry using the Atara badge.
Priced from $35,990 (before on-road costs) the Toyota Camry Atara SX sits under the range-topping Atara SL and above the $33,490 Atara S variant.
While it might be tagged as the sportiest Camry, it seems the title refers to looks alone – there are no extra kilowatts hiding under the bonnet of the Atara SX that would place it above the rest of the Atara line-up, although it’s slightly up on the base grade Altise.
So what we get is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine producing 135kW/235Nm, and a Toyota Camry adorned with a body kit.
Like its Sportivo predecessor, the Atara SX gets a unique rear bumper, rear lip spoiler and black-tinted headlamps. That’s on top of features such as the sports bumper and grille, side skirts and dual exhaust it shares with its lower-grade Atara S stable mate.
There is a clearer style differentiation for the interior, with the SX-grade variant picking up leather-accented sports seats and door trims, along with sports pedals.
Other features shared with the Atara S include steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Standard equipment includes keyless entry and push-button start, front fog lamps, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, electrically operated driver’s seat, six-speaker audio unit with Bluetooth phone and music streaming and a 6.1-inch touchscreen. Unfortunately, the Atara SX misses out on satellite navigation and reverse parking sensors.
While the Camry has a relatively neat and uncluttered interior, several features such as the faux-leather dash with accompanying faux stitching look a little on the cheap side for a vehicle priced at almost $36,000.
Clear instrumentation and a simplified switchgear layout are positives, however, as is the multi-function steering wheel with audio and phone buttons.
There’s also a decent amount of passenger space inside the Camry, (plenty more than several rivals) – a legacy of the 46mm of extra rear-seat legroom and extra elbow space added over the previous-gen Camry.
There’s no shortage of storage space, either, with stacks of cubbyholes scattered throughout the car and a thoroughly useful 515 litres of boot space, despite the full-size alloy spare wheel sitting underneath the cargo floor.
The latest Camry also offers much-improved ergonomics over its predecessor, with a fine driving position and a tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel that settles the driver snugly into the car.
The seats themselves are nicely cushioned, but lack sufficient side bolstering for those more enthusiastic driving moments.
With a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 9.8 seconds, the Camry’s 2.5-litre naturally aspirated engine is no firecracker, but it is smooth revving and lively enough in the mid-range to provide a reasonably rewarding drive.
Engage the sports mode on the standard six-speed auto and you get some extra aural pleasure via the automatic throttle blipping on downshifts.
Not so pleasant is the Camry’s ride, which is fidgety and overly firm despite the fact Toyota claims it has been tuned specifically for Australian roads.
The culprit is the Atara SX’s sports suspension, which comprises stiffer spring rates and damper settings.
The result is noticeably less compliance than its regular Camry siblings and a jittery ride over relatively small bumps and ruts. Even those harmless-looking freeway expansion joints are felt inside the SX’s cabin.
The electric power steering lacks on-centre feel and precision and is prone to ‘wander’ – demanding regular corrections of the wheel – leaving it well adrift of the Mazda 6 and Honda Accord Euro in terms of handling finesse and steering feel.
There’s a decent level of grip on offer from the Bridgestone Turanzas, though higher-than-expected road noise can be an issue over coarse-chip surfaces.
Toyota claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 7.8 litres per 100km for the Camry range, with CO2 emissions averaging 183g/km. We recorded consumption of 12.1L/100km in a test comprising city and freeway kilometres, as well as some harder driving on country roads.
As expected, the entire Toyota Camry range boasts a five-star ANCAP safety rating. All models are equipped with seven airbags, stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist.
While there’s plenty to choose from in the competitive mid-size playing field – the Camry has no fewer than 11 well-respected rivals – the sporty Atara SX is a decent package.
It might not excel over the competition in any one area, and it struggles to find a satisfactory ride and handling balance, but the car gets the basics right – it is very roomy, has a strong engine and is reasonably economical.
Add to that the cheapest capped-price servicing around ($520 in total for the first three years/60,000km) and the Toyota Camry Atara SX makes a decent case for itself as a pragmatic family car.