You wouldn’t call the Toyota Camry Atara S a sports car, with the ‘S’ what you actually get is a slightly sportier version of the standard 4 cylinder Camry, let’s look at the package.
The Camry Atara S is a 4 cylinder, front wheel drive, 5 seat sedan with a 5 Star ANCAP rating. ABS brakes, Vehicle Stability Control (VCS), Traction Control (TRC) and Airbags, including Side Curtain Airbags are all standard.
17 inch alloy wheels with 215 x 55R tyres are included plus fog lamps, dual exhaust system, sports steering wheel with controls for music and hands free phone operations and a paddle gear change mechanism mounted to the back of the wheel.
There’s a few sporty touches with silver velour inserts across the seat backrests, silver trim finishes, upholstery stitching on the instrument hood and dash area, a carbon fibre finish on dash trims and electric window controls panels which all adds a sporty touch.
Other features include touch screen sound system, bluetooth connection, reversing camera, power driver’s seat, power windows, fold down rear seats with center armrest, electric mirrors, air conditioning, power steering, central locking and key-less entry are all included.
The Atara S has the standard Camry 2.5 litre Dual VVT 4 cylinder engine producing the 132kw’s of power and 230Nm of torque at 4,100rpm. The engine is quiet when cruising, averaging around 10.5 litres per 100klm from the 70liter fuel tank on a mixture of suburban and highway roads and delivers plenty of power with good torque in the mid rev range.
The engine climbs quickly to the 6500 rev limit and does 0 to 100klm in 11.5 sec which is not that bad for an automatic, 4 cylinder sedan weighing in at 1470kg plus some luggage in the reasonably sized, 436 liter boot.
The six speed sequential automatic transmission is a vast improvement over the older 5 speed transmission and shifts through the gears generally with no fuss with the computer keeping gear selection in the engines mid-range torque band maintaining fuel economy plus plenty of power for overtaking.
Overall the handling is quite good and fairly neutral until pushed then the typical understeer experienced in front wheel drive cars appears, this is not a bad thing as far as safety is concerned as backing off the accelerator combined with the traction control system brings everything back under control quickly.
Ok, so the flaws and there’s not many, firstly the automatic transmission.
The 6 speed auto is a big improvement and the extra gear helps to keep the engine in its most effective power band so under normal driving conditions it works a treat however, the problem of slow gear selection in some instances particularly when the car is being driven hard, is still there. When pushed, the transmissions computer seems to delay over which gear to select which can be a bit annoying when traveling at speed.
You won’t experience this with normal driving but if you are buying the car for a bit of sports driving fun then it’s an issue. The problem is easily rectified however if you take the transmission out of Drive mode and drive the car like a manual using either the paddle gear change or drive selector in manual mode and use it like a sequential manual gearbox. In either case the gear changes are under your control and the transmission computer is there in the background to control things like over-revving or stalling.
The second flaw is the driver’s seat. The electric controls are good, there’s adjustable lumbar support, seat base angle and the usual height and backrest adjustment, so combined with a height and reach adjustable steering wheel you would think you can’t go wrong.
The problem seems to be in the padding arrangement, the seat base is too firm at the front and I found it uncomfortably pressing against the back of my calves after a while. You can adjust the seat base to alleviate this however, this leads to the second problem, the backrest padding at shoulder level is to firm also so, after a bit of fiddling around with the seat and steering wheel adjustments I finally found a position that works for me.
Apart from these few niggles, I like the Toyota Camry S, it’s never going to compete with a Porsche Cayman for handling or a Bugatti Veyron for outright speed but as a family car with just a touch of sportiness, then it does the job.