The updated 2015 Toyota Camry Atara SX is a sporty take on the familiar whitegoods mid-sizer.
It kind of sucks that the 2015 Toyota Camry will be the last Australian-made mid-size model from the Japanese brand, because it’s pretty darn good looking.
It could be the first time we’ve said that about a Camry, which has long been regarded as one of those 'appliance' style vehicles – you buy it for its function, not its form.
With the 2015 Toyota Camry update, however, there have been myriad changes implemented that make the model more appealing on the eye, while still ticking a lot of those boxes that the pragmatists among us will appreciate.
In particular, the Atara SX version tested here – which starts from $31,990 plus on-road costs – is a sharp looking thing, even if the blacked-out 18-inch rims are a little bit try-hard.
Matching the wheels, the Atara SX has a bold black grille and its new, swoopier, more stylised front end is actually quite attractive. The rear has seen plenty of revisions, too, and it looks more cohesive than its sharp-edged predecessor. To give you an idea of how much has changed about the exterior, only the roof turret is carried over between this Camry and the one that came before it.
But, as the old adage goes, it’s what’s inside that counts – and sadly, there haven’t been any major changes in the cabin. It would have been too expensive to mirror the amendments seen in the US market Camry, according to the brand.
There’s a new three-spoke steering wheel with revised buttons and paddleshifters, and that’s about all that’s new inside.
That’s not to say that the Toyota sedan’s cabin is a terrible place to be: it has immense rear seat space and a boot that is easily large enough to accommodate three adults across the rear seat. If you’ve got kids and ISOFIX child seats, you’ll be frustrated to learn there are no suitable points to attach them. There are, however, three top-tether hooks, as well as rear seat air vents.
The rear seats retain their fixed headrests too, and the Atara SX has an, er, unique interior leather trim finish with burgundy/brown and grey leather. It isn’t pretty, and certainly doesn't match the attractive exterior. At least the seat comfort is noteworthy, both at the back and in front – and the driver also gets electric seat adjustment.
Its price-tag is quite sharp, but the Camry misses out on a few big ticket items. For example, a Ford Mondeo that costs $32,790 gives you an 8.0-inch media system with satellite navigation, as well as rear seatbelt airbags. Toyota doesn’t at this price point – instead you get a 6.1-inch screen and no navigation. The Mondeo also has front and rear parking sensors as well as a reverse camera, where the Camry misses out on the nose-end parking aids.
If you value plenty of storage space, the Camry has you sorted. There are cupholders up front and in the flip-down rear armrest, while the door pockets are big and could hold a bottle or two, too. There’s only one map pocket, but the boot is enormous (515 litres, with seats that fold 60:40 by pulling a pair of boot-mounted levers) and it has a large opening that begs for golf clubs to be loaded in.
At the other end of the car, the Japanese brand has retained its familiar petrol and hybrid engine options, with a six-speed automatic standard for all model grades.
Powering our Atara SX test car is a 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder, with 135kW of power at 6000rpm and 235Nm of torque at a relatively high 4100rpm.
You need to work it to get the best out of it, but there's never any harshness when you rev the engine. The level of insulation from engine noise is actually a bit of a selling point – no such praise can be garnered upon the otherwise-excellent Mazda 6 – and we could see a lot of fleet buyers in particular finding that attribute to be a big positive.
Fuel use is claimed at 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres, which is pretty good for a vehicle of this size and among the best in class, particularly considering it's a naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. During our time in the car, which included a mix of highway and city driving, we saw an indicated 9.1L/100km.
The six-speed transmission is a sweet thing – because the engine isn’t as punchy as some turbo rivals like the Mondeo or the Hyundai Sonata, the transmission makes good use of the power on offer with smooth and clever shifts. We didn’t bother with the paddles, though.
The Atara SX has a specific suspension tune that is designed to make it feel sportier than standard, and it is much improved on the previous version which we had as part of a recent four-car comparison test.
Yes, the ride is still firm and can be a little jiggly, but it’s much better than before. It doesn’t crash like before, nor does it feel clumsy. It’s more composed – but don’t expect it to glide over bumps – the firm suspension setup means the car will move about a bit when you hit sharp-edged nasties, and you can hear the bumps as well as feel them.
It’s not annoying thankfully, and when the surface is smooth, it's quite comfortable. On top of that, the Toyota Camry copes well with speed humps, as its suspension adjusts itself nicely.
Steering is lighter and therefore more city-friendy, though still not as direct as it could be when it's twisty.
As with all Toyota models, the Camry is covered by a capped-price service program that spans the first four years or 75,000km of ownership (whichever occurs first). The maintenance visits cost $140, and are due every nine months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. That’s some fairly affordable family – or fleet – motoring.
The updated Toyota Camry is a more polished and more likeable car than the model that came before it. In Atara SX guise, Toyota has added a little dynamic flair to the mix, too.
As we said at the outset, the last Aussie-made Camry is the best yet. It’s still not quite at the same level as the benchmark cars in the class for standard gear, driving dynamics or interior presentation – but it is a big improvement, and one that should be considered if you’re in the market for a mid-sizer.