Is this, the 2016 Toyota Camry Atara SX, a properly sporty sedan? Matt Campbell finds out.
There has been a lot said – and even tears shed – on the demise of the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore. Aussie icons. True blue, locally-made heroes. But when Australian car manufacturing winds up in the coming 18 months, the nation will also say goodbye to another Aussie-built sedan icon – the Toyota Camry.
With its final full-range update having just hit showroom floors, we thought we’d find out if the locally-made Camry is going out on a high note ahead of an expected Japanese-built model taking its place on our roads from 2018 onwards.
This last change to the Camry range saw some equipment adjustments and, for this Atara SX version, some cosmetic changes, too. The Atara SX is considered the sportiest Camry on sale, and it is keenly priced, too, from just $33,490 plus on-road costs.
The most obvious highlights are the red trim sections on the lower bumper lips at the front and the rear, which is a bit VW Golf GTI-ish… or something like that. There are new stylish looking 18-inch wheels, too and, anecdotally, this could be the best-looking Camry ever.
There have been a number of changes inside, as well.
The 7.0-inch media system now comes with satellite navigation and Toyota Link mobile app integration, along with DAB digital radio and a new 10-speaker JBL audio system. The previous Atara SX didn’t even get nav.
The screen is pretty simple to use, and the fact it has navigation with live traffic updates is a plus. But it still lacks the latest in-car connectivity, with no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto mirroring technology.
The rear-view camera display has guidelines now, and when you’re in reverse you’ll notice the newly added windscreen sunshade retract – it goes back up when you put it back in drive. This isn't necessarily in keeping with Toyota’s insistence that this is the sporty Camry model – it’s quite a Lexus-like luxury touch.
Those changes have had an impact on the feel of the cabin, but it’s still a bit drab to look at. But – and it’s a big but – the rear seat is still one of the most spacious of any mid-size model on the market. Bigger adults can fit in the back comfortably, with excellent head, leg and shoulder room. If you have kids, you’ll appreciate that the Camry now has dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points in the back seat, too.
Storage is very good, with decent door pockets all around, map pockets in the back, and handy loose item storage cubbies up front for wallets, phones and the like. And the boot is huge, too – 515 litres, which is easily the best in this class, and large enough to fit four decent-sized suitcases or a set of golf clubs. The back seats can be folded down in a 60:40 split fashion by way of triggers in the boot, though the aperture to load through is a bit slim. And the gooseneck hinges can bite down on baggage.
It’s fair to say that the interior is not even remotely sporty – a brownish-reddish-purplish leather trim finish doesn’t scream "go faster!" to this reviewer – but the Atara SX is, apparently, the sporty model in the Camry range.
As such it comes with sports-tuned suspension and electric power steering system that has a faster ratio "to enhance feel". So it should be fairly fun to drive, yeah?
Consider this – the Camry Atara SX retains the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 133kW of power and 231Nm of torque. There’s a standard six-speed auto, and unlike those aforementioned Aussie-made icons from Ford and Holden, the Camry is front wheel drive.
As a result, "fun" might be too strong a word to describe the drive experience.
But it is a decently tied down, handy handling sedan that definitely outperforms the regular Camry range. Is it as adept at tackling corners as well as, say, a Kia Optima GT or Hyundai Sonata Premium? Perhaps not…
It corners quite flat and the ride isn’t too sharp, despite being tuned for handling performance. It deals with high-speed bumps well, but at lower speeds, potholes or rough-edged bumps can jar the front-end somewhat.
The steering tweaks, though, don’t offer quite as much driver reward as desired. The steering is reasonably reactive to sudden movements, but it can be disconcerting in its weighting, suddenly loading up to become too heavy when you’re applying lock, particularly at low speeds. It simply can’t match the sporting nature of its high-spec Korean counterparts for driving manners.
It could have been to drive fun if it used the more potent petrol V6 drivetrain of the Aurion. Instead, that four-cylinder engine offers adequate but not blistering performance, with the best pulling power hitting from about 3000rpm.
The six-speed auto gearbox has paddleshifters, but the transmission will override you if try to let it rev out. And the response time isn’t properly sporty.
In regular driving, there’s nothing offensive about the way it drives, with the engine offering suitable levels of pulling power, even with five adults on board. And knowing the likely customer base for a Camry, this model will certainly tick the box for enjoyment.
Forget how it drives and forget that this new Atara SX is probably the best looking Camry ever – it’s pretty darn good value, and the ownership credentials are solid, too.
The Camry is covered by Toyota’s Service Advantage program, with maintenance due every nine months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The first five visits costs just $140. But buyers after a long-term ownership promise may need to consider the Camry has just a three-year/100,000km warranty – not nearly as comprehensive as Hyundai’s five-year plan or Kia’s seven-year plan.
We set out in this review to find out if this last update is a fitting farewell to the Aussie-made Camry – and yes, it is. Admittedly, it’s not the best mid-sized car on the market right now, but it has been consistently consistent for so long that the Camry is, understandably, still a go-to car for many buyers.
Just don’t expect a truly sporty drive from this sharply-priced and smartly-styled model.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Glen Sullivan.