In the Australian automotive market, where SUVs are the primary weapon of choice for families, many would gloss over the option of something like a large sedan as their choice of primary hauler. I'd bet a couple of bucks that a lot of intenders wouldn't cross-shop or really know the quality of offerings in non-SUV segments.
It's a tough fight to sell family cars, where battles are fought and won in areas of safety, convenience and family friendliness. We all know the benefits of an SUV, especially a large one. However, the positives of a big, good sedan can't be forgotten either. I've spent some time in the 2019 Toyota Camry SL V6, and I have to say it, I'm terribly impressed.
With that SL badge on the back and a V6 under the bonnet, this is the all-you-can-eat Camry. It costs $44,090, which is $3000 more than the 2.5-litre SL, or $6700 more than the lower-specced SX with a V6. The cheapest of the range is the Ascent 2.5, which goes for $27,790.
Not happy with its stereotyped role of tissue boxes, meat raffles and, well, being really boring, Toyota has gone through some effort to really jazz up the look of the Camry. The exterior design has a lot more in the way of eye-catching details, like an angular grille design and diffuser-style rear end. And come on, who doesn't get excited by four exhaust pipes? Dimensions have changed a little with the new design: the all-new Camry is 55mm longer (4905mm), 5mm wider (1840mm), and 25mm lower (1445mm) than the outgoing model.
Being all about comfort and convenience is part of the Camry's DNA, and is likely something that won't ever change. Don't expect any kind of big compromises or harder edges. However, the new model has had a real kick in the pants compared to previous generations. Along with a reworked design inside and out, the way the Camry drives has also been really rebooted.
Steering, particularly off-centre, is pretty quick and responsive, and the car doesn't feel vague through steering inputs. It handles quite well too. There's not much body roll to worry about, and you've got enough grip for, well, a Camry. The suspension tune is definitely tuned for comfort, but not to the point of feeling disconnected. It's tuned really nicely for the intended purpose: punting around town and soaking up the rough surfaces nicely.
NVH levels are quite low as well. Aside from a bit of intermittent light whistling around the windscreen at highway speeds, and your typical tyre rumble on rough surfaces, the Camry is impressively quiet on the inside.
The engine is a new 3.5-litre V6, and is perennially smooth and refined, while giving ample punch along in just about any scenario. There is 224kW at 6600rpm and 362Nm at 4700rpm. Interestingly, the engine uses both port injection and direct injection in the quest for more efficiency and refinement. There's variable timing on both the intake and exhaust overhead camshafts, which lets the engine imitate an Atkinson cycle for improved efficiency at low revs, and then adjust the valve timing in the quest for power when you are giving it a good hit.
Powering the front wheels through an eight-speed torque converter gearbox, it shifts the 1630kg with some gutsy enthusiasm and little fuss. It's a really nice driveline.
The only negative of the V6 is the fuel usage. It's not awful, but expect to use around 10 litres of 95RON per 100km of driving. We saw figures a little bit lower than that on longer and more loping runs, but heavy traffic won't be too friendly. Of course, if fuel economy is a really important factor for you, then have a closer look at the Camry Hybrid.
The interior's design is as dashing as the exterior's look, and does give a really premium feel to this top-spec SL. The asymmetric design of the centre stack certainly looks fetching, but does rob the passenger of access to just about anything. They can reach the cupholders, but that's about it. The storage capacity of the centre bin is huge at least, but the little bins in the door verge upon useless.
The infotainment unit is 8.0 inches in size and embedded in glossy piano black. No Android Auto or Apple CarPlay will be annoying for some prospective buyers, and the user experience does feel a bit dated in general. It's clunky to access some features, and other options are buried in a labyrinth of submenus.
One big annoyance for us was that some driver-assistance features were quite happy to blurt out upcoming school zones and red-light speed cameras with varying levels of accuracy. When you're engrossed in a news update or podcast, it can get quite annoying to be regularly interrupted. It's nice to have an analogue dial for the volume control, along with audio controls on the steering wheel.
The instrument binnacle is a little dated as well. There's an LCD screen with your usual mix of basic information accessible, which is flanked by a big analogue speedometer and tachometer. My favourite is the big digital speedometer. I'd prefer not to lose any more points this year.
Here's another bugbear of ours: infotainment units that lock out parts of functionality while the car is moving. We get the idea of reducing distraction making a safer vehicle overall, but passengers are people too. You don't need to lock it out for everyone.
I mentioned convenience before, and this SL specification punches well in this category. Auto wipers, inductive smartphone charging, electric seats with memory settings for the driver, keyless entry and exit, automatic high beam and two-zone climate control.
Seating is comfortable, with lots of adjustment and cosseting. Our tester was finished in a creamy beige interior that does look quite premium with plenty of soft touchpoints and seat perforations. The front row benefits from ventilated seats. It's a very comfortable vehicle for four, but the fifth person does get a bit short-changed. The middle seat is higher, harder and narrower, and you'll hit your head (right into the light fittings) if you're anything other than short.
You're much better off running it as a four-seater and flopping down the centre cupholder. It does flop down onto the cushion without a stopper, but it works nonetheless. And for those few people who are buying a sedan like this as a family car, you've got ISOFIX points for the two outward seats in the rear.
Speaking of baby seats lets me segue onto safety, which is another strong point for the Camry. There are seven airbags scattered throughout the cabin, and that all-important five-star ANCAP safety rating (with a 36.16/37 rating). There's autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning (with steering assist), rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor and adaptive cruise control – pretty comprehensive.
Another important point for the budding family buyer: boot space. The Camry has a big boot of 524L, with rear seats that can fold down for some extra room when needed. Underneath the floor is a space-saver spare. And when your kids get older and graduate from being buried in a child seat to burying their face into a smartphone, you've got two USB power outlets for the second row, along with air-con vents at the back of the centre console. It's worth noting that while the Camry SL does get a big panoramic sunroof for those nice sunny days, it does eat into your available headroom a bit.
Servicing is cheap at $195 every 12 months or 15,000km for the first five years or 75,000 clicks. If you're wanting to hold onto it for the really long run, then be warned that servicing gets much more expensive: $867, $270 and $913 for your next run of services. Considering Toyota now has a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty these days, you've got some pretty cheap and worry-free motoring to look forward to.
If you're in the market for a family car and you haven't cross-shopped a few big sedans in there, you're doing yourself a disservice. The Camry is a fine example of what's possible, now it's pulled up the sleeves of its beige cardigan and thrown on some sunnies. The infotainment unit isn't great, but is liveable. The driveline, steering and suspension are terrific, as are the interior comfort and layout (as long as you're the driver).