A new look for the the locally made Toyota Camry and a new sports-focused model combine with more realistic pricing to make the mid-sized sedan more appealing.
WHAT IS IT?
The final major update to the locally-produced Toyota Camry before it is imported in 2018. It’s the biggest mid-model-life update ever from Toyota, with all the metal bar the roof restyled and the addition of a new model variants, the Atara SX.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
The new model has just gone on sale and we jumped behind the wheel at the media launch.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
More of the same done better. The SX is a better drive than other (softer) variants but is in desperate need of an engine. There’s as much space as there’s ever been in one of the biggest mid-sizers on the market.
PLUS: Space, value, decent to drive, hybrid drivetrain blends economy and performance.
MINUS: Dull four-cylinder engine, auto not particularly intuitive
THE WHEELS REVIEW
KUDOS to Toyota for choosing some genuinely challenging roads for the launch of its new Camry.
Perhaps unsurprisingly car makers typically aim their wares at roads best suited to the car they’re trying to spruik (the torque-steering Saab Viggen was unleashed to the media in the Northern Territory, for example).
So the prospect of a Camry on some of Victoria’s best driving roads may seem about as obvious as sticking Mick Jagger in a jazz club.
That it was drizzling rain added to the excitement.
But Toyota engineers are clearly confident about the new Camry. Well, one model in particular.
Most new Camrys are identical to drive as the ones they’re replacing. Same uninspiring 2.5-litre four-cylinder (with 133kW on the base Altise and 135kW on the Atara variants thanks to twin exhausts) and same fuel mising hybrid drivetrain with better performance (151kW, albeit in a heavier body). There’s also the same suspension, which neither particularly sharp or particularly comfortable.
But the new Atara SX is a different prospect – partly.
Stiffer springs and new dampers promise to tie it down better, while the steering ratio has been sharpened to improve accuracy. For the first time a Camry is riding on 18-inch wheels, bringing new Bridgestone rubber.
And it all works pretty well. The ride is noticeably firmer so feels fidgety at slow speeds on successive bumps; it’s less of an issue at higher speeds.
But the steering is more consistent through its motion, and while it lacks the accuracy of a Mazda 6 it’s direct enough to feel more inspiring once you ramp the pace up.
Grip levels, too, are higher than Camry drivers would be used to and the Atara SX scrabbles around corners at a very un-Camry pace. The myriad bumps and lumps – and occasionally greasy patches – did little to faze what is a composed four-door. It’ll ultimately reach its limits into gentle understeer, but there’s enough talent to keep the smile alive on the right road.
Now, if only it had an engine to match.
The 135kW four-cylinder is unchanged - and genuinely uninspiring. Sure, acceleration is OK, but it sounds flat doing it. And you’ll be listening to that drone lots because it needs a decent kick to elicit respectable response.
The six-speed auto doesn’t help the situation. It can be lethargic kicking down and lacks the smarts to hold on to lower gears when the road gets twisty. Paddle shifters allow additional manual control, although the electronics won't hold the gear, instead shifting up once it reaches the relatively low 6200rpm limit.
That tendency to jump into those taller gears takes the edge off the already edge-less performance.
Still, at $31,990 with large car levels of space and a pleasant if largely unchanged interior (the foot-operated park brake is a low point; the leather seats could do with more bolstering to keep up with the new suspension) the Camry makes sensible buying that can now be a little more enticing.
Model: Toyota Camry Atara SX
Engine: 2494cc four-cylinder
Max power: 135kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 235Nm @ 4100rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Kerb weight: 1505kg
On sale: Now
Click here to read the full range review of the 2015 Toyota Camry