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Toyota Camry Atara SX First Drive
FIRST THOUGHTS: The release of a new Camry is not normally seen as something genuinely exciting for motoring enthusiasts. This 2012 model is no normal Camry though. In short, it's the best Toyota Camry there has ever been.
The Toyota Camry is an important car for Australia on many levels. In a number of ways its success says as much about the Australian car industry as Holden's Commodore and Ford's Falcon. The launch of any all new Camry model is an important one and this, the 2012 model, is as significant as any model before it.
The honchos agree. Toyota Australia's Sales and Marketing Director David Buttner reckons the new Camry is all about Australian input.
"We're building a new engine plant and producing more fuel efficient engines," he says.
"This is a milestone for Toyota and the automotive industry and the Camry is the number one automotive export in this country."
Just as important as its economic contribution though, is its engineering contribution. Larger sedans don't have all the running anymore in Australia as they once did. The market is tough, competition harder and fiercer than it's ever been. So a larger sedan needs to be significantly improved to make an impact.
We were impressed with the new Camry at launch late last year and backed that up by also being impressed with the hybrid version at launch not long after. Let's take a closer look then at what makes this new 2012 Camry Atara SX tick.
After our First Drive a few months ago, we thought the styling was a little sharp. Not sharp in an offensive way, just sharp in that it's not a Camry as you'd expect a Camry to look. You could argue that this new Camry looks more sophisticated or European than you might have expected. No bad thing that though all things considered.
However, now as I stand back looking at our second top spec Atara SX model as it sits in the NRMA garage awaiting evaluation, I'm changing my thinking. In fact, I'm struggling to get my head around how a sub 40 grand car can look this stylish. Toyota more than any other marque perhaps, has a habit of designing vehicles that grow on you. Not polarising in their styling, but I find myself questioning the styling of a new Toyota when I first see it, then appreciating it more, the more I look at it and the more I see on the road.
Regardless of whether you love or are indifferent to the new Camry's styling, it is nothing if not an efficient design. The clever body lines and styling subtleties ensure that it looks smaller than it actually is, more compact from just about every angle. The wheels are well proportioned to the body size, glass area big enough to afford excellent visibility and the range of available colours well suited to the design also.
SX gets attractive 17in alloy wheels, redesigned bumpers, a boot lip spoiler and twin exhaust outlets, which also spice things up a little in the styling department.
Ride And Handling
Every major factor in this category on which you can judge a modern vehicle has been improved upon from the previous Camry to this new model. You'd hardly believe the two were related if you drove them back to back. I've had the benefit of stealing a family member's old gen Camry to compare to this model just to make sure I wasn't imagining things. And I wasn't.
Steering, handling, ride and ride comfort have all been transformed noticeably. The 2012 Camry has a flatter and more composed overall ride with less float under acceleration and less diving under brakes. There is also improved ride comfort as well. These handling and steering improvements haven't come at the cost of comfort – something Camry owners have always held dear to their hearts. So rest assured if you traverse roads that aren't the smoothest, your Camry will cosset you nicely – and it will do it with that signature Toyota composure.
Toyota has added a raft of reinforcement throughout the interior and the chassis to make it tauter, more precise, and crucially, deliver less noise and torsional movement. This rings true in regard to torsional movement that might occur under vigorous cornering or bumpy road surfaces. On road this is certainly obvious from the first few minutes behind the wheel where the more rigid chassis delivers a marked improvement in steering feel and assurance.
This new model certainly feels more together, more solid even over nasty country back roads where we spent some time during testing. Even on dirt in fact, the chassis never feels wallowy or uncertain at normal driving speeds. I was impressed with the general handling and steering feel and Toyota backs up my gut feel on the steering with their noting of the fact that the engineers spent quite some time getting the best feel out of the electronic power steering that they possibly could. Here is an area that really impresses. Electric power steering can often feel dead especially at centre and there is none of that floaty vagueness evident in the system employed by Toyota for 2012 Camry.
If you jump straight out of the last gen Camry into this one, you will also notice a shorter brake pedal stroke, handy for give and take city driving where you seem to be on the brake more than off. Along with this new pedal feel comes retuned ABS, with a brake override system as well.
New tyres have been fitted to improve all weather performance, plus there is less rolling resistance, more grip and increased yaw response. Even more minor details have been carefully studied and improved. When I remarked after a long drive section at launch that the seats felt different from the old model, I was informed that there is in fact a more rigid seat frame structure that was redesigned to further improve driving comfort. Small detail for some, but if your Camry is a mobile office that you spend hours each day in, these factors will make a significant difference.
Deputy Chief Engineer Keiichi Yoneda, who was in Australia for the launch of the new Camry was also keen to point out that the Camry is an indispensable model in the Toyota line up. As such there has been serious effort aimed at making a good car even better in terms of interior quality.
"We must keep improving to maintain the lead and enhance the reputation," he says.
"We have made efforts to improve cabin insulation, make Camry quieter and more comfortable and deliver exceptional NVH."
Like the driving experience, the gains and changes in the cabin are noticeable from the minute you close the door with a firm thud. Inside, the Camry is a serene and insulated place to undertake the daily grind. Road and tyre noise is kept to a minimum thanks to the extra insulation and extra layers of sound deadening that have been installed.
Right up to the 110kph highway limit, there's little in the way of wind noise that ever makes an incursion into the cabin. It's possibly this, the much quieter cabin that has the biggest single impact on comfort.
There is also little to no engine noise that intrudes into the cabin even under vigorous acceleration and Toyota was keen to point out that they spent a lot of time working on intake and exhaust noise, along with fitting the aforementioned extra insulation, high quality carpets and better seals in behind the dashboard , firewall and rear wheel housings. Let's face it, the average 4-cylinder engine doesn't sound great when its being worked hard, so the less mechanical mayhem than enters the cabin, the better.
Current Camry owners will also be pleased to know that the signature Toyota compliance and bump absorption hasn't disappeared even over really ugly road surfaces. This makes for a really comfortable interior even on longer stretches of a country drive. You won't ever crawl out of the Camry feeling like you've gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.
The new Camry is as practical as a four door sedan can get on the market currently. Starting from the front seats, there's ample door width opening to make getting in and out a cinch. Drivers who happen to be taller won't find themselves having to unfold their way in or out of the Camry. Once in either of the front two seats, there is plenty of room and adjustment for driver's of all sizes and shapes.
The rear seats likewise make this the most practical of family sedans. Plenty of legroom across all three positions, shoulder room is also comfortable and capacious even for adults. You won't find your knees pressed up against the backs of the front seats even with long legged adults up front. And you can actually fit three adults across the back seat if need be.
The boot is as big as it gets in the class. For the rep, sales person or long distance traveller, you'll find loading and unloading the boot easy and stress free, and the Camry swallows a mountain of luggage without any problem whatsoever. Particularly useful is the fact that the boot isn't afflicted with a nasty ridge at the rear end meaning you can feed heavy luggage through without meeting any obstacles. The boot opening is also smart, making lifting large cases in and out easy, while the boot hinges up and out of the way meaning you don't get showered with water if the car is wet.
We liked the variety of cup holders, bottle holders and smart storage options in the cabin too. Unlike numerous cars on the market, the Camry is set up to connect an iPod, which remains hidden and out of view. Smart. You don't want to be unplugging your iPod every time you need to leave the car somewhere. The glovebox is as large as you'd expect and the centre console also adds even more sensible, accessible and useable storage.
Vision from the driver's pew both fore and aft is excellent and we found the Camry really easy to park in tight inner city parking spaces. The edges of the Camry are easy to identify and therefore, it is easy to position either in tight parking spaces, or tight laneways. You're never left wondering exactly where the corners of the Camry are, either front or rear, and this plays a genuine part in day to day practicality.
Importantly for regional buyers or city dwellers who cover large outback distances, a full size spare is included as standard equipment, something we think is a must for all vehicles that need to leave the city limits anywhere in Australia.
Safety and Security
As you'd expect here, Toyota hasn't shirked the issue of making the Camry as safe as possible. The 5-star ANCAP rating is a given from Toyota these days, and there's the usual raft of airbags numbering seven now. These include front, front side, curtain and driver's knee.
Three-point seatbelts are fitted in all five locations, with warning chimes for all five as well. Front seat belts get pretensioners, and then there's the array of electronic driving aids. These include stability control, traction control, ABS with EBD and brake assist.
On road, there's no doubt the new Camry has more zip and performance than the outgoing model. It's a combination here of the car feeling lighter and the engine feeling more willing and powerful. As mentioned above, the chassis feels taut, braking is excellent, and steering feel is more direct and communicative than any model before it. Interestingly I probably wouldn't judge a Camry on steering feel unless Toyota had made such an effort to point out the improvements that they have made in this regard. The improvements are certainly obvious and it is indeed refreshing to drive a family sedan that is this well sorted.
The new 2.5-litre engine is flexible and free revving and gets the new Camry up and moving without seeming to ever need to work too hard to do so. This is partly due to the excellent 6-speed automatic gearbox, which seems to have a ratio to suit every road speed and to suit the power and torque generated by the 4-cylinder. The auto shifts almost seamlessly up and down through the ratios, never feeling jerky or tardy.
Although 135kW of peak power isn't mind blowing, 235Nm of torque is the key figure for getting up to speed and it's this that makes the Camry a pleasurable sedan to push along either at city or country speeds. Certainly the liveliest Camry we've tested, the overall tune still errs on the side of outright fuel economy but the fun isn't detracted from too much here.
Value For Money
In Atara SX guise, the new Camry will ring the till at only $35,990, which is hardly expensive given the amount of standard kit that is on offer and the build quality. This is a very solidly built and well executed sedan. Nothing really feels cheap and leaves you wishing it was built differently or better. That's important when you plan to outlay your cash for a period of ownership that might last five to ten years.
Forging an even more solid ownership case is Toyota's servicing costs. As is par for the course with Toyota, you get a 3-year/100,000km warranty for the vehicle and mechanicals and a 5-year/100,000km warranty against corrosion. However, with Toyota's Service Advantage Programme, owners will only be asked to part with $130 for the first five standard services over the first four years or 75,000km of ownership. That's good value and seriously competitive, whichever way you cut it.
As tested, Atara SX gets a lot of standard kit for the money too. There's the aforementioned full size spare wheel, 17in wheels and dual exhausts, attractive two-tone leather trim and a powered driver's seat with lumbar support.
There's also a unique sports bumper, rear lip spoiler, sports mode for the transmission with paddle shift, stainless steel scuff plates, a proximity key and start button, fog lights, multifunction steering wheel, six-speaker audio system featuring a touch screen display, USB input with direct iPod control, MP3 player and a single CD player as well. There is also Bluetooth hands free and streaming, with phone controls on the steering wheel.
The new Camry isn't a sports car that will stir the soul, but it isn't meant to be. To judge it on those guidelines is to miss the point entirely. As a daily driver, family sedan that will see a lot of stop start traffic use, it's better than any Camry has ever been. The fact that is so integral to the Australian automotive industry is just a bonus.
|Model||Camry Atara SX|
|Country of manufacture||Japan|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||2.5-litre L|
|Claimed fuel consumption||8.3 L/100km|
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