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Toyota Camry Atara SL 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Richard Berry road tests and reviews the Toyota Camry Atara SL with specs, fuel consumption and verdict. There is no Toyota Camry Owner's Club of Australia. Don't bother, I've checked – and a thread on an internet forum doesn't count, either. See, on any given day in all types of weather around the nation Ford

Richard Berry road tests and reviews the Toyota Camry Atara SL with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

There is no Toyota Camry Owner's Club of Australia. Don't bother, I've checked – and a thread on an internet forum doesn't count, either. See, on any given day in all types of weather around the nation Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore groupies gather to drool over each other's machines. But the Camry doesn't seem to get this type of adoration.

Yes, unbelievable. Are we really to believe that even though the Australian-made Camry has been the number one selling mid-sized car for 22 years straight, with 900,000 sold in Australia since it went on sale in 1983, nobody cares that much about it? Is it possible that just like Hollywood's very bankable Matt Damon the Camry is hugely popular and yet so unloved?

We took the top-of-the-range Camry Atara SL home and spent hundreds of kilometres testing it. So, is it just very adequate work-purpose transport for government employees, taxi operators and sales reps? Or is it possible for the Camry to perform well as a family car in this SUV-loving era?

Design

If it feels to you like the same Camry has been around years then you're kind of right... this latest-generation Camry arrived in 2011 but in 2015 Toyota gave it a major spruce-up – we're talking 800 parts being changed or re-engineered. Then there was a minor update in 2016 which brought ISOFIX points for child seats and more in-car tech.

The new Camry's dimensions are different to the previous car, being slightly longer and wider. Measuring 4850mm long, and 1835mm from wing mirror to wing mirror, the Camry is about a 100mm shorter than the Holden Commodore which is classified as a large car. The Camry is in the mid-sized car segment and runs with the likes of the Mazda6, Subaru's Liberty and Hyundai Sonata. Compared to them the Camry is 5mm shorter than the Mazda and the Hyundai and the same amount longer than the Subaru.

You can tell the updated Camry apart from the old one by its face and bottom. The newer version has a large blacked-out lower grille.

The headlights are also sleeker and the fog lights are now slithers of LEDs.

The Atara SL adds a premium economy style with a high quality fit and finish, using materials that look and feel as they've been built to withstand the wear and tear of the daily grind.

From the back you can spot the new one quickly by the taillights which have been stretched further along the side of the car.

What makes it an Atara SL on the outside? That little spoiler on the boot and the 17-inch 15-spoke alloy wheels which Toyota calls "discrete". But there's more to an Atara SL than that, as you're about to find out.

Interior dimensions are closely connected the size of the wheelbase. The Camry's is 5mm longer than the Mazda6 at 2775mm, but 30mm shorter than the Sonata's.

As expected Toyota has taken the conservative and traditional approach to the cabin layout, of the Camry and the Atara SL adds a premium economy style with a high quality fit and finish, using materials that look and feel as they've been built to withstand the wear and tear of the daily grind. Function over form, there are no surprises. Actually, there is one surprise...

Practicality

The Camry's speciality is functionality, to the point it's more practical than some SUVs. There's the large, wide opening doors and high roofline which made lifting my toddler in and out of his car seat back and neck pain free. There's 515 litres of boot space, which is only 14 litres smaller than the luggage capacity of the Toyota Kluger large SUV. The Camry's boot size smashes the Mazda's 474 litres, Liberty's 493 litres and even the Sonata which is 510 litres.

Toyota must use one of those top-hat-wearing Uncle Sam stilt walkers to configure the Camry's cabin space because there's no need for this much room – but it's a great issue to have. Rear legroom is excellent - I'm 191cm and can sit behind my driving position with a fist's gap between my knees and the seat back. Headroom back there is outstanding, too.

Up front everything is where is should be, apart from the handbrake – which is on the floor and foot operated. Aside from that, it's an ergonomic cabin with controls all within reach, although the wrist-watch small digital clock on the dash is so out-of-date looking it's almost nostalgic.

Also in the front you'll find two cup holders in the centre console and large bottle holders in the doors, while the back seat has a fold down armrest with two cup holders and doors with three storage areas large enough for small bottles.

The Atara and Atara SL come with a full-size alloy spare wheel, while all other grades have a space saver steel spare.

Price and features

One night an executive from a rival brand whispered to me that they did not know how Toyota was able to price the Camry so low. True story, except it wasn't night time and they said it loudly in front of 20 other journalists at a press conference. But it's a good piece of intelligence for you to know that the Camry's price is so genuinely low.

The line-up kicks off at $26,490, but $37,440 will get you into the top of the range petrol Atara SL we tested. That undercuts the king of the Mazda6 range – the Atenza – by almost $10K.

Underneath those rental car looks is a vehicle that's far more capable than most would probably think. 

The Atara SL picks up the Atara S's 6.1-inch touch screen with reversing camera, proximity unlocking, Bluetooth, dual zone climate control and then adds sat nav with real-time traffic, leather seats, a JBL sound system and active cruise control.

For those of you who've read this far, here's your reward. Remember the "one surprise"? Well, there's a wireless phone charger in the Atara SL - surprise! That came with the 2016 update too. It's a pad on the centre console which you just place your phone on and it'll charge without using a cable. Qi charging works for some Android phones but iPhones need an adapter.

Engine and transmission

A 135kW/235Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine provides plenty of grunt to the Atara SL's front wheels – actually it gets 2kW more power than the Altise grade because of its dual exhaust. And not that it will worry most buyers, but you can't get the Camry with a manual gearbox. The six-speed auto is excellent at shifting duties, however.

Toyota is renowned for the reliability of its vehicles and there have been fewer instances of problems with this 2.5-litre four cylinder than the smaller engine in previous Camrys – you can read more about how the current generation Camry has fared over the years here in our used review.

Fuel consumption

Toyota says the petrol Atara SL should go through 91 RON (the cheap one) at a combined average of 7.8L/100km. We put more than 400km on the clock with rural, highway and CBD commuting and scored 10.0L/100km according to the trip computer.

The Camry's 70 litre fuel tank is a decent size and bigger than the Mazda6's 62 litre but then the Mazda6 2.5-litre four cylinder engine drinks less at a claimed combined average of 6.6L/100km.

Driving

Underneath those rental car looks is a vehicle that's far more capable than most would probably think. The suspension set-up feels spot on – firm enough to handle well in twisty country roads, but comfortable on patchy city streets.

The Camry Atara S is a smooth cruiser that should loyally and reliably serve its owners until the end of time.

Those large seats are lounge-chair comfy around town, but I found that after two hours in the saddle they didn't offer the lower back and lateral support I prefer for long distances.

The Camry's 2.5-litre engine is perfectly suited to its job description – enough power to overtake well or drive with a bit of passion when called on, but where it excels is highway cruising and smooth urban commuting.

Seems faultless, right? Nothing's faultless. The steering wheel feels flat like a dinner plate, but the steering itself is good. In the wet you'll find that if you accelerate hard from a standstill the front wheel will lose grip for a moment before the traction control swoops in to the rescue, but the feel in the brake and accelerator could be better.

Probably the biggest complaint is the way the Active Cruise Control switches off below 40km/h. It's frustrating and means it can't be used in stop-start peak hour traffic where a system like this is useful in not just preventing rear-enders but removing the tedium of this type of driving. 

Safety

All Camry's have a five-star ANCAP rating which although is the maximum score, it should also be the minimum you'd expect in a new car. The Atara SL grade adds some great advanced safety equipment such as automatic high beam, lane departure and rear cross traffic alert. The Atara SL also has a forward looking radar to monitor traffic ahead, and alert the driver if a car thinks a collision is likely.

The update in 2016 added ISOFIX mounts in the rear row on the outside seats, while there's also three top tether anchor points for child seats.

Ownership

Toyota has a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Services must be done at nine-month/15,000km intervals with the first five services capped at $140 each in the first four years of 75,000km.

Verdict

One of the best front-wheel drive cars you can buy at this price, the Camry Atara S is a smooth cruiser that should loyally and reliably serve its owners until the end of time.

It's competent and practical as a family car, but does lack some personality. It seems Toyota is terrified to add personality to its Camry, and run the risk of turning off buyers who appreciate its standard issue Tupperware feel. It's this very standardness that makes it able to be driven by anybody in almost any capacity from taxi operators to sales reps.

Would you join the Camry Owner's Club of Australia? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Toyota Camry Atara SL pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$19,741
Based on 721 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$12,990
Highest Price
$31,888

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Altise 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $12,990 – 22,888 2016 Toyota Camry 2016 Altise Pricing and Specs
Altise Hybrid 2.5L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $19,880 – 27,999 2016 Toyota Camry 2016 Altise Hybrid Pricing and Specs
Atara S 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $14,990 – 25,990 2016 Toyota Camry 2016 Atara S Pricing and Specs
Atara S Hybrid 2.5L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $21,650 – 26,990 2016 Toyota Camry 2016 Atara S Hybrid Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$19,887

Lowest price, based on 45 car listings in the last 6 months

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