Richard Berry road tests and reviews the 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid Atara SL with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
You know how when King penguins return from the sea they have to try to find their mate among thousands of other identical looking tuxedo-wearing birds? And they waddle about searching the crowded colony, calling out and hoping to catch the distant reply from their one and only? Well, that was me looking for our Toyota Camry road test car in the airport long-term carpark recently, only with more panic than a penguin.
It was parked somewhere in there, in a frantic hurry in the dark that morning and on my return with the sun blazing I stood in a sea of Camrys wondering where it was. Seriously, every second car seemed to be a Camry, and holding the key fob above my head I waddled about clicking it and listening for the reply.
I found it, eventually, but it was a good reminder of the huge popularity of the Camry and to remember where I leave things.
Since the Camry was first launched in Australia in 1983 more than 890,000 have sold here. Then in 1987 local production of the Camry began and it's been the best-selling mid-sized car in this country for 22 consecutive years with 27,654 sold last year accounting for 53 per cent of the sales in its segment. That's a lot of penguins.
The Camry is now in its seventh generation, the updated car arrived in 2015 and sadly this will be the last Camry made in Australia before Toyota ends local production at the close of 2017.
Our test car was the top-of-the-range Hybrid Atara SL.
This update to the seventh-generation Camry was enormous. More than 800 parts were changed or re-engineered and every exterior panel apart from the roof has been redesigned. The car now looks more agro then the previous one with a wider, deeper Lexus-like gaping grille and sleeker wrap-around head and taillights.
The cockpit up front, even with two people in it, feels enormous in a ‘why are you all the way over there' sense.
At 4850mm long, 1835mm wide and with a wheelbase of 2775mm, the Camry is only 5mm shorter end-to-end and the same amount wider than its closest rival the Mazda 6, although the Mazda's wheelbase has 55mm more in it. Subaru's Liberty is 4795mm from snout to bum and 1840mm across, with a wheelbase of 2750mm, but wait the Hyundai Sonata is longer than all of them at 4855mm and 1865mm wide, while its limo-like wheelbase is 2805mm.
The hybrid Camry's batteries are in the boot – have a look at the picture above, see that step shape inside? That's them and it reduces cargo capacity from a petrol Camry's 515 litres to 421 litres. That's still a decent boot, but not as big as the Mazda6 with its 474 litre boot or the Subaru Liberty's 493 litres and the Sonata's 510 litres. Mind you they are all petrol powered cars.
The rear seats split 60:40, but the batteries also present another practicality issue only allowing the 60 part to fold down.
The cabin cup holder and bottle holder count is excellent: two cup holders in the centre armrest in the back and two in the centre console in the front, plus three holders for small bottles or cups in the rear doors and large bottle holders in the front doors.
Space in the cabin is excellent, with more than enough legroom for all 191cm of me to sit behind my driving position. The cockpit up front, even with two people in it, feels enormous in a ‘why are you all the way over there' sense.
Price and features
The price of the top-spec Camry Hybrid Atara SL is $40,440. That's an expensive Camry, seeing as they start at $26,490 for the base specification petrol Altise or $30,490 for the hybrid Altise.
It's still super cheap though compared to its rivals – the top-spec petrol Atenza Mazda6 is $45,390, the flashest Premium Sonata is $41,990, while the 3.6R Liberty king is $42,490.
Standard features in the Camry Hybrid Atara include leather power-adjustable front seats, leather steering wheel, seven-inch touch screen, sat nav, reversing camera, rear parking sensors and the better of Toyota's sound systems.
Engine/s and transmission/s
The Camry was the first locally built hybrid, yup we made it here. Under the bonnet is a 118kW/213Nm four-cylinder petrol engine and next to it is a metal box with bright orange cables sticking out of it – inside is the 105kW/270Nm electric motor. Together they make a combined 151kW of power.
The hybrid system works seamlessly.
This isn't a plug-in hybrid, the batteries are recharged when you use the brakes or roll downhill.
A six-speed CVT automatic transmission performs the task of juggling power from the motor and engine, and it does a silky smooth job.
This is what it's all about, right? Well, the Toyota brochures will say you should get an average combined fuel consumption of 5.2L/100km. We recorded 7.4L/100km but that was mainly city driving when you tend to burn more. In comparison the regular petrol Camry does 7.8L/100km.
Press the ignition button – there's silence but you're running on electric power. Put it in Drive, footbrake off and coast away – silence again. Accelerate harder and the petrol engine joins in, until you find yourself in bumper-to-bumper traffic and then silence again as you go back to running on electricity. The hybrid system works seamlessly.
Acceleration is impressive thanks to the electric motor's instant torque and when you step on the brakes you'll hear the high pitched noise the motor makes in generator mode as it send charge to the batteries – yes you'll sound like a cab pulling up for a fare, but that's the sound of the future so get used to it.
Aside from that, the hybrid Camry drives and feels like a regular petrol powered one, steering does feel a little numb and disconnected but the ride is comfortable and handling good for a mid-sized family car.
Having been in so many smaller cars recently it did suddenly feel like I was in the HMAS Camry, but you'll adjust to the size quickly.
This top-spec Atara SL is decked out with advanced safety features including active cruise control, collision warning with gentle braking, rear cross traffic and lane departure alert. There's also seven airbags, ABS, plus traction and stability control.
There's three top tether child seat point and two ISOFIX mounts for child seats.
Like the regular Camry the hybrid has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating.
Toyota has a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Services must be done at nine-month/15,000km intervals with the first five services costing from $140 each in the first four years or 75,000km.