As a kid growing up in the leafy suburbs, sedans were the chariots of choice for mums and dads. Along with the two-and-a-half kids, quarter-acre block and Hills Hoist, sedans were a staple of family life.
Of the many sedans my parents owned, the first-generation Camry GLi liftback was a stand out. Painted silver, it was powered by a 2.0-litre engine producing a modest 77kW matched with the five-speed manual. It wasn't much to look but it was our family chariot over four glorious trouble-free years.
Fast forward 30 (ahem) odd years and sedans are doing it tough, with buyers flocking to high-riding SUVs. Any manufacturer launching a new or updated sedan in this market needs to deliver something pretty special to grab buyers attention.
Enter the Toyota Camry SL 2018.
Sitting at the top of the Camry range the SL comes with a choice of three engines – a four-cylinder, a hybrid and a V6 with an eight-speed auto. Priced at $39,990, my test car was powered by the 2.5 litre four-cylinder, and is the cheapest of the three on offer.
So, is this new Camry worth consideration as a modern day family hauler? My kids and I had the weekend to find out.
Today our Camry SL was tasked with Christmas shopping duties which involved darting between shopping malls and local high street shops.
Dressed in what Toyota calls ‘Emotional Red’ and sitting some very smart looking 18-inch alloy wheels, my first impression was it looks quite un-Camry like. And by that, I mean it looks good. Kudos to Toyota for taking the boring beige sedan of old and producing something more eye-catching.
This Camry is dressed in what Toyota calls ‘Emotional Red’. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Overall styling is more sporty up front with design shades of Lexus evident. Combined with a more hunkered down stance it makes for a strong and aggressive profile. The lines of the roof and side panels taper nicely to a pointy rear which is finished off with four chrome exhaust pipes. Dare I say, it actually looks like a genuine performance sedan.
Inside the levels of fit and finish are surprisingly good, with some nice premium touches including panoramic glass roof, 10.0-inch colour head-up display and leather-accented seats.
Taking centre stage on the dash is Toyota’s latest 8.0-inch multimedia system featuring sat nav, which works in concert with the six-speaker stereo. The touchscreen is easy to use and is well complemented by the physical buttons surrounding it. A notable omission here is Android Auto or Apple CarPlay which are not even available as an option and there's no sign from Toyota this will change.
Taking centre stage on the dash is Toyota’s latest 8.0-inch multimedia system. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Our first destination for the day was the local shopping mall to battle it out with other Christmas shoppers for a parking spot. Immediately noticeable on first drive was how comfortable the ride quality was, with the SL soaking up lumps and bumps with something approaching refinement. There was little to rattle its composure.
The leather accented seats up front are power adjustable and provide a good amount of comfort. With temperatures outside in the mid 30s, the seat ventilation was a welcome feature. The four-way power adjustable steering column made light work of finding a comfortable driving position.
The leather accented seats up front are power adjustable and provide a good amount of comfort. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
The kids in the back had serious amounts of space to keep them happy. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Mercifully the kids in the back had serious amounts of space to keep them happy, with legroom measured in feet in rather than inches – sitting behind my driving position (I’m 180cm) there was almost a foot gap of space between my knees and the seat in front. Rear seat creature comforts include twin USB ports and air vents, two cup holders in the centre armrest, bottle holders in the doors and two ISOFIX points.
Navigating the shopping mall carpark was a non-event as we breezed in to find a spot. In the confined space the length of the SL was noticeable at 4905mm (40mm longer than the Mazda 6) however the parking sensors and reversing camera made fitting into the available parking spot easy enough.
As a result of leaving all our Christmas shopping to the last weekend before the big man stuffs himself down the chimney, the Camry SL was on shopping mall duties again today before we hit the beach in the afternoon.
My SL came with the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that offers 135kW of power and 235Nm of torque directing drive to the front wheels. It’s worth noting this engine, which has been carried over unchanged from the last-gen, is combined with a tweaked six-speed automatic and can run on 91 octane ULP.
The 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine has been carried from the last-gen and produces 135kW/235Nm. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
Decent from a standing start, the front end grips with surety but not enough to set pulses racing. Acceleration from mid-range feels a little undercooked and frustratingly belies the promise of the shiny quad exhaust pipes adorning the rear. That said, acceleration is incredibly smooth and gear changes are relatively seamless and intuitive.
The compliant ride around the burbs translated for the most part into stable handling when pushed around twisty back roads, with some body-roll noticeable. This car definitely has a preference for more mild-mannered driving.
Driving aids such as the head-up display were a welcome addition. Projecting information such as speed and navigation directions onto the windscreen, it minimises the need to take your eyes off the road. Its settings can be customised via the touchscreen on the dash which is useful for taller drivers needing to adjust the angle of display.
A weekend of mind-numbing shopping was rounded off with a trip to the beach in the afternoon. With 524 litres of boot space there was more than enough room for the shopping, beach towels and couple of small boogie boards. The rear seats can be folded down (60/40 split) should you need the extra space.
The boot offers 524 litres of space. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
The trip computer put fuel consumption for the weekend at 9.5 litres per 100km, which covered a combination of urban and pre-Christmas weekend traffic driving. Somewhat higher than the claimed figure of 8.3L/100km for the four cylinder engine, but not by much.
The SL was a genuine surprise packet that happily marks the end of the boring beige Camry models of old. With good looks, a heap of safety tech, oodles of practically and a supremely comfortable ride, this passenger car makes for an ideal family taxi. For drivers looking for performance that lives up to the promise of those four exhaust pipes I suggest looking at the V6 engine option.