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Toyota Camry Atara SX review long-term

The Toyota Camry has been Australia’s best-selling medium car for 22 years. Follow our weekly updates on life with the 2016 Toyota Camry Atara SX.

OUR CAR 2015 TOYOTA CAMRY ATARA SX PRICE FROM $31,990+ORC ODOMETER ON COLLECTION 15,000KM ISSUES NONE THIRST 7.8L/100KM

THE ATARA SX will be going back to Toyota soon and while I’ve been happy enough driving around in it, I’ve had one simple thought rattling around inside my empty head the whole time: would I spend my own money on it? And, I guess that’s kind of the point of these longer tests, to find out whether the car that impressed you over a week, can continue to tick boxes the longer you own it.

And, in this case, I’m sorry to say that I wouldn’t spend my own money on the Atara SX, or anyone else’s for that matter. And the reason is this, as a family car it just isn’t ‘practical’ enough, nor is the quality of the thing acceptable for a near-as $32k car.

My own car is a Skoda Octavia 103TDI, and it’s a wagon, so while I’m not exactly comparing apples with apples, drawing a comparison between the two is reasonable, as far as I’m concerned. When I purchased the Octavia it was a few months old and so I saved myself the initial depreciation or, if you look at it another way the premium of buying a diesel. And that means my average fuel consumption of just 5L/100km puts me in the black right out of the box. But enough, the Camry was never going to compete with the Octavia on fuel consumption. And nor did I expect it to; its 7.8L/100km is perfectly reasonable.

But there are areas where I expected the newer car, built by the world’s biggest car maker and one of the most popular new cars in Australia to be better. One of those areas was equipment, the fact the Atara SX doesn’t get sat-nav is a real shock to me. And to those who say I could use my phone or buy a portable unit, I say, yes, you’re right, but in a $32k car I shouldn’t have to, and not one that’s purporting to be a little bit special…

The plastics are brittle, scratchy and flimsy next to the Octavia which all feel like they’re from a class above, even the shiny scratchy plastics. And press the door linings, or lean on the centre console in the Octavia and nothing gives. Do the same on the Atara SX and you’ll immediately stop for fear of breaking something. Sure, the hard, scratchy feeling plastics will probably last a lifetime, but they won’t ever feel nice.

The boot is cavernous but it lacks practical touches like straps or tie down points to keep groceries, etc from sliding around in the back. Similarly, the lack of one-touch operation of all four windows is a disappointment.

And then there’s the infotainment unit. I only used the Bluetooth connection on one trip and everyone who called me claimed it was as if I was talking to them from behind a concrete wall, with my hand over my mouth at the bottom of the ocean. No matter how good the phone reception the quality of the microphones, or perhaps their placement is poor. The touchscreen itself is a massive improvement on the fiddly little unit Toyota used to use, but it’s not the most touch sensitive and its placement means you can’t stabilise your hand while trying to use it; and if you do then you’ll confuse the thing with the unit ignoring your finger’s pressure because of the proximity of the rest of your hand.

There’s more, but I’m also writing a full review of the Atara SX so I won’t waste my powder all in one go here… Sorry. Next week, I’ll look at the ride and handling in a little more detail.

OUR CAR 2015 TOYOTA CAMRY ATARA SX PRICE FROM $31,990+ORC ODOMETER ON COLLECTION 13,900KM ISSUES NONE THIRST 7.8L/100KM

IN THIS UPDATE I’ve got nothing to say, except, bugger. Sorry Toyota, but I managed to bump the wheel against an overgrown gutter. I just couldn’t see where the shrubbery ended and the gutter began… and the wheels would have to be black.

Atara SX wheel

OUR CAR 2015 TOYOTA CAMRY ATARA SX PRICE FROM $31,990+ORC ODOMETER ON COLLECTION 12,895KM ISSUES NONE THIRST 7.8L/100KM

The boot. Unless you’ve got kids or are buying something capable of carrying a bike or tools then you probably don’t pay too much attention to the back-end of the new car you’re looking to buy. Sure, you might pop the boot and have a quick look at it, but…

Well, I do have children and the boot of any car I’m driving fast becomes an extension of their bedrooms, holding everything from scooters to barbie dolls, shopping bags and strollers. So, how does the Camry Atara SX stack up?

Toyota Camry Atara SX long-termer

Okay-ish. The boot is cavernous at 515 litres and, as you can see in the photo easily swallows a stroller with room for several more, but the ergonomics feel awkward. For instance, when you press the boot release it only pops an inch or two and you’ve got to raise the boot right up to the top of its travel or else it will fall back down and, equally throw it up too quickly and it will bounce back and catch you if you’re not careful.

But it’s more than this. The boot is deep and wide, so deep that to reach right to the back of it I’ve got to physically get my knee inside to reach right in. And you’ve got to lean against the rear bumper which is fine if its clean, but if it’s not…  The boot load lip is around 68cm off the ground while the boot floor measures around 50cm off the ground and that’s too low for me. Especially if I’m lifting heavier items out of the back; the other day I had to carry a couple of bags of cement (20kg each) and it was an awkward strain to fish them back out of the car.

Toyota Camry Atara SX long-termer

From the boot you can drop the back seats down, which is a practical touch. The boot height is less than 50cm. To get to the non-alloy spare tyre (shame Toyota) you’ve got to lift up the entire floor of the boot and then remove another piece of foam from the top of the wheel. This is fine if the boot’s empty, but if it’s full when you get a flat, well, you’ll have to empty the boot before you can change the wheel.

Toyota Camry Atara SX long-termer

The other thing about the boot that I find frustrating is the lack of tie-down points. In a boot as cavernous as this one it would be nice to be able to partition off a section of the boot to keep your groceries from sliding around. There are plenty of other cars where you can do just this.

OUR CAR 2015 TOYOTA CAMRY ATARA SX PRICE FROM $31,990+ORC ODOMETER ON COLLECTION 11,985KM DISTANCE SINCE LAST UPDATE 700KM ISSUES NONE THIRST 7.8L/100KM

The weather has been against me this last week, but I did manage one decent run along one of the Practical Motoring test loops, which is a 27-kilometre stretch that takes in highways, swooping back roads and even a section of well-graded dirt. For me, the loop is a microcosm of the different types of road surfaces you can expect in Australia.

So, how’d the Atara SX go. Well, it was okay. And when I say, okay, I mean it didn’t pitch me off the road and into a tree… other cars, like a 911 GT3, on this road, have, but that’s a story for another time. The Atara SX, should, by all accounts be perfect on the roads I drove it across, because the suspension and steering were tweaked locally for this Australia-only variant.

And, when the new Camry was launched last year the global director for Camry, Masato Katsumata, said, about the Atara SX, “It is amazing that this Aussie know-how makes Camry much more fun to drive – what we call ‘waku-doki’ – without affecting the ride comfort expected in a Camry,” Katsumata said. “This is a Camry that will be sought by people who want a true driver’s car.”

Well, he’s not 100% correct. Yes, I think Toyota’s engineers have done a top job of taking the bland Camry and giving it a touch more edge. But it hasn’t been transformed into a four-door Toyota 86. Not by a long stretch. And that’s fine, as long as Toyota don’t try and push this thing as a car for those wanting a “true driver’s car”. It just isn’t.

For a start, the transmission and the engine don’t seen to be the best of friends. Sure, the engine’s nice and strong but the transmission is just too clumsy in its action and responses to get the best out of the engine. Pulling away from a standing start on slight throttle will see a taxi-driver esque thump as the transmission shifts through the gears. Get a bit heavier with it when it’s up and running and the transmission will hold on for dear life before thumping hard into the next gear. The Atara SX comes off feeling thrashy and unenjoyable when pushed hard.

And the steering, well, it’s certainly meatier in its feel than the standard Camry, but it’s still quite slack just off centre and slow in its response. And the ride, at around town speeds, is good, but push the thing on a twisting back road and it starts to unravel, thumping through holes and bucking off line mid corner which, combined with the slack steering makes for a very unsporting feeling car indeed.

I’ll persist with the Atara SX, because I think there’s a good car in there, and if you’re considering a Camry I’d be pointing you directly at it, although the lack of sat-nav at this price point is a little disappointing. However, if you’re looking for a sporty four-door for the family then you’re best off looking elsewhere. Sure, this might be the most sporting Camry you can buy, but that’s a little like saying carob is the best chocolate substitute you can buy; it’s still not the same as chocolate…

OUR CAR 2015 TOYOTA CAMRY ATARA SX PRICE FROM $31,990+ORC ODOMETER ON COLLECTION 11,285KM DISTANCE SINCE LAST UPDATE 120KM ISSUES NONE THIRST 7.8L/100KM

THIS WEEK the Camry’s stayed close to home with one longer run down to the airport where it’s currently parked and awaiting my return from the new Kia Sportage launch (review up shortly). So, I’ll keep this post short and flesh out a longer one next week when I’ll be spending a lot more time with the thing.

This week has seen some pretty high temperatures hit the east coast of Australia and it got me thinking about the design of the Camry. Don’t get me wrong, I like the look of the Atara SX and if you squint a bit you can even see hints of the 86 in it. A bit…

But it’s the windscreen that’s a bit of a problem. Well, the windscreen and the black plastics used on the inside. The rake (angle) on the windscreen is so steep that when parked the sun is able to blaze right in on the dashboard and steering wheel. I’ve honestly never been in a car that gets so hot on the inside. I’d be interested to hear from any Camry owners about this issue… thank goodness the air-conditioning is so good.

OUR CAR 2015 TOYOTA CAMRY ATARA SX PRICE FROM $31,990+ORC ODOMETER ON COLLECTION 11,285KM distance since last update 410km ISSUES NONE THIRST 7.8L/100KM

THIS LAST WEEK, I decided to hand over the keys to our long-term Atara SX to my wife who’s back at work and commuting around 50 kilometres each day. Her commute combines highway and around town driving. After collecting the Camry from Toyota I’d formed an initial opinion of things like the steering, the ride, transmission and the brakes… but before I went and shot my mouth off, I wanted to see if she thought what I did.

And you know what, she didn’t mention any of things that I’d been thinking about, rather she thought about the practicalities of the thing. Oh, and I didn’t tell her much the Atara SX listed for.

So, in a nutshell, she liked it. She thought it felt powerful and while powerful might be a slight stretch but with 135kW (at 6000rpm) and 235Nm (at 4100rpm) it’s certainly got enough grunt to move its 1495kg (kerb weight) body along without too much trouble. Here’s what else she had to say:

  • Comfortable seats with good support in the lower back;
  • Lots of space inside. Plenty of room for a family and the boot is big although a bit shallow;
  • There’s good vision; I like the fact the pillars are nice and thin and that the centre-mounted rear vision mirror is easy to manoeuvre;
  • The reversing camera is good and the rear vision mirrors are a nice size, making reverse parking easy;
  • The whole car seen simple to understand; I found the radio controls and phone syncing to be easy;
  • The leather seats seem good quality.

However, when I told her the price was $31,990 (+ORC) she was a little surprised that there was no sat-nav and that the rear vision mirror wasn’t auto-dimming. But, overall, she thought it was a good car.

OUR CAR 2015 TOYOTA Camry atara sx PRICE FROM $31,990+ORC odometer on collection 11,285KM ISSUES NONE THIRST 7.8L/100KM

THE CLOSEST I’VE ever come to buying a Toyota Camry was back when I sold my WRX and one potential buyer offered me both a fistful of dollars and a Camry Sportivo. I knocked the bloke back. Nicely, though.

And so I find myself piloting, for three months, a new Camry Atara SX, although with more than 11,000km on the clock it’s essentially a second-hand model. And while at first glance that might seem like we’ve been a bit hard done by in getting a car with so many miles beneath its wheels, but not so. See, our new long-termer has already passed through its run-in period and been subjected to the sort of hard life a typical family-used Camry would be. I’m actually pretty pleased the thing’s been on the road for so long.

For a start it allows me to immediately assess the driveline, transmission, suspension, and brakes, and I’ve already got a few niggles I want to spend a little more time and distance getting my head around. I only picked the thing up yesterday, and don’t want to jump in too soon with an assessment. By getting a car that’s already done 11,000km, I’ll be able to check, very quickly, how well the materials used inside and the fit and finish is holding up… basically, in getting this long-in-the-tooth press car I’m able to give you lot an accurate picture of how the Camry will hold up over time.

See, while it’s nice getting a long-termer straight out of the box, I reckon it’s better getting one like this. It’s more real-world, and we like that here at Practical Motoring.

So, a little bit about the Atara SX. The Atara SX is priced from $31,990 (+ORC) and is a stand-alone “sports” model that was conceived by Toyota Australia’s own engineers. Toyota says the Atara SX is “the most agile and responsive Camry yet”. If you’ve driven a Camry you’ll know that’s not a huge claim to make.

The first thing you notice with the Atara SX is its 18-inch five-spoke alloys which, in the case of our long-termer contrast beautifully with the red paintwork. The Atara SX also gets new “sports suspension” and a revised electric assist power steering “with a faster gear ratio for a more connected driving feel”. Hmmm. It also gets a sports mesh grille, rear lip spoiler, leather-accented sports seats and dark diffuser on the rear bumper.

It’s a good looking thing, and it’s clear to see that Toyota sent its Camry design team for a day trip to visit the Lexus RC F design team, because this thing is easily the most attractive Camry ever. On the outside. On the inside, despite the Atara SX being a special model it’s an odd mixture of new and old and hard scratchy plastics.

I’ve so far driven about 125km in the Atara SX and the plastics, hinges and switches all seem to be holding up quite well. The air-con is strong, the windscreen wipers effective, and the seats seem pretty comfortable.

Until I’ve taken the Camry out on a more demanding drive, I’ll hold off on judging the thing further. But, my gut tell’s me this will be an interesting three months…

  • McF1

    “The Toyota Camry has been Australia’s best-selling medium car for 22 years”, that’s a very interesting and impressive statistic This is a significant achievement by Toyota, and it doesn’t come easy. (Only need to look at the Ford Falcon. Many years ago it was the No.1 selling passenger car in the land, and now it is being out-sold by the Mercedes C-Class, as noted in an article by PM a few days ago).
    Looking forward to the reports for the long term Camry Atara SX.
    It would be good if Toyota were able to have standard Sat-Nav (or make it an option) in the SX to further differentiate it from the Atara S and the Altise.

    • Couldn’t agree more, McF1. The lack of sat-nav is a bit baffling, because gets other bits and pieces that I could do without like keyless entry… I’d have done without that for sat-nav to be fitted as standard. In this day and age I think sat-nav is a minimum standard feature. Sure, we can all use our smart phones which are generally, er, smarter, but… Isaac

  • Fred

    It sounds like the Camry assembled in Thailand. Sad to say but Toyotas are not the best or the most desirable cars anymore. Yesterday the new Fortuner was upgraded with rear disc brakes , (drum brakes in a modern SUV what were they thinking).Stiffer suspension and some interior and exterior trim. For a brand new vehicle not even six months old ,why was this not done in the first place? And a price hike that made it more expensive than the top Everest. Since it is exported from here to Ausland it will out price the Prado.

  • Sheila Riley

    Why can’t Toyota have sale like Chevy, Cruz at $49.00 a month. I that kind of deal on a NEW Toyota car.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.