This week EFTM is test driving the new Toyota Camry Atara SX. It’s the latest version of the famous family car from Toyota. But with a shift to SUVs and smaller cars happening, and some cooler family car designs, can the Toyota Camry keep up? We have a week to find out just that. Since Saturday we’ve been test driving the Toyota Camry Atara and will continue to be until this coming Saturday. While it’s a brand new Camry, it’s been around the traps for a while already. The motor mags and websites have done the reviews and the verdicts are generally pretty decent. But we’re going to look at it from a lifestyle point of view. Largely because if you’re a family man, you will need a family motoring solution, but Toyota is really up against it now. As a lifestyle choice you want a car that’s practical, reliable, good looking and a solid drive as well. Why would you buy a Camry when you could go for a range of other solutions that are traditionally a lot cooler?
In the SUV market there is the swish Hyundai iX35, the sturdy VW Tiguan, Ford’s ever present Territory and the good looking Subaru Outback, to name only a few. Then again, you could go for a traditional family car. Instead of the Camry, there is the Subaru Liberty, Honda Accord and Accord Euro, Ford Falcon, Skoda Superb, VW Passat, and more. The point being, all of these brands and models mentioned have made massive leaps forward in the style stakes and drive bloody well too. They are all cool cars. Cars that will give you a good drive as well as practicality and, for the most part, reliability. The Camry has always been practical and reliable, but never a fantastic drive and usually quite dull to look at.
Now that we’ve spent a weekend with the new Toyota Camry Atara, the first impressions are solidly fixed in our heads. The Camry’s new styling is a step forward when you look at it from the front and back, but a step back from the side. It’s a mean looking car front and rear, especially the dual exhaust of the Atara SX. It looks like a big, hulking NASCAR that’s ready to do some damage to the road. But from the side it looks old and dated, much like the Camry two models ago. A shame it couldn’t hold the styling all the way around.
We got the sporty Camry Atara SX, so we will judge the interior on what the SX has. Bare in mind that it won’t be the same if you go for the entry level Camry Altise or lower spec Atara S. Also bare in mind that the Atara SL is a better equipped luxury Camry.
Inside the Camry Atara SX you feel like you’re swimming in space. The dash is leather covered, the leather seats are comfy, there is a touch-screen entertainment unit, there is Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, steering mounted controls, dual climate-control, a sun roof, plenty of storage and a pretty funky trip computer that shows you detailed petrol consumption figures plus a small green ‘Eco’ light when you’re driving economically… slightly ironic for the sporty Camry. All that stuff is well and good, but there are issues. For a car just under $40,000 drive away, there is no built-in sat nav despite having a touch screen. The dials are traditional analogue and not that cool, the steering wheel is enormous and the paddle shift… well, that’s just useless. You can barely get your hands to the paddles, and even when you do, there is absolutely no point driving a Camry with paddle shift. Even in the sporty Camry SX, it’s just not that kind of car.
In terms of the drive, things are much like the interior. There is good and bad. The 2.5 litre four cylinder dual VVT-i produces 135kW at 6,000rpm. It’s a smooth if not engaging drive. When you drive the Camry SX, you don’t have to think about things. In fact, the drive is just… well… dull. That may not be a bad thing though. If you want a car that will get you to and from work and ferry around the kids with no stress and no fuss, then this is pretty perfect. But if you enjoy driving, want to feel the road underneath you, want to engage in the drive, this is not the car for you. Unlike ten years ago, there are family sized cars that can do that. Drive a Honda Accord or a Skoda Superb, for example.
So that’s the first impressions of the Toyota Camry SX. We’ve come to these conclusions after driving it around Sydney city roads as well as taking it up the F3 to Nelson Bay and back. It has another five full days to impress us. The opinions could change and the drives will certainly give it a few more chances to impress. But at this moment in time, to answer the important question “Can a Toyota Camry be cool?”. Well, no. Not yet. It’s another Toyota Camry. Reliable, spacious, solid. But not engaging and not yet cool. It’s still the nerdy kid in the corner.
Damian Francis has previously edited Australian T3 and F1 Racing magazine and wrote for GQ Australia and Men’s Health. Unlike Nick and Trev, he has no kids, no mortgage and no wife, but lives happily on Sydney’s North Shore with his girlfriend.