The Toyota Camry has been around in various guises since the early 80s and Toyota have produced and sold millions of them. It has taken the top spot for passenger car sales in the US almost every one of the last 15 years and it’s the top selling car in its class in in Australia.

Camrys are used as taxis all over the world, including many in New Zealand. It’s available with petrol-electric hybrid or traditional petrol drivetrains. You’ve probably already seen our review of the hybrid, but tested here is the four cylinder petrol in Atara S spec, the third of the four trim levels.

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First Impressions

Our test car came in a dark metallic grey colour, which looks good on the car. The Camry is available in a range of eight colours, all of which are quite muted metallic shades. With this facelift model, Toyota have done a great job of making the front of the car look more interesting and modern, adding gloss black highlights and a honeycomb lower grille. The rest of the car certainly looks smart. It’s not a bad looking car, but hardly exciting to look at either. Even with the improvements over the previous shape Camry it faces stiff competition from its rivals.

If you’ve been in the previous Camry the interior and dash won’t hold any surprises. The layout is good with everything in easy reach and nice chunky buttons that you can find easily. Overall it feel solid and well put-together. A 6.1” touch-screen multimedia system is included, with phone integration via Bluetooth, a CD player, and a hidden cubby for your phone with charger and USB sockets inside.

The media system screen also acts as the display for the reversing camera, which includes parking sensors as well. I’ve seen a lot of cars with reversing camera but no sensors, and if you’re used to the sensors like I am it’s easy to forget and get a bit blasé when reversing! The two work really well in combination. There’s a button on the dash to disable the sensors if you need to when reversing a trailer.

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Dual zone climate control is included, there are central cup holders plus bottle holders in the doors. There’s a massive glove box and a large central armrest with storage inside. Personally I’m not a fan of arm rests and I banged my elbow on this one a couple of times. The dash, like the previous model, looks good overall with some fake stitching moulded into it to break up the expanse of plastic and finish it off. But there are a couple of pieces which just don’t seem to match the rest: the centre console side trims and the top centre section are made of a cheaper feeling plastic that doesn’t really match the rest and spoils the overall effect a little. The instruments are simply laid out with large analogue dials and a small digital display at the bottom for the trip computer and odometer.

I sat in the comfortable cloth driver’s seat (the top model SX has leather), pushed the start button and the 2.5 litre 4 cylinder engine fired up with a muted growl, then settled down to a barely audible idle. I put it in drive, disengaged the foot-operated parking brake and cruised out into traffic. In traffic and on the motorway the Camry is smooth, quiet, and relaxing to drive. Put your foot down and there’s a decent amount of power there when you need it. All models in the range have the same 135kW/235Nm engine. All models also have the same six speed sequential automatic transmission with shifter paddles on the steering wheel if you want to shift manually or use the gears to engine brake. Shifting is smooth and hardly noticeable and I rarely felt the need to use the paddles.

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The suspension is very well damped. Smooth and refined over bumps, but not wallowy in the corners. The setup on the Atara S is described as “sport” by Toyota as opposed to “normal” on the GL and Atara. The SX gets different shocks and extra stabiliser bars for a sportier ride and handling, along with 18” wheels (the Atara S has 17s).

The facelift adds a pre-loaded differential to the front wheel drive chassis, which Toyota claim makes for a smoother take off, better control under acceleration and deceleration and greater high speed stability. It certainly seems to have more grip than the previous model when pulling out quickly from a junction.

The facelift also adds voice control, which worked about as well as they ever do for me. Having a Yorkshire accent in a market where voice recognition is presumably tuned for an New Zealand accent always has its challenges. It did work, it just took a few attempts to recognise my vowels.

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What’s it like to live with?

I drove the Camry for almost a week and there’s a lot to like. It’s spacious, quiet and comfortable. The rear legroom is excellent. There’s a big boot and the rear seats are 60/40 split folding for longer loads. They don’t fold quite flat and the opening to the boot is an interesting shape, so you won’t be getting big items of furniture in there unless they’re flat packed, but it does add to the practicality.

The electrically adjustable driver’s seat moves in many directions and allows you to get a comfortable position easily. I didn’t like the driving position at first until I realised that I had the seat at its maximum height. I prefer to be lower in the car, and once I dropped it down it was much better.

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This is a car that you can jump into and just use. Everything is where it should be, everything works well. And that’s what I did, I used the Camry for every little trip. It was easy to drive, easy to use, easy to park. The six speaker stereo is good but not outstanding. One strange thing it did was when I paired my phone to it, it automatically started playing the only mp3 on my phone which is a 20 second AC/DC clip which I use as my ringtone. It only did it the first time though.

But ultimately the word which kept popping into my head when thinking about the Camry was “bland”. It does everything so well and consistently but not in a very interesting way. For me it doesn’t have any character. It’s definitely a car you’d buy with the head rather than the heart.

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What it’s up against

Brand / ModelEnginePowerFuel L/100km0-100km/hPrice Highest to Lowest
Honda Accord Euro2.4l 4 cylinder148kW/234Nm8.59.5s$47,200
Mazda 62.5l 4 cylinder138kW/250Nm6.6$46,745
Volkswagen Passat Comfortline1.8l 4 cylinder turbo132kW/250Nm5.87.9$45,750
Hyundai i452.4 4 cylinder148kW/250Nm7.9$45,490
Kia Optima2.4 4 cylinder148kW/250Nm7.9$44,490
Nissan Altima255l 4 cylinder127kW/230Nm7.5$43,990
Ford Mondeo Ambiente2.0l 4 cylinder turbo149kW/345Nm8.2$43,990
Toyota Camry Atara S2.5l 4 cylinder135kW/235Nm7.89.8s$41,990
Holden Cruze1.6l 4 cylinder turbo132kW/230Nm7.9$39,990
Skoda Octavia TSI Elegance1.8t 4 cylinder turbo132kW/250Nm6.17.4$39,990

 

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The good and the bad.

ProsCons
  • Comfortable
  • Spacious
  • Quiet
  • Reputation for reliability
  • Not as good looking as its competition
  • “Taxi” image
  • Lack of character, bland

 

What do we think?

If you’ve ever driven a Camry or any of the larger Toyotas then you’ll know exactly what to expect. Everything works perfectly. It goes, stops and steers well, but there’s nothing outstanding. This seems to be the way with Toyotas in this class. They’re great cars but they’re not cars that an enthusiast would drive. If you were given this car as a company car you’d be very happy with it. It feels like you could get into it in Wellington, drive to Auckland and arrive relaxed and refreshed. It would cope with any roads or weather conditions that you threw at it.

That said though it’s not the car for me. Toyota sell a lot of these, and I can understand why. With three years’ warranty, servicing and breakdown cover included it’s an excellent deal for a really good car, and it’s very well priced for the equipment level, and in comparison to its competition.

Rating – Chevron rating 4 out of 5

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Vehicle TypeLarge Sedan
Starting Price$41,990 + on-road costs
Tested Price$41,990 NZD
Engine2.5 litre, 4 cylinder, 16 valve DOHC with Dual VVT-i and electronic fuel injection
Transmission6 speed Automatic transmission with sequential shift and paddle shift
0 – 100 kph 9.8 seconds
Kerb Weight1470-1505 kg
Length x Width x Height4850 x 1825 x 1470mm
Cargo Capacity515 Litres
Fuel Tank70 litres
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 stars

 

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