Toyota is one of the world's most successful automotive brands, and in the States, the Camry mid-sizer is their best seller. In Australia, it's easily the de facto choice in its class for rental and taxi companies, government fleets and private buyers. Join us as we take the Australian-spec Atara S for one of our weeklong road test and reviews.
The AU$33,490 RRP Atara S is the second cheapest model in the 2012 Camry range and the obvious choice for the vast majority of private buyers (the Altise, at AU$30,490 RRP, is the mainstay of fleet operators).
The 2012 Camry feels large for a mid-sizer with a length of 4,815 mm (190 in.) and a wheelbase of 2,775 mm (109 in.). It's also 1,825 mm (72 in.) wide and 1,470 mm (58 in.) tall.
It's fine-looking looking from most angles though the styling is best described as evolutionary rather than revolutionary – a Toyota hallmark. It's a shame that from the side it looks more like a minor facelift than an all-new model; the angular window-line seemingly unchanged from the previous generation.
Still, in Atara S guise the Camry comes with front fog lights and five spoke alloy wheels which help to alleviate many of the deign shortcomings. There's also the expected assortment of three letter acronym safety equipment (ABS, EBD, traction / stability control etc.) resulting in a 5 star ANCAP rating. This alone should be a big incentive for many private buyer.
Unlike the majority of Atara S's currently in Aussie showrooms, our press fleet vehicle came with a full leather interior and a power tilt/slide sunroof. Everything else – from the climate control air conditioning, electrically adjustable driver's seat and touch-screen audio – is standard.
All the controls are clearly labelled and easy to use; a definite plus. One thing I didn't like was the fact that the audio and climate controls are backlit in green; with the white instruments and blue touch-screen it seemed out-of-place and dated. The foot-operated handbrake is also an unusual touch in a car such as this. The air conditioning is fantastic and the front seats extremely comfortable.
The lack of automatic adjustment for the front passenger seat is disappointing though not unexpected. The steering wheel is nice and chunky and the interior material choices are – as to be expected from Toyota – of a very high standard. This is a no-fuss cabin that's well designed and well-appointed for a car at this price range. The boot – which contains a full-sized spare – is easy to access and large enough to accommodate almost anything.
On The Road
The Camry's 133 kW (178 hp), 2.5-liter inline four delivers 231 Nm (170 lb. ft.) of torque through a 6-spd automatic gearbox. It's an eager if somewhat pedestrian sounding unit that benefits greatly from an above average transmission. Smooth power delivery makes the Atara S a competent highway cruiser. Fuel economy seems to be about 10 L / 100 km around town and 7.5 L / 100 km on the open road.
The steering is a bit lifeless but otherwise I have few complaints about the Camry's driving experience. It handles well, rides comfortably and is effortless to drive. The suspension setup is well adapted to Australian road conditions and the brakes work flawlessly. “Boringly competent” best describes the 2012 Camry's on-road performance.
The Final Word
There's a reason for the Toyota Camry's popularity in Australia and elsewhere: this is a very good car inside and out. The price to equipment ratio is very good, the driving experience is a lot less vanilla than you might expect and the interior is top notch. Its best to think of this as an owner's car rather than a driver's car.
It's a step up from the last generation, though it'll be interesting to see how the Camry does when the next generation of mid-sizers – namely the Ford Mondeo and Chevrolet Malibu – arrive on Australian shores next year. Will near enough be good enough to beat the new arrivals? Only time will tell.
By Tristan Hankins