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Car reviews - Toyota - Camry - SL

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth and strong V6, roomy cabin, plush seats, impressive equipment, precise steering, comfortable ride quality
Room for improvement
Thirsty engine can lack torque, tyres struggle for purchase, soggy handling ditches crispness of four-cylinder Camry

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Toyota logo25 May 2018

Overview 
 
ONLY a half-decade ago this Toyota Camry SL V6 would have cost $50,000 plus on-road costs.
 
There is no guesswork involved there, but history highlights that the predecessor to this flagship version of the eighth-generation Camry was called the Aurion Presara, which likewise powered the front wheels via a 3.5-litre engine and was priced just $10 beneath the above pricing threshold.
 
In the modern era, however, a shrinking medium passenger car segment means there is no need for a separate nameplate to tackle the Holden Commodore large car as once was the case, with the irony being that the latter ZB-generation German-import now itself must battle a mass of mid-sizers.
 
Today’s Camry not only reverts back to offering V6 availability for the first time since 2006, but it offers petrol four-cylinder and petrol-electric hybrid powertrains as well, all in attempt to keep the clear sales leader in the class in that formidable position. 
 
Flagship Camry SL V6 pricing that now ducks $6010 beneath the aforementioned pricing threshold has certainly been designed to help, too.
 

Price and equipment

 

The value equation of this Japanese-built Camry has only become more competitive.

 

Even the $29,990 plus on-road costs Ascent Sport, with a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder, scores automatic up/down high-beam, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assistance, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with digital radio and satellite navigation, and dual-zone climate control.

 

The $33,290 SX (with the same engine) further adds 19-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s), steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters, wireless phone charging, rear USB ports and leather trim. But it then takes another $4000 to get to the first step of 3.5-litre V6 engine ownership – the $37,490 SX V6.

 

The only other model grade available with that most powerful petrol engine is this $43,990 SL V6.

It adds a panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, a head-up display, ventilated front seats, an electrically adjustable passenger seat and steering column, and blind-spot plus rear cross-traffic alerts – yet heated seats and a premium audio system are still unavailable.

Mainly owing to the superb-value Ascent Sport and SX, then, this SL seems like only decent value.

 

Interior

 

Toyota needed to overhaul the previous-generation Camry’s interior design, which harked back to 2011 and was barely improved. Thankfully, the new generation is truly just that, built on an entirely fresh platform that positions the driver lower and notably boosts fit-and-finish to a lofty standard.

 

Particularly when equipped with such a high level of standard equipment, and priced below $35,000 as the Ascent Sport and SX are, the swoopy cabin has become a new Camry highlight. Towards $40,000 that sheen starts to be smudged, however, while over that barrier it is largely removed.

 

Ergonomically, everything is as it should be in the SL V6, while the front seats are generous in padding and the rear bench is deep and plush, a fine match for the excellent legroom and headroom. The 524-litre boot is, expectedly for this nameplate, enormous and practical.

 

However, the resolution mis-match between the intuitive centre touchscreen and colour trip computer display, plus its basic graphics, come under greater scrutiny at this level.

Likewise, the leather trim feels plain, the glovebox and storage compartments are unlined, and the entire middle section of the dashboard is produced in hard plastic – made brighter and more obvious by the SL’s beige colour coding.

The Camry interior is neat but far from premium, so at this level it simply feels tarted up.

 

Engine and transmission

 

SL-grade Camrys are available with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and hybrid powertrain that are $4000 and $3000 cheaper respectively than the V6 tested here, and having tested both drivetrains prior to this 3.5-litre, the middle hybrid is definitely the pick.

 

With 160kW of power and instant torque, the hybrid becomes the most improved Camry as well as being the most suitable to its character. It is now faster, smoother and quieter than before.

Meanwhile this 3.5-litre V6 has been upgraded with part-direct injection to produce 224kW of power at 6600rpm and 362Nm of torque at 4700rpm, up 24kW/26Nm on the last Aurion V6.

 

Consumption now drops to a claimed combined-cycle figure of 8.7 litres per 100 kilometres, down from 9.3L/100km, thanks partially to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. It needs premium unleaded now, though, and delivers near-double the hybrid’s 4.5L/100km figure.

 

From a standing start the Camry SL V6 is quick. Off the line the front Bridgestone Turanza 18-inch tyres can struggle to deliver grip, indicating that the Dunlop SportMaxx 19s of the Camry SX V6 would be more suitable.

Although this revised 3.5-litre revs keenly and sweetly, drivers can get caught in a torque hole around town where the auto does not grab first gear but feels flat in second. It happens all too often, and means the petrol-electric combination eclipses it for urban driveability.

 

Ride and handling

 

Where the Camry SX includes sports suspension, the Camry SL gets the standard chassis tune. The former suits the heavier V6 engine more than this lazier set-up does, particularly given how subtly sporting it is, but either way the handling crispness of an SX four-cylinder is not nearly matched.

That is not a surprise given the 2.5-litre model grade weighs 1530kg and the 3.5-litre tips the scales at 1595kg. With the additional 65kg over the front axle, this SL V6 is dynamically inferior to the slower engine option, lolloping on its soft dampers and feeling soggy during changes of direction.

The tyres and chassis cannot handle the V6’s outputs, because furious wheelspin and aggressive electronic stability control (ESC) intervention occur whenever the throttle is applied and the steering is not exactly straight – and such things are not a problem for the lighter, sweeter four-cylinder. At least the steering remains light and incisive, though even ride quality is imperfect.

Sometimes the 18-inch rims can snag on potholes, for example, affecting the generally smooth and plush baseline of this soft suspension. Given the experience with the more controlled, yet still comfortable SX sports suspension, along with grippier 19s, it again would make the better V6 fit.

Safety and servicing

Six airbags (including dual-front, front-side and curtain), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are included in the Camry SL V6.

The Toyota Camry achieved five stars and scored 36.16 out of 37 points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.

Servicing intervals occur annually, or 15,000km intervals, at an extremely affordable capped-price of $195 for each of the first five check-ups to five years or 75,000km.

Verdict

The luxury-oriented Camry SL is certainly a better fit with the upgraded petrol-electric hybrid system than this $3000-pricier and thirstier V6 engine. And if straight-line speed is required, then the Camry SX with sports suspension makes more sense, as does its sub-$40,000 value equation.

Toyota is providing buyers with plenty of choice in this eighth-generation medium sedan range, and that can only be a good thing. But so well-equipped is the Ascent Sport at $30,000-plus, for example, that spending any more only places the Camry’s interior finish under harsher scrutiny.

Likewise, the brisk V6 is simply eclipsed by the brilliant hybrid and even the basic four-cylinder petrol that still polls well above its weight for performance and refinement, if not economy.

In any case, though, while Toyota’s flagship sedan may no longer ask $50,000 for its top model grade, it certainly remains much more impressive when that first digit is wound a couple lower.

Rivals

Holden Calais 2.0T from $40,990 plus on-road costs
More impressive interior and engine, but lacks some equipment for the price.

Hyundai Sonata Premium from $45,490 plus on-road costs
Even better ride and steering than Camry, just as roomy, but similarly downmarket inside.


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