TOYOTA CAMRY/AURION (2006-10)
‘When you’ve got a good thing don’t mess with it,’ is a dictum that Toyota’s ACV40R Camry successfully followed.
The preceding 36R range was bagged for being bland but it led the market in sales and buyer respect. Although their shape had changed significantly, the new Camry and Aurion six-cylinder did nothing to de-stabilise hard-won dominance.
Models priced from $28,000 to $50,000 provided contenders in several market segments both here and overseas. With around 70 per cent of Camry production destined for export, economies of scale helped keep Australian cars affordable.
Toyota earned undeniable kudos for the work it did to produce one of this country’s best cars but sales have lagged behind expectations. Predictions that the six-cylinder car would sell 25,000 units a year were never realised. Even in a market where Mitsubishi’s contender was doomed and Falcon falling from favour, the best the Aurion did was 22,000 (in 2007) and by 2010 it was below 12,000 units.
News of a revamped Camry was never likely to send the automotive world into ecstasy but this one did make an effort to look, and be, significantly better.
A wheelbase stretched by 55mm sat within a body that was only marginally longer. Stepped styling and prominent wheel-arches accentuated a design that was wider and lower. The boot remained massive.
The Camry range no longer included six-cylinder variants that role left to an array of Aurions which would arrive a few months later. Four-cylinder cars came in four equipment levels but all with the same 117kW, 2.4-litre engine. Most were sold with five-speed automatic transmission, although the base-model Altise and kitted-up Sportivo could both be specified as a five-speed manual.
Although cheaper than the car it replaced, a $28,000 Altise manual included air-conditioning, cruise control, dual air-bags, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and wheel-mounted audio controls. Automatic transmission added $1500 to the list price. The auto-only Ateva included power seat adjustment, 16-inch alloy wheels in place of the Altise’s steel rims, a trip computer and side-curtain air-bags.
Topping the Camry range was the Grande, which really didn’t justify a $20,000+ price premium and not a lot were sold. Should you snare one on the used market; the attractions include a full leather interior with timber embellishments, navigational control and Bluetooth connectivity, a sunroof, rain-sensing wipers and stability control. A nifty, Lexus-like addition was the powered rear sunshade.
Best value and most interesting among the four-cylinder 40R cars was the Sportivo. Its 17-inch diameter wheels came with uprated rubber, there was a leather-rim steering wheel, side and front air-bags, traction control and a trip computer all for $33,000 (manual.) Upgrade cars that appeared in mid-2009 boosted equipment levels and came at slightly reduced prices.
Wanting more power in your mid-sized Toyota meant flipping through the catalogue to the section marked ‘Aurion’. The six-cylinder Camry clone came in five variations and at prices stretching from $34,990 which bought a six-speed automatic AT-X to $49,990.
No manual transmission option was available but with 200kW and a six-speed, Sport-Shift auto, Aurion owners really didn’t need to be messing with a clutch to generate serious performance.
Toyota spent plenty of money and engineering effort on developing a chassis that would transmit significant torque via the front wheels without producing a wrist-twisting monster. Traction Control was mandatory and bigger, better tyres made appreciable improvements to grip.
Equipment allocated to the various models generally matched that of the four-cylinder cars. Top billing went to the $49,990 Presara, with pretty much everything found in a 2.4 Grande at no more money. Below was the ZR6 Sportivo which also included leather trim but cost $7000 less than a Presara.
Most Aurions in the used market will be the lower-spec AT-X and Touring which still have plenty of gear inside and a full complement of safety features including side-front air-bags and stability control.
ON THE ROAD
Toyota deserves plenty of praise for building one of the most effective vehicles ever seen on Australian roads. Inherent flaws are virtually non-existent and most owners have nothing but praise for their practicality.
The 3.5-litre engine is outstanding, the six-speed transmission very good and chassis design acceptable. Under the conditions most Australians will encounter, an Aurion can be pushed along at decent pace without unduly taxing the driver or concerning occupants.
Even in basic AT-X form, comfort and equipment levels are good with decent seat support and sensible ergonomics. The shiny Aurion dash might not match all tastes but it modulates the drabness that often afflicts mid-priced cars.
Left to its own devices, the auto is pretty good but can over-react when the throttle is stabbed hard; dropping several gears in a savage rush that sets the tyres chattering before traction control intervenes with an equally-abrupt power cut.
Using the transmission manually in conjunction with thoughtful throttle openings produces rapid reaction without the chirping tyres or triggering electronic intervention. Mid-range performance is excellent, with 80-120km/h acceleration times undercutting the 4.0-litre Falcon by half a second.
Fuel consumption is pretty good for an engine that loves to rev and most drivers will be able to produce 11.5L/100km in town and around 8.5 on the highway. All Camrys work well on 91 Octane.
The 2.4-litre gives away more than 80kW but still provides sufficient performance to satisfy its huge buyer base. Standing-start acceleration from the five-speed automatic is a full two seconds adrift of the Aurion’s best time but mid-range response is fine and economy betters 10L/100km.
Grip, steering response and cornering precision are areas where neither car excels. However, they still do well enough to satisfy the vast majority of owners. If you are one of the few Camry/Aurion buyers who values handling response ahead of ride comfort, the Sportivo is worth a test-drive.
Camry seat trim is generally robust and a car displaying interior wear might be suffering in other areas as well. The redesigned dash is neat and everything essential is in a logical spot. The pillars aren’t obstructive in the manner of a VE Commodore but occasionally make you crane your neck to avoid the blind spot.
As family transport where the back seat will be used regularly, both versions provide plenty of space and decent door apertures. The seat doesn’t fold into a boot extension but there is a ‘ski-port’.
>> Sound design and inherent durability ensure that a properly-maintained Camry or Aurion will generate few problems. Insist on seeing the service book and don’t buy a car without history.
>> Camry and Aurions built from 2006-09 were recalled late in 2012 to rectify a power window switch that could stick and possibly overheat. Check that the car has been repaired (usually confirmed by a sticker inside the driver’s door) or contact Toyota.
>> The air-dam and side-skirts fitted to Sportivo versions are susceptible to kerb and speed-bump damage. Look for grazes, cracks and misaligned front panels.
>> Cars with the six-speed transmission can fall victim to ‘flaring’ or delayed changes from second to third gears. ECU mapping is said to be the cause, especially in cars normally driven gently then perhaps pushed harder on a country trip of by a different driver.
>> Despite Toyota’s efforts on build quality, some cars have developed irritating dash squeaks. With air-con and music off, drive on a bumpy road and through some bends listening for creaks and squeaks.
USED VEHICLE GRADING
Design & Function: 15/20
Value for Money: 15/20
Wow Factor: 13/20 (Sportivo)
ALSO CONSIDER: Mazda 6, Nissan Maxima, Ford Mondeo
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