Four-door sedans are not cool.
Once the popular choice for families, the traditional ‘three box’ car has been overtaken by the high-riding, wagon-shaped SUV in modern times.
But like many things in our society that have gone out of fashion, the four-door sedan has evolved into something different. A glance at the best-selling medium sedans from 2017 paints a clear picture of what people want.
The most popular model? The Toyota Camry, obviously. Second best? That would be the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, a car that starts at more than $60,000, coming in ahead of the Mazda6. The fourth most popular is the Mercedes CLA-Class, sixth is the BMW 3-Series and eighth the Audi A4. Which suggest the popularity of the modern four-door sedan is linked largely to how luxurious it is.
That explains why Toyota has moved its new generation Camry upmarket, with a bold new design and a fresh take on its dynamics. So how good is it? We’re putting the new range-topping Camry SL up against its mainstream premium rivals, the Mazda6 GT, Hyundai Sonata Premium and Skoda Octavia RS 169TSI. All four are well equipped and priced under $50,000 which undercuts the luxury branded competition.
Toyota Camry 2.5 SL
The new Toyota Camry is a big change for the Japanese giant in a lot of ways. Of course it’s the first Camry not built in Australia since 1987, but more than that Toyota has tried to add some excitement and style previously missing.
We’re testing the high-grade SL model powered by the familiar 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which is priced from $39,990 (plus on-road costs).
The engine produces 133kW of power and 235Nm of torque and gets paired with a six-speed automatic transmission as standard.
That may make it sound like the same old Camry but the engine is fitted to new generation underpinnings which have been engineered to make it more engaging to drive. And it doesn’t take long behind the wheel to feel the differences.
Camrys have (rightly) had a reputation for being sensible but uninspiring, but this new model is a lot nicer to drive. The steering is well weighted and offers great feel and feedback to the driver. It helps the Camry feel responsive for a mid-size sedan, with sure-footed handling.
The engine is modest but adequate, with plenty of revs needed to access the best of its performance. But around town it’s respectable at low speeds and is quiet and refined.
Claimed fuel economy of 7.8-litres per 100km is well behind the 6.6L/100km of the similar credentialed Mazda6, but in our real world testing it was the Toyota that came out ahead.
All Camry models come with a solid safety package that includes forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beam, seven airbags and a reversing camera. Stepping up to the SL adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert to the mix.
Standard gear includes 18-inch alloy wheels, sports front grille, rear boot spoiler, panoramic glass roof. Moving inside there’s ambient lighting, a 10-inch colour head-up display, power operated leather-trimmed seats with heating and ventilation, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 8.0-inch infotainment display, navigation and a six-speaker stereo with Toyota’s smartphone link and USB inputs; but no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
The interior presents well, with an asymmetrical layout biased towards the driver, adding a new level of luxury not seen before with the Camry. There’s a good mixture of materials to add to the premium look and feel.
Space is good in the Camry too, with plenty of room up front and respectable knee and shoulder room in the back. The only criticism of the rear space is the headroom, which is compromised slightly by the sunroof. The boot is also a generous 524-litres meaning there’s plenty of luggage space on offer.
2018 Toyota Camry 2.5 SL price and specifications
Price: From $39,990 plus on-road costs
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 133kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 235Nm at 4100rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Fuel use: 7.8L/100km
The Mazda6 was one of the first mainstream mid-size sedans to move upmarket. It’s a strategy that has resonated with buyers, with the 6 now ahead of the likes of the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and Subaru Liberty.
A new model is coming later in 2018 and it will have the 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the CX-9 SUV which will give it a performance boost. But until then the current non-turbo 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine continues, boasting 138kW and 250Nm and paired to six-speed automatic.
Aside from its looks the other standout element of the 6 is its excellent ride and handling, making it one of the nicest mid-sizers to drive. The Camry has closed the gap a lot, and in some ways surpassed the Mazda. The 6 is still a nice car to drive but its engine performance is similar to the Toyota, modest but adequate, and is noticeably nosier on the road.
Its steering is slightly lighter and not quite as communicative as the Toyota and the ride is less compliant than the plush riding Camry. The Mazda is slightly sportier though, and that may appeal to some buyers.
We’re testing the GT specification Mazda6, which is priced from $42,690, which makes it $2700 more expensive than the Toyota.
All Mazda6 come with automated emergency braking, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, six airbags and a reversing camera.
The GT comes loaded with 19-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, keyless entry and ignition and adaptive LED headlights. Also included is leather trim, heated front and rear seats, a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation and a Bose sound system with digital radio and smartphone apps.
The GT isn’t the top-grade in the 6 range, with the $45,390 Atenza adding higher grade Nappa leather trim and additonal safety features if you want even more.
While the exterior still looks fresh, the interior of the Mazda6 is starting to show its age. The fit and finish is excellent but the design and mixture of materials feels plain when compared to Toyota and Skoda.
Space is good though with the back seats on par with the Toyota for kneeroom but slightly tighter on shoulder room. Combined with the transmission tunnel (which isn’t used on this front-wheel drive model) the middle seat is highly compromised.
The boot is the smallest of this quartet at 474 litres, but it still takes plenty of luggage.
2018 Mazda6 GT price and specifications
Price: From $42,690 plus on-road costs
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 138kW at 5700rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 3250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
Fuel use: 6.6L/100km
Hyundai Sonata Premium