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The 2012 Toyota Camry continues to stay in the mid-size car pack as the segment expands with worthy competitors.
IntroductionThe Toyota Camry has been the de facto target for the midsize sedan segment for so long, we're surprised the car doesn't come with a bulls-eye painted on the side. But for Toyota, the competition started getting uncomfortably close in recent years. The Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima all started nipping at the heels of the Toyota Camry's strong market share. With new versions of the Fusion, the Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima just around the corner, things are going to get even tougher for Toyota's perennial breadwinner.
As the class benchmark, it's fitting that the redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry beats those cars to the market. But what's surprising is that Toyota admits that it benchmarked the Hyundai during the Camry's development. Yet despite the Sonata's radical (for the class) styling, Toyota's revamp of the midsized Camry sedan is more evolutionary than revolutionary, building on an excellent foundation and reputation.
We drove a 2012 Toyota Camry LE for a week. This is the mainstream model, the one you'll soon see in your neighbor's driveway, on the street, at the grocery store, and on all sides of you on the freeway. We wanted to see not just how much better it was than the car it replaces (a lot better, as it turns out), but also to prepare ourselves for a baseline as the Camry's competition comes to market over the next year.
What We DroveOur vehicle was a pre-production 2012 Toyota Camry LE, which means that while it's mostly representative of what buyers will find, it was a very early build, and there might be a few rough edges left to smooth out. That said, a production Camry LE like this starts at $23,460, a $200 drop from last year's model. Still, this is no stripped-down base car. The Camry LE comes with a 178-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. You also get the Camry's new styling inside and out, and a good sample of the Toyota Camry's many standard features, such as power windows and doors, cruise control, Bluetooth, etc., that are coveted by most consumers. Standard on the 2012 Toyota Camry LE is a 6.1-inch touch-screen monitor for the audio system, an unusual and upscale feature for a mid-priced, midsize sedan. The sole option: a $440 power driver's seat, which brought the price to a very reasonable $23,700.
Like its competitors, the 2012 Toyota Camry is a safe house, armored against other vehicles with standard ten airbags (front, side, and side curtain airbags for both rows) as well as standard seatbelts and LATCH system for baby seats. But the heart of the sedan's safety is Toyota's Star safety system, which includes: standard anti-lock brakes; brake-force distribution; brake assist; "Smart Stop" brake override, which shuts off power to the engine when you press the brake pedal; and stability and traction control (TRAC). Tire pressure monitoring system is also standard on the 2012 Toyota Camry.
The CommuteThe United States is a big country and Americans are a very mobile people. Thus, any quintessential "American" car for the masses must be a cruiser, capable of transporting a wide variety of warm bodies (solo driver, driver with passenger, driver with multiple passengers, never mind passenger types like children and elderly) and their cargo varying distances in relative comfort.
We found our 2012 Toyota Camry LE sedan succeeded in all these points during our week with it. Slip into the cloth-covered seats and you'll find them wide, flat, and accommodating to varying American tushies. Much of the Toyota Camry's redesign for 2012 focuses on the interior, and while the redesigned dash and center stack look more contemporary, they're still easy to use, with large buttons and most-used features like climate and radio controls within easy reach. We did find the amount of information available on the 6.1-inch display lacking though; for example, we would have liked to pull up figures on how many miles we had left in the gas tank when running low on fuel.
Hitting the road in the 2012 Toyota Camry is both familiar and new. Road and wind noise are well controlled (a Toyota trademark), and engine noise is near non-existent until you have to floor the gas pedal to pass that eighteen wheeler or accelerate onto the freeway. Speaking of engines, we were more than surprised at the power from the Camry's four-cylinder. On paper it pales next to some of its competitors, but in the day-to-day grind it was more than adequate, and several of us voiced out-loud whether most car owners really need--not want, but need--the six-cylinder engine. Our real-world fuel economy figures, from near 22 mpg with very aggressive driving to nearly 35 mpg in mixed street/highway driving, further support the four-cylinder.
The 2012 Toyota Camry's suspension provided the biggest surprise. We found the 2012 Toyota Camry a tad stiffer than the previous model, with road imperfections like bumps, cracks, and pits more noticeable, registering a thunk. The previous model simply floated over them, making the entire sedan feel like a small boat riding over an ocean swell. The problem is that it felt like that all the time, making the Camry feel mushy. With a firmer ride, the driver feels more in control, and it's not like it's punishing by any stretch of the imagination.
The Grocery RunWe never stuffed the 2012 Toyota Camry's trunk to the limit, but with a trunk that echoes the spaciousness and cargo-friendly shape of its rivals, we're plenty confident the Camry's up to snuff for such tasks. However, use the remote to open the trunk and the lid pops open like a jack-in-the box, so be sure to place your phone, wallet, or other small items inside the car or in your pocket, unless you want them launched over the hood of the car. Inside, there's plenty of storage space in the glove box, the center console, and various other nooks and crannies. Toyota has a knack for putting a door in front of every possible void behind the dash, and the Camry's filled with places to stor your stuff.
The 2012 Toyota Camry's roominess extends to the rear row, to which our taller editors gave a thumbs up for the expansive headspace. While many of the Camry's rivals have moved to swoopy, coupe-like styling, Toyota instead has kept a more upright roofline on the Camry. The result is that it's easier to get in and out without bonking your head on the door frame, and you don't have to stoop as far to strap in little ones as well. If the trunk isn't big enough, the rear seatbacks fold in a 60/40 split to store longer items.
The Weekend FunThe open road is the 2012 Toyota Camry's home and the straighter and more open it got, the more we appreciated the silent cabin and absorbent suspension. Both features, during a round trip from Los Angeles to San Diego and back, made it easy for us to focus on our conversations about football scores, music from the radio, and the latest internet memes instead of nitpicking over road nose, harsh ride, and 0-60 mph figures.
The 2012 Toyota Camry's lightweight steering made it a breeze parking the midsized sedan at rest stops while front and rear row seat cushions were sufficiently cushy for the long trip; our lower backs weren't killing us when we took those rest-stop breaks. Again, we never felt the 2012 Toyota Camry's four-cylinder engine lacked power when merging into traffic or passing yet another full-sized SUV who's driver is chatting on their smartphone. We put the 2012 Toyota Camry in cruise control in much of the trip and averaged slightly over 34 mpg when we returned to Los Angeles, very impressive for a biggish five-passenger sedan.
SummaryWhile Toyota doesn't release specific sales breakdowns of each of its vehicles, we can easily see the 2012 Toyota Camry LE garnering a big chuck of those sales. This sedan meets the average car owner's major must-haves -- comfort, roominess, decent power, safety, and fuel economy -- while throwing in lots of extras like a touch-screen infotainment system. While many of the competitors' sedans are more fun to drive or are offered at lower prices, the Toyota Camry still continues to command high resale value and dependability, factors only developed after decades of consistently good offering and service.
EPA City: 25 mpg
EPA Highway: 35 mpg
EPA Combined: 28 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 476 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Excellent
"Sliding center storage unit lid a nice feature usually found on nicer Lexus." - Matthew Askari, associate editor
"Passengers like the new exterior and interior design -- thought dash was real leather." - Joel Arellano, associate editor
"For having a great screen in the middle of the dash, it sure doesn't do a whole lot." - Jacob Brown, associate editor
"The Camry is yet another example of how V-6 engines are becoming superfluous." - Keith Buglewicz, news director
"Interior was acceptably laid out, still a bit cheap, but less so." - Jason Davis, associate editor