2012 Toyota Camry LE
Hard times notwithstanding, the Toyota Camry still is the car to beat.
Despite the wreckage and human toll of Japan’s tsunami, as well as the fiasco of so-called sudden acceleration that besieged Toyota, the company—and its perennially best-selling Camry—retains a reservoir of good will among many fans who value its reputation for quality and reliability.
Now out of the tempest and forging ahead again, Toyota plans to leverage that, along with its brand-new 2012 Camry, to climb to the mountaintop again, perhaps with a crowd that includes new disciples.The 2012 Camry retains its appeal as the Everyman family car. But there are enough variations to broaden its appeal, including a sporting SE model and a hybrid that can be ordered in two trim levels.
Don’t expect to be bowled over by the styling. In keeping with the Camry’s incremental, inoffensive attitude, it is way short of revolutionary. However, like its predecessors, it is pleasant—stylish enough to attract new buyers, conservative enough to keep the old ones.
There’s also a classy new interior, marred only by an odd stitched dashboard cap that curves up and over the right-side air conditioning vent. It looks almost as if the dashboard designers didn’t know until the last minute that the vent would be there. Toyota calls it a “distinctive rolled-up shape.”
The company also is in step with the industry’s current “keep it simple” approach to marketing. This system, pioneered in modern times by Honda, keeps choices at a minimum to reduce confusion among buyers and improve a dealer’s chance of having a car the customer wants.
Toyota says that theoretically a 2011 Camry could have been ordered 1,246 ways. For 2012, the number is reduced to 36.
Introduced in 1983 as a replacement for the Toyota Corona, the new car represents the seventh generation of the Camry. Over the years, it has been offered in a variety of body styles, including a hatchback, coupe and station wagon. Now it is sold strictly as a four-door sedan with a six-speed automatic transmission.
There are four trim levels: L, LE, XLE and SE. The last is aimed at people who want a more sporting feel. It includes a tighter sport suspension system and steering, bolstered sport seats, and a recalibrated automatic transmission with steering-wheel paddle shifters. The SE is available with either V6 or four-cylinder power.The two basic engines, carried over from 2011, are the 178-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, and the 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6. However, engineering alchemy has improved the city/highway fuel economy numbers of both: 25/35 for the four and 21/30 for the V6.
There’s also a new gasoline/electric hybrid power train, with a combined horsepower of 200, up from 187 in the predecessor model. Available in either of two trim levels, the hybrid delivers 43/39 miles to the gallon in the LE and 41/38 in the better-equipped XLE. Part of that comes from the Camry’s slippery shape. Its coefficient of drag (cD) is .27, which puts it into a category with some high-performance sports cars.
Toyota has designed and built more hybrids than any other manufacturer, and it shows in the new Camry. The transition from electric to gasoline/electric power is so seamless it is barely noticeable. Most drivers likely would not be able to detect a difference between the hybrid and any of the four-cylinder models.
Bob Carter, Toyota’s group vice president and general manager in the U.S., says his favorite Camry is the LE. It’s a step up from the base car and the biggest seller in the lineup. The four-cylinder price starts at $23,260, which is $200 less than the 2011 model.
Standard equipment on the LE includes full safety equipment, remote locking, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with Bluetooth and audio controls, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, and projector-beam headlights.
With options that included a navigation system, upgraded audio with satellite radio, navigation system, power driver’s seat and a motorized sunroof, the test car had a suggested sticker price of $27,510.
Though available with both the V6 and the four-banger, the latter is the engine of choice. Its fuel economy is first rate and it comes with enough verve, comfort and convenience items to keep most customers happy. The new, larger seats up front, covered in durable fabric, hold up for long distances.However, the LE comes up short in the enthusiast’s logbook. Though it accelerates and handles acceptably well, the suspension system is oriented toward a softer ride. The electric power steering does not provide much road feel, though the Camry tracks true down the highway with minimum steering corrections. That may not matter to Toyota buyers who prefer comfort and reliability over performance.
The reliability reputation cannot be overstated. Over the years, Toyota has built 6.5 million Camrys and, the company says, 90% of those sold in the U.S. in the last 15 years are still on the road.
Should you feel a desire for better performance and handling, the SE comes with a sport-tuned suspension system and steering, 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels, more supportive seats and a recalibrated automatic transmission with steering-wheel paddle shifters.
Model: 2012 Toyota Camry LE four-door sedan.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 178 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 103/15 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,190 pounds
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 25/35 miles to the gallon.
Base price, including destination charge: $23,260.
Price as tested: $27,510.