Is the 2012 Toyota Camry
new and special enough to vanquish the Hyundai Sonata
? Is the SE model a poor man's sport sedan? Is Toyota's rebound in J.D. Power & Associates' initial quality rankings, and the company's vindication over specious unintended acceleration claims, enough to warrant purchase consideration? Do you experience headaches, dizziness, or nausea when driven swiftly in a sports car?
If you've answered, "Well, heck, yes!" to any of these questions, get ready for a quiz in which we determine whether you'd notice an all-new seventh-generation model if it used your driveway for a U-turn.
Here are some study materials: Camrys traditionally run two cycles on one platform, and this is Act II of the current architecture. Same wheelbase, and about the same overall length. The engines are carryover, with enough efficiency improvements to ensure that, when EPA completes testing, the TOYOTA CAMRY
four, hybrid, and V-6 all will be best, or tied for best, in class. Toyota
replaced its 2.4-liter four in the TOYOTA CAMRY
with the 2.5 in the '10 model year, and for '12, the hybrid model gets the larger gas engine, too.
The manual transmission offered in the 2007-'11 TOYOTA CAMRY
SE is gone. The six-speed automatic has increased torque converter lockup, and the Camrys have lost weight and moved to low rolling resistance tires to boost fuel economy over the old model.
The superfluous V-6 option also gets a new 0W-20 oil specification for reduced friction losses, and an automatic transmission fluid warmer, bringing a pre-EPA test estimate of 21/30 mpg, up 1 mpg city/highway from the '11 V-6. (Note no mention of direct gas injection.)
The TOYOTA CAMRY
has been around since 1982 and has led U.S. passenger car sales for 13 of the last 14 years. Besides being a best-seller, it has arguably been the best car in its class for 20 years, so improvements tend to be incremental, not phenomenal, like those of the '08 Chevy Malibu, '10 Ford Fusion
, '11 Hyundai Sonata
, and possibly the '12 VW Passat. The new TOYOTA CAMRY
has a vaguely Corolla-esque look, especially in the side surfacing. Toyota
says that by connecting the headlamps to the grille, the car looks bigger, though to these eyes, it looks narrower and not much larger than a Corolla.
It fits all the criteria, including improved fuel efficiency and an ever-higher level of safety, that most buyers expect of such cars. It's tempting to compare it with the 2012 Honda Civic
in terms of its hidden newness, though if you do notice one driving by, it will be more "What Toyota
was that?" than "Is that the new one or the old one?" Unlike the Civic, it doesn't seem so much de-contented as holding its ground while the competition zooms by with cost-effective interior quality and style.
Toyota calls the new Camry's profile a "dynamic wedge shape," with a roofline and character line that follow the shoulder area. The roofline slopes upward from the B- to C-pillar, helping create an airy rear Seat
area that's the match for the big new Passat except in rear legroom. Like the new Malibu, it has thinner door panels and less space wasted between the headliner and roof for better interior space. The rear center console is shorter for better middle-seat legroom.
The "corners" -- the upper edges of the front bumper and the taillamps-combine with the integrated rear lip spoiler for better aerodynamic efficiency. For the record, Toyota's design term for the new TOYOTA CAMRY
is "rational tech-dynamism."
Ten standard airbags include kneebags for the driver and front passenger, and rear-seat outboard passenger side-impact bags. New front Seat
frames reduce the chance of whiplash, and Toyota
has added a backup camera standard in the top-range XLE and optional in the high-volume (70 percent) LE, with blind-spot monitoring optional in XLE.
Why limit BLIS and rear camera availability? Toyota
says consumers want a simple ordering process, so it's reduced the number of order combos, excluding paint colors, from 1246 to just 36.
We knew going in that the next TOYOTA CAMRY
would be even safer than the outgoing model, and that its makers would try to ensure its quality and reliability reputation, something we can't determine from a first drive. Count on the '12 Toyota Camry
to deliver the kind of drive you'd expect. It's smooth, comfortable, and quiet, and otherwise unremarkable.
The "sporty" SE model gets stronger, lighter steering knuckles and lower control arms. Spring rates are up 15 percent and shocks are 50-percent stiffer. Rebound springs improve roll rigidity; the rear number-one control arm uses a pillow ball joint instead of the rubber found on other models; and the 15.9mm-diameter rear anti-roll bar has been tossed for a 16mm solid bar.
None of Toyota's drive routes in Central Washington was twisty enough to find a substantial handling difference among the SE V-6 or four and the LE, XLE, and hybrid models. They all have controlled body roll and lots of front-drive understeer. The few bumps in the road reported less cush in the SE, but even with the optional V-6, nothing would make an enthusiast choose the SE over the LE or XLE when planning a trip through the mountains. As with many manumatics, the SE's paddle controls lack any tactile quality and aren't very quick. Try it once, then let the transmission controller do all the work.
The V-6 is torquey, though not so much so that you'd want to give up the extra 5 mpg highway. The four is strong in this car, so there's no reason for the V-6 take-rate to go up.NextPage>>