Not the case just ten years ago, the mid-size segment is now booming with perfectly good sedans. Even the once bottom-of-the-barrel brands, Hyundai and Kia, are now making solid family sedans that equal if not exceed the build quality of their better known Japanese competitors. Thus, Toyota had their work cut out for them when redesigning the Camry for 2012 - a design that will need to stay fresh among its competition until it's next redesign, sometime around 2017. Can the new Camry continue to be competitive in the mid-size sedan segment, or will it continue to lose ground to its fierce competition? What's new?
Though dubbed as a complete redesign by Toyota, the new Camry shares more than just a few mechanical and physical similarities to its predecessors. In addition to riding on virtually the same chassis as the outgoing model (a chassis that dates back to 2002), the Camry boasts the same exterior dimensions as before and additionally gets the same two carryover engine options as last year: a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making the same 178 horsepower and 170 lbs.-ft. of torque and a 3.5-liter V6 that makes a seemingly underrated 268 horsepower and 248 lbs.-ft. of torque. What's new, however, is the absence of a manual gearbox. Although I have never been particularly fond of the Camry's manual gearbox, completely ridding the line of a manual isn't a move in the right direction. For the MPG conscious, the Camry continues to be offered in Hybird format with a bit more power and better MPG this year. Styling:
Where many sedans in this segment now sport edgy sheetmetal, i.e. the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, the Camry's design language continues to tell a story of all things practical. Even in sportier SE trim, which gets outfitted with side skirts, a slightly more aggressive front fascia, a rear lip spoiler, and dual exhaust (when equipped with the V6), the Camry styling still errs much more on utilitarian side, not being the least bit pretentious. But with that being said, the 2012 Camry is a handsome enough sedan and though it's styling isn't radically different from the outgoing model, I predict its design will age gracefully throughout its 7th generation. Driving Impressions: Camry SE V6:
On paper the Camry's V6 falls a few horsepower short of the turbocharged 4s and V6s under the hoods of its competitors, however the Camry's engine manages to feel more potent. Stab the Camry's throttle from a stop and acceleration comes on quick, feeling more akin to the power you'd get from a sport sedan versus the front-wheel-drive family sedan that it is. Unlike some of its competitors, i.e. the Honda Accord V6, throttle response is excellent at virtually any speed: there are no dead sports in the rev-range nor is there the need to wait for revs to climb before the driver gets to experience good power. The Camry's V6 is as equally refined as it is powerful. Under normal operation this V6 is nearly silent, and at full throttle there is the subtle husky engine note of a refined V6- never does this engine sound harsh or strained. Transmission:
The Camry's better than average acceleration can be at least partially credited to its excellent 6-speed automatic. Communication between engine and transmission is seamless, up-shifts and down-shifts are silky smooth, and it's more than obliged to hold revs to redline. In SE trim, the Camry's automatic also gets equipped with paddle shifters this year, and though I find said paddles to be more of a novelty than a true way to better performance, it's a nice touch for a car in this segment.
Though not as agile as some mid-sizers in this class, i.e. the Mazda6, the Camry is a reasonably athletic sedan that all but enthusiasts will be happy with. In SE trim, which gets upgraded with a sport tuned suspension and beefier rubber, the Camry feels decidedly stable for a car in this class, exhibiting only mild body roll and understeer. The Camry's revised electric steering also feels a few notches heavier this year and less artificial than the steering in the outgoing model. Ride Quality:
Despite the SE's more taut suspension this year, the Camry continues to be
geared more for comfort than sport, providing a forgiving ride that is fully capable of absorbing road imperfections. What's most improved , however, is interior noise. At highway speeds the Camry cruises in almost complete silence with no intrusive wind, engine, or road noise. If a quiet comfortable ride is what you are after, the Camry has the edge over most of its competitors here and certainly over its main rival, the Accord. MPG:
By Toyota shaving off a few pounds from the Camry this year along with giving it a slightly more aerodynamic shape and modifying the final drive ratio, fuel economy is up by a generous 2 MPG. Now rated by the EPA at 21-MPG City/30-MPG Highway (25/35 with the 4-cyl) the Camry SE V6 doesn't quite stack up to the mileage expected from the turbocharged 4's in the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, however the Camry's V6 now leads as the most fuel efficient in class, besting the combined EPA numbers from all of its V6 equipped competition. Interior: Quality:
Toyota has almost always been known for giving its vehicles better than average interior quality, however sometime around 2005-ish (starting with the redesigned Tacoma truck) the brand seemed to put increasingly less stock into interior fit and finish. When the Camry was redesigned in 2007, it sadly didn't escape the wrath of Toyota's cost cutting and was fitted with more hard plastics than you could shake a stick at. Likely due to the Camry's stiff competition, Toyota has thankfully opted to go back to its roots for 2012- giving the new model soft touch materials that look and feel worthy of the brand. The Camry's dash, for example has gone from heap of hard plastic to nicely textured soft touch materials that look and feel much more upscale. Fit and finish also ranks very high throughout the new cabin. There are no noticeable or uneven gaps between plastic panels and all the switchchgear feels more solid. The one gripe I have with interior quality is the cheap bezel Toyota has used around the shifter/cup holders. With so many up-market touches, it's disappointing to see a big chunk of cheap plastic right in the center of the Camry's interior. Styling:
Interior styling has also improved for 2012. Though the Camry's interior design scheme isn't exactly entertaining, the new interior sports a more European flavor this year with a more restrained use of titanium accents and a richer center stack- reminiscent of the up-market stack that's found in Volkswagen's Passat. Additionally, there is attractive contrasting stitching along the Camry's nicely textured dash and seat surfaces that lend a more premium look. Seats:
while I can't speak for the seats in the non-SE trim, I found the new front buckets in my SE V6 to be much better than the seats in last year's car. In addition to being wrapped in better materials, the Camry's seats provide better upper and lower body support than the outgoing model with plenty of bolstering for modestly aggressive driving. There is also plenty of adjustability, boasting a 8-way power driver's seat (lesser trims get only 6-way) as well as a 4-way adjustable front passenger seat. Ergonomics:
The Camry's interior doesn't just look better this year, it's also more functional. Toyota has kept with a traditional approach to ergonomics with a conventional analog instrument cluster and switchgear that is all logically placed for easy eyes-on-road use. The center stack also get a new touch screen interface (expect for the base L), which helps eliminate a lot of the clutter -Honda can take some notes here. Worthy of mentioning is the Camry's new "Entune" multi media system, which syncs with your smart phone to get things like internet and Pandora radio via a 6.1" touch-screen display. Room:
Though the Camry 's exterior dimensions haven't changed, its interior is a bit roomier this year: that's quite a feat considering the Camry was already roomy for its size last year. Step inside the new Camry and it feels big- just as big as some full-size sedans. At the front of the Camry's cabin there should be more than enough room for even the largest of drivers to stretch out in comfort. The rear seats also offer plenty of head/legroom, making cars like the Nissan Altima and Mazda6 feel claustrophobic in comparison. Interestingly, cargo volume hasn't been scarified. The Camry still provides plenty of storage in the cabin, and the trunk is actually larger than last year at a more respectable 15.4 cubic ft. Equipment:
Though the Base Camry gets a competitive amount of standard amenities, i.e. power everything, AC, power folding mirrors, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, an aux jack/USB port, and Bluetooth- gadget junkies will need to upgrade to either the SE or XLE as most of the new technology that the Camry offers isn't even available as an option on the L or LE, not to mention the V6 engine. In addition to the already generous amount of standard equipment on the Base trim, the SE V6 (add about $4,500 to the base model's sticker price) you get a better audio system, remote keyless entry with smart key, a leather wrapped steering wheel with media controls, the Entune feature, an upgraded trip computer, and the ability to option for any of the available packages. Packages, however, is where things can get a bit expensive. If you want the convenience package, which adds a back-up camera, alarm system, and homelink, you'll also have to add the moonroof package (all totaling over $1,800). Want leather? The leather package (also includes heated seats) adds another $1,050 to the sticker. With all three packages, however, my tester still came in at a reasonable $31,115. As for safety features, all Camry's come with a whopping 10 air bags, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and traction/stability control. Pricing/Warranty:
The 2012 Camry starts out at just under $22,000 (about $800 more than last year's base sedan), however the SE V6 and XLE V6 start at the same price as last year: $26,640 and $29,895 respectively- not bad considering that the new Camry is a more capable sedan in just about every respect. Though just about everything about the Camry has improved for 2012, it still gets a mediocre warranty: a 3 year/36,000-mile bumper to bumper warranty along with 5 year/60,000-mile powertrain coverage and 2 years or 25,000 miles of roadside assistance .
The 2012 Camry SE V6 may not be the most sporty or stylish car in this class, however it packs a lot of bang for the buck. The Camry offers a punchy yet fuel efficient V6, a refined and spacious interior, a sportier ride than before, and a laundry list of standard equipment. All said, if you are on the market for a powerful family sedan, the Camry should be at the top of your shopping list.
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