A New Era Begins
It’s truly amazing how far automotive technology can come in such a very short period of time. Granted, new cars like the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid are the result of an overwhelming amount of cash, man hours and no doubt a fair amount of late night binge drinking in bars and restaurants near Toyota City in Japan. Although we haven’t been inside Toyota City, we imagine it must be enormous since Toyota’s U.S. HQ in Torrance is known just as “Toyota University” and we need a Scion shuttle to get us from one building to the another.
Either way, take our word for it that both places are big. Just like the announcement we are about to make to every person out there who just would never, ever buy a hybrid because of their few but seemingly ever-present driving quirks. Some consider these quirks as annoying as Richard Simmons in a glitter factory but at worst we found most vehicles of this type to merely be guilty of the sin of being “boring to drive.” Sadly, that was practically the sole defining character trait of the last generation Camry Hybrid whose utter lack of any spirit made you want to somehow make it cry. At least a Prius is visually inventive from a design perspective whereas the Camry had reached its bottom in regard to boredom.
We should have known something was up with the new 2012 Camry when Toyota held the launch party at a Hollywood movie studio and part of the vehicle presentation was a cacophony of confetti cannons and young, hip looking flash mob dancers gyrating around the new car. At least 200 of them we estimated but once you’ve seen one slacker they start to blend into one another with time. We are quite sure 178 of these “flashmobbers” had a soul patch.
After rubbing our eyes and pinching ourselves to ensure we were awake, we drove all of the new Camry models and found we were most astonished by the sea change found in the Hybrid version. This called for us to investigate further with a one week real world road test, of course, as we suspected Toyota slipped something funny in our Diet Coke at that party. So, were our impressions of the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid all a dream that day? Read on to find out if we like the Hybrid Camry as much as we anticipated or if disappointment will break our battery powered hearts.
Exterior and Interior Redesign Impressions
We have talked about the 2012 Camry’s new look inside and out before in a number of pieces and while the exterior is no doubt rather conservative, you can’t deny that its newly stern angularity is a welcome change to the last generation model, which was obviously inspired visually by a squishy Pokémon character or, yes, a Jelly Belly. To put this sea change in Toyota’s reimagining of this bread and butter sedan into full perspective, consider that for 2012 you can even order your Camry Hybrid in a lovely shade of “arrest me red.” We are pretty sure all Camry Hybrids used to all come only in beige, gold or silver before but that may be our imagination.
A bit leaner and meaner looking especially from the rear, the 2012 Toyota Camry also doesn’t disappoint once you climb aboard as even though the battery pack is still packaged in the trunk area the engineers who worked on this car still managed to carve out a class leading 13.1 cubic feet of usefully shaped space. Also, when we first saw the interior layout, use of colors and trims in the various 2012 Camry models it was easy to see, that in quality and design they were aiming for not the status quo but most likely VW. And the good news is every Camry interior still feels like it could spend years happily being abused by your friends, pets, family and sundry losers who always want rides to someplace even though you aren’t sure where you met them.
Not only is the interior of the 2012 Camry very well built as you would expect from a sensible Toyota but it also offers up a healthy dose of unique style. We like that the lineup offers a lot of different looks for buyers with the Hybrid, regular gas XLE and LE variants and SE versions all offering different interior trims, seat fabrics and color schemes that help truly make them appeal to different buyers. We do kind of wish there was an SE Hybrid as that is our favorite interior design motif but the Hybrid manages its own unique style in relation to other gas powered LE and XLE Camry models thanks in part to a strict aversion to wood trim.
As you would expect, there is plenty of room for five passengers to ride comfortably in this Camry even if there isn’t the insane amount of rear legroom you will find in a competitor like the new 2012 VW Passat. But as long as you don’t routinely haul people who play in the NBA or WNBA then you should be fine with a 2012 Camry. The steering wheel also feels nice in your hands, the cupholders are perfectly sized and the center mounted screen that controls Toyota’s in-dash navigation and Entune system is the picture of ease of use. The dual zone climate control switches also should be studied by competitors looking to see how it should be done. Two big knobs are all you need people, so way to go Toyota.
Pricing, Features and Fuel Economy as Tested
Our test 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE sedan arrived fully loaded and stickered out at a still reasonable $34,547 with a base starting price of $27,400. Optional extras included a blind spot monitoring system ($500), a Convenience Package ($650) with integrated back-up camera, alarm system and HomeLink universal transmitter as well as Toyota’s new Safety Connect system ($450) which adds roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location system and other OnStar like features. On the luxury end we also had the $1,160 leather seat package, a $915 power sunroof and the essential $2,600 Premium Package which adds HDD navigation with Entune and 10-speaker JBL audio system with subwoofer and amplifier, Bluetooth wireless phone and audio, USB/iPod connectivity, HD radio and much more.
Standard equipment included dual zone climate control, smart key with push button start, 17-inch alloy wheels and a more basic Entune 6-speaker audio system. We think, however, that if you are going to go for the XLE Hybrid variant of the Camry that you should go the whole hog when it comes to luxury. We quite liked our fully “pimped out” Camry especially considering the fact that we averaged 38.6 miles per gallon over a week of mixed driving. EPA estimates are for 40 city/38 highway so we were very impressed with our fuel economy results.
Driving Impressions and Safety Ratings
As you could imagine with any Toyota Camry, safety was of primary importance when this company redesigned this hugely successful family sedan. Not only are there ten airbags as standard but the 2012 Camry also got a perfect 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and was named a “Top Safety Pick” by the IIHS. There’s even an optional Blind Spot Warning system and a “jam protection” function for sunroof equipped variants that keeps dummies (and people) from getting their heads caught unsuspectingly in a slow closing sunroof. Having that happen to you is only okay if you are a dog, Lindsay Lohan or David Hassellhoff after an all-night Cheeseburger eating binge.
Now here’s where the magic really happens in this particular 2012 Toyota Camry because this “Hybrid” feels less like the eco-weenie gas sipper one would expect but rather comports itself with an always willing accelerative thrust that affords it a measure of manly bravado. We were shocked at how many times we rode the surge of electricity (and gas power) to 90 miles per hour without noticing it. It’s almost as if the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid “wants” to go that fast.
Honestly, the extra boost afforded by the electric motor when mated to the highly capable and smooth 2.5 liter gas 4-cylinder is enough to make this family favorite feel just as sporty and fun to drive as a 2012 Camry equipped with the V6 engine even in SE trim. The Hybrid system with the motor and battery is estimated to put out the combined equivalent of 200 horsepower. Someone at Toyota had better cram this powertrain into a Prius because the Camry is currently blocking any possibility of a “performance Prius.”
However, we do wish that the Camry Hybrid could be ordered in the extra sporty SE trim. Honestly, why not at this point? We can think of nothing greater than owning a fast, fuel efficient hybrid sedan that mixes those aspects with an interior darker in hue and more Germanic in feel than that of any Toyota before it. We just know how much fun we had driving both the Camry V6 and Hybrid (yes, we just said that) as well as the SE version at the launch which we might add looks best in “arrest me red.”
At this point Toyota engineers should be very proud of themselves as they have bestowed upon the world the gift of “Hybrid trauma” free motoring with this 2012 Camry. So what do we mean by “trauma?” Well, the only thing about the 2012 Camry that could elicit the slightest complaint is the elevated amounts of road noise heard in the cabin but to us it was all part of the more visceral and less tomb like appeal found in this rejuvenated best seller. But no, that didn’t traumatize us at all.
What has always bothered us in Hybrids whenever we have road tested them was the fact that their CVT transmissions invariably moan like cows during a very cold winter milking morning and so many suffer from noticeable sensations when the vehicle switched from electric to gas power. Unlike the 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid which is a much less powerful, smaller, pricier and much less refined luxury competitor for the Camry Hybrid XLE.
The 2012 Camry Hybrid, oddly even with rather numb yet sufficiently communicative steering rack, never failed to entertain us going around corners or when blasting past the Southern California freeway drivers distracted from the road due to very important texting that must be done at 70 miles per hour. Yes, the Camry Hybrid’s power source is not only nigh on impossible to hear inside the car but it is also hugely addicting. And there is no CVT farm animal nonsense. Hallelujah.
It may not scream it out from the rooftops with flashy exterior styling but the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid is something very special. It is simply the finest hybrid on the market today thanks to its efficiency and engaging potency. Truly, this car is not like any Hybrid you have driven before but let’s warn you that the electric motor/turbocharger comes on stronger and faster than even a handsome stranger who inevitably shows up in each and every Lifetime Television for Women Movie. Hey, we may like to have fun behind the wheel of our car but come TV time, no judgments. So please, no judging the Camry either.
What We Loved about the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
- A stylish, gorgeously appointed, roomy and well-built interior
- Impressive Trunk Space for any Hybrid family sedan
- Toyota finally irons out some of the last annoying hybrid quirks!
- Great fuel economy and really, really fast!
What We Didn’t Love about the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
- For similar money you can also opt for a similarly efficient 2012 VW Passat TDI diesel.
- Exterior styling not the quantum leap forward for the Camry like the interior in regards to styling
- Steering feel could offer more feedback and feel less numb