There’s really only so much that you can learn about a completely new and redesigned car when your only real experience with it is in the controlled environment of a manufacturer sponsored press launch. These events are the best way to find out all of the stats, technical info and pick the brains of the engineers and designers who spent years working on this one automotive project. But only by living with this new model for a week can you be sure to find out how it performs in the real world that buyers of these cars live in.
Now all of that is all that should be expected from an automaker as auto journalists at press launches only get initial impressions out there via test drive routes that are mapped out by automakers in advance. Rumor has it that it isn’t unheard of for these test roads to be specially chosen to mask certain, shall we say, known deficiencies?
This is why Toyota, despite having its name dragged through the mud in the press of late, insisted that we test a 2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6 despite having raved about our time with a 2012 LE Hybrid and 2012 SE-V6 Camry at its recent unveiling. To be quite honest we did have reservations about the leather lined, high luxury XLE V6 variant as it lacks the SE version’s sport suspension and steering. But we decided to keep an open mind.
Then there was the old nagging suspicion that the XLE’s interior would be the site of yet another Toyota faux-wood disaster that often makes us wonder if some of their designers have ever been in the presence of an actual tree. The SE model’s unique metal effect trim, sport steering wheel design, specially trimmed and shaped sport seats as well as all of the exterior styling alterations made for a Camry that we could actually see ourselves owning before claiming our Social Security Benefits.
So, did the 2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6 come across to us as more like “your father’s Camry?” Read on to discover the shocking truth about how it came to pass that we got emotionally excited by the fact that Toyota let us keep this tester for an extra two days because of a scheduling change. Yes, we were truly giddy about more time with a 2012 Toyota Camry so fasten your seat belts dear readers because all of your long held clichés about this mainstream family car are about to fly out the window.
2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6: Exterior
Okay, maybe there is one area in which Toyota could have dipped its toe a little deeper into the pool of exterior automotive visual creativity. Yes, the scepter tail lamps are much cooler looking now and the angular creases along the character lines give the 2012 Camry a much more expensive look than last year’s model which—we apologize—looked like little more than a giant jellybean.
Usually when we spend a week with a car that isn’t even out on the streets yet we find ourselves being stopped routinely in parking lots by the car savvy individuals near our headquarters in South Orange County. Only once did we approach the new Camry in a parking lot to find someone standing right next to it but much to our dismay they were only “talking” to the dog who was sitting in the back seat. We’re not sure what this person and our dog talked about but we are pretty sure it wasn’t the Camry XLE’s new fog light design.
2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6: Interior
This is where our XLE tester demonstrated that the 2012 Camry is a true quantum leap ahead of its predecessor. Although our interior had a gray overall interior hue which in the past has come off as drab in most Toyotas, this new Camry used contrasting shades and expertly finished wood trim to really create a high class interior feel. The seats were also treated to a light brown leather contrast line which warmed up the whole appearance of the cabin and brought to mind the little tricks Audi uses in its interiors to class them up a notch.
There is plenty of interior room for five adults with rear legroom proving more than adequate, if not a little short of the ridiculous amount offered in the 2012 VW Passat. The trunk is also more than generous with 15.4 cubic feet of space available. The 17 gallon fuel tank also ensures more than adequate cruising distances even with our V6 version which averaged 19 miles per gallon during its week with us.
A standout for us, of course, was the excellent in-dash Entune system which has now surpassed Ford’s Sync system as the best integration for all of your connectivity needs. Using Bluetooth, accessing the internet and playing songs from your iPod are simple and easy to do with very little training needed to master the system. You can even play songs from Pandora through Entune among many other features which you can learn more about at Toyotausa.com.
Otherwise, materials choices are all very stylish and solidly assembled. Our favorite piece of design is the faux-leather trim pieces that cover the dashboard in front of the driver and passenger. They add a real sense of solidity and strength to the overall feel of the interior. Stylish, solidly built and a supremely comfortable over long distances, the 2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6 would make an excellent commuter or the car to take on long road trips. Truly, the 2012 Camry shows that Toyota can make a class leadingly stylish interior.
2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6: Pricing and Trim Levels
For 2012 there is an all new “value leader” Camry called the “L” that will start the range out at $21,995 but that isn’t where Toyota is planning to make the majority of its sales. Even though in previous years the LE variant of the Camry has been the hot seller in the lineup, Toyota is pinning a lot of its sales hopes on upscale models like our test XLE V6. Whether the XLE and SE sport editions can steal sales from the traditional Camry LE buyer will come down to value for money and thankfully Toyota really held the line and even lowered pricing on some models of this new Camry even when adding new features.
Hybrid models come in only LE and XLE trim levels and have very competitive starting prices of $25,900 (LE) and $27,400 (XLE trim). A V-6 engine adds about $2,000 to the MSRP of a 4-cylinder Camry with MSRP’s of those models starting out at $22,500 (LE), $23,000 (SE) and $24,725 (XLE). Our test XLE model came fully equipped with the V-6 engine as well as a $1,600 package that added display audio navigation, an upgraded Entune system, a blind spot warning system as well as an awe inspiring JBL audio system with 10-speakers. Total for all this came to $32,205 which is reasonable considering the amount of features on hand.
2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6: The Competition
For years, the Camry has only ever faced real competition from its arch-nemesis the Accord which, although it is still a terrific car to drive, it too now suffers from the Camry’s overly conservative exterior when compared to the cutting edge Optima and willfully odd looking Sonata. At the very least, both the Hyundai and Kia make visual statements whereas the Accord and Camry really don’t. Still, the years of engineering experience at Toyota and Honda will ensure that at least for the time being they will hold the edge in what lies underneath the outer body panels.
So who else is there? Well, the 2012 Passat has come out of the gate selling like hot cakes thanks to appealing style, a well-built interior, class leading roominess and a truly Germanic manner in which it holds the road. Plus, the TDI makes a compelling case against the Camry Hybrid which may be the best of its kind but still lacks the charisma of the Passat TDI.
Going down the list is the aging Altima which is hampered by a cheap interior feel and a horrible CVT automatic transmission, the Mazda6 which apparently sells so poorly that it may disappear soon or the Ford Fusion which is fun with the gas powered engines but unfortunately becomes as wooden as a rowboat in the steering and handling department once you saddle it with the hybrid hardware.
One other issue with the Fusion Hybrid is that you lose most of your trunk space—a problem that Toyota has nearly solved completely with the 2012 Camry Hybrid and its trunk which hardly seems compromised by battery storage at all. The Chevy Malibu is set to be replaced soon so we’d recommend waiting for the 2013 version as it looks set to be quite the contender.
2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6: Driving Impressions and Safety
Our tester came equipped with the 3.5 liter 268 horsepower/248 lb. feet of torque V6 that is largely carryover bearing some small mechanical alterations but thanks to an excellent new 6-speed automatic power is easily accessible and plentiful. You will never want for more power from this excellent powertrain combination that is both smooth and responsive.
The big surprise here is the huge improvement in body control, handling and steering feel with the 2012 Toyota Camry. To say it is a quantum leap ahead of last year’s marshmallowy handling characteristics is an understatement. Sure, you feel more bumps through the suspension but the payoff is a much more engaging car to drive. Yes, driving a Camry is actually now something you can look forward to doing even in the more comfort oriented XLE version.
No, it may not be “cool” to say you really enjoyed driving a Camry but we are unafraid to say it about this 2012 variant. Just go down to your Toyota dealer and test drive one if you don’t believe us. As always, wind, road and engine noise are well suppressed at all speeds and the Camry is still the picture of mechanical refinement. It’s just very obvious that this sedan, even though it may not look like it, really likes to play.
Although the 2012 Toyota Camry has yet to be tested for crash safety by the IIHS and NHTSA, we are confident that this sedan will probably get top scores in all categories. The Camry has always been a safe car and the 2012 model should prove no different.
2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6: Conclusion
Even if the exterior styling of the 2012 Toyota Camry may not be as “emotional” as some buyers may prefer, it is still a classy design that will no doubt still look fresh years down the road. What really impressed us was how much fun we had driving this car for a week what with its much improved driving dynamics. Also, the interior design is leagues ahead of what Camry drivers are used to.
While some may complain that Toyota didn’t go far enough with its redesign of the 2012 Toyota Camry, we say that they went just far enough. There are enough variations on the Camry theme with the luxurious XLE, sporty SE and fuel efficient hybrid models that most any buyer can find something to like here. Toyota should have no problem selling plenty of these very worthy family sedans to buyers.
What we Loved About the 2012 Toyota Camry XLE:
The Class Leading Entune in-car connectivity system
The interior design, control layout and quality
Vastly Improved Steering Feel
The Power from the V6 and the Excellent Work of the new 6-speed automatic
The Handling and Ride which bordered on the sporty
What we Loathed About It:
You will feel more bumps in the 2012 Camry than in last year’s model
We wish there was a power hike for the standard 4-cylinder engine
In a segment quickly becoming defined by exterior styling, the 2012 Camry plays it very safe