The Reinvented 2012 Toyota Camry
This was not your father’s Toyota Camry press launch, and this is definitely not your father’s Camry family sedan. Somehow Toyota has not only managed to increase the youth appeal of this venerable automotive appliance but has done nothing that will alienate its core constituency of loyal buyers. To say this car was unexpected and exceeded all of our expectations would be an understatement akin to calling The Grand Canyon a place where there’s a little hole in the ground.
First off, the Camry was unveiled in the hipster heart of Los Angeles at Paramount Studios where people wear T-shirts that cost $200 and the phrase “don’t you know who I am?” is more common than a simple hello. Not exactly the place you would expect Toyota to launch the down home Georgetown, Kentucky built Camry which was referred to by its maker as the most “American” car in this country, now is it? The Camry uses over 80% North American sourced parts content so you can decide about the “American car” claim.
THE Toyota Camry
The Camry has been a huge seller for Toyota, which should be apparent to anyone with eyeballs living in the United States, as 9.7 million units have been sold over the years with it being the best-selling passenger car here for 13 of the last 14 years. The Camry has also always been a hugely reliable and trouble free car to own despite a few high profile recalls last year which the media hyped in a frothing frenzy that would have made a rabid hyena yowl, “tone it down a bit guys.”
But over the years the Camry’s reliability became the main reason for recommending or buying one—it was an automotive appliance best suited for review by the refrigerator testing department at Consumer Reports than by car reviewers obsessed with all things automotive being “fun to drive.” But with the 2012 Camry redesign, Toyota was obviously very serious about proving it could build not only a high quality family sedan but an emotionally appealing one, as well.
2012 Toyota Camry: Exterior
The 2012 Toyota Camry has fresh sheet metal and 90 percent of the parts are all new or have been redesigned. As such, this is no mid-cycle refresh, and that is apparent from the first time you see it (most especially in the downright sexy SE trim) and after you drive it. Despite all of the change, prices have either dropped substantially or stayed the same across the model line. Camry LE models drop $500, the SE is down $1,000 despite gaining special performance steering and handling upgrades and the Hybrid LE drops a whopping $1,100 despite a changeover to a more advanced battery pack which results in a huge gain in power and efficiency.
Most Americans know Toyota’s CEO Akio Toyoda (the grandson of the company’s founder) as the somber gentleman who spoke through a translator during Senate hearing regarding unintended acceleration claims with some of the automaker’s models. (Note: The NHTSA later concluded these issues were down to driver error.)
The real Akio Toyota is a truly enthusiastic car guy who wants to make sure Toyota builds exciting, safe AND fun to drive vehicles. Maybe he just looked so somber during those unintended acceleration hearings as it must have taken every ounce of his personal restraint to keep from slapping our Government Representatives as they relentlessly mispronounced the name of his company. (Note: For those in D.C., it’s not “Tah-yo-dah” but rather “Toy-yo-tah.” You elected them, people.)
For the launch of the 2012 Toyota Camry, Mr. Toyoda flew in from Japan to the historic Kentucky plant where this new model will be built to celebrate the occasion with his employees. On a large screen via satellite, his enthusiasm was infectious as he summed up the sentiment perfectly by saying that the "purpose of the 2012 Toyota Camry is to show what we as a company are all about.”
Now let’s have a closer look at what he meant via our driving impressions of a 2012 Toyota Camry SE V-6 and a 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE. Apologies, but the 2012 Toyota Camry Indy 500 Pace Car that was on display at the event was not available for us to drive no matter how much we begged.
2012 Toyota Camry: Exterior Styling
As we said earlier, our favorite 2012 Toyota Camry model was easily the SE variant especially in the “Satan’s Sunburn Red” (our name) exterior hue that Toyota used to show off the new detailing of its suddenly very handsome family sedan. The SE doesn’t overdo it with huge spoilers or embarrassing boy racer cues but rather uses aggressive looking sport razorblade 18-inch alloys, a unique front grille and fog-lamp design, chrome exhaust tips along with other subtle visual addenda that combine to offer up the most desirable Camry ever from an exterior appearance perspective.
Make no mistake, LE or XLE trim models won’t alienate Toyota’s core conservative buyers, but the SE imbues the car with the power to steal some sales from style conscious Optima, Fusion, Passat and Sonata buyers. The more sedate chrome grille on past and current Camry sedans might not have been our choice, but Toyota now offers something for a much wider array of buyers thanks to the addition of much needed style.
In other words, the 2012 Camry strikes a nice middle ground visually but never reminds you of the last-generation model which just gave the impression of a slightly lukewarm microwaved jellybean. For many new car buyers, the 2012 Toyota Camry’s styling will be “just right” as it eschews any South Korean weirdness or the Accord’s now suddenly very chunky looking blandness. Yes, the 2012 Toyota Camry now looks much more exciting than the Accord which is going to go a long way towards putting this family sedan back on top of the sales charts.
2012 Toyota Camry: Interior Design
The previous-generation Camry had a well-built interior, but there was no evidence of design or “styling” with the only visual inspiration possibly being some form of Soy vanilla ice cream. Sure, all of the controls were logically placed, but it just did not feel like a special place to spend time. The 2012 Toyota Camry has a much more unique, inspired and cleverly designed interior that even has a few wacky details.
For instance, instead of using a trip computer readout where you can digitally keep track of your fuel economy, Toyota has instead installed a fuel economy average “gauge” that tells you how many miles you are averaging per gallon. No, we’ve never seen a fuel economy gauge like this that scrolls from zero to 10 to 20 to 30 to 40 and so on, but we like when Toyota thinks outside of the box. There is also a piece of trim on top of the left and right hand sides of the dashboard that looks like the expensive leather covering you might find in a luxury model. It may just be hard plastic but you’ll never know it’s not at least leather-like unless you are the type who likes to feel up their dashboard regularly. If you are, seek psychiatric help or an Audi dealer.
Rear seat legroom is not as ample in the Camry as in the similarly new 2012 VW Passat, but the Camry should suit most owners’ needs in regards to passenger room just fine. Non-hybrid Camry models have a 15.4 cubic foot trunk while buyers of the new hybrid model enjoy much more trunk space with 13.1 cubic feet—that’s a growth of over 2 cubic feet for the Hybrid model’s trunk. That stuff matters if you are buying a hybrid to do more than commute.
Camry SE models also boast firmly bolstered sport seats but during our drive we found the LE also had very comfortable chairs although we could tell they were designed for those who might be a bit “roomier in the hips.” Although we wonder how well the rear middle passenger might fare with 5 adults on board during a long road trip, the 2012 Toyota Camry’s interior boasted enough cubbies and family comfort to ensure its omnipresence on our nation’s highways during various annual holiday driving times.
Advanced technologies were also a very important addition to the 2012 Toyota Camry line-up and the most impressive piece is their new Entune multi-media system which is garnering rave reviews in the 2012 Toyota Prius v for its ease of use and Smart Phone levels of capability. All Camry models also now come with Bluetooth, 10 airbags and are even optionally available with Blind Spot Warning Systems although we had no problems with visibility in any direction during our drive time. But if you do have neck pain (or laziness), a Blind Spot Warning System can save you from a lot of painful turning around to check for traffic alongside or behind you.
2012 Toyota Camry: Driving Impressions, Engines & Fuel Economy
The 2012 Toyota Camry is available with three engines starting off with a revised 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is good for 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. EPA fuel economy estimates for this base engine are now a class-leading 25 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. For the power hungry, there is the redesigned 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque; EPA estimates for the V-6 are 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Both engines are paired solely with six-speed automatic transmissions in the non-Hybrid models.
Before we start talking about the Hybrid, we would first like to state that the 2012 Camry SE V-6 we tested was not only legitimately fun to drive with nicely weighted sport steering and impressive cornering abilities, but it also realistically showed a six-cylinder could be the fun AND rational choice. After we waited for two hours to drive the “sporty” SE V-6 Camry due to a long waiting list, we found that the fuel economy gauge was still reading 28 miles per gallon. That’s amazing to us after two hours with auto journalists who have a habit of not believing in speed limits or the brake pedal.
We would have to confirm that fuel economy number for the 2012 Camry V-6 over the course of a longer road test but this initial test makes us hopeful that this type of engine won’t soon disappear from the family sedan market. The most important thing it may prove is that you don’t necessarily need to buy a four-cylinder family sedan to keep from breaking the family budget. If that is the case, you will have to ask yourself why on Earth buy the four-cylinder instead of the Hybrid?
Having driven the last-generation Toyota Camry Hybrid, we can safely say it lacked any form of a “fun factor.” Thankfully Toyota saw fit to totally re-think the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid by offering a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired with a hybrid battery pack that now offers up a combined 200 horsepower and returns 43 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. The 2012 Camry Hybrid arrives at dealers in November, so if you are looking into buying a new fuel miser we do recommend waiting to test drive this new model.
First off, compared to most every hybrid we have ever driven it was nearly impossible to tell that this car had any of the gas-electric powertrain “annoyances” that bother many “regular” drivers. This Camry Hybrid is a new kind of animal and we were seriously ready to be bored by it. Unless we drove a “turbo” Camry by accident there is no way to explain the level of improvement besides the possibility of black magic. Or “green magic.”
The 2012 Camry Hybrid feels very quick at all speeds and suffers from no detectable power dead spots, the transmission makes no odd noises even going up steep hills and it finally just “feels” like a normal car to the extent that Hybrid haters will find little to hate.
Admittedly, the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid had much lighter steering than the SE we tested but as it should be that way given the divergent life missions of both models. This 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid’s gas-electric powertrain is so good that we even cornered a Lexus rep to see why this design isn’t currently used in their hybrids and the response was, “it should be.”
2012 Toyota Camry: Final Thoughts
The 2012 Toyota Camry redesign came as a very large and very pleasant surprise to us. Given our rather tepid reaction to the recently “reheated” 2011 Corolla, we feared Toyota was going to make another mistake with one of its bread and butter sedans. But thankfully Toyota took the time to get this Camry so right that it even made a believer out of some very adamant hybrid technology hating auto reviewers.
We also can’t wait to road test a 2012 Camry SE V-6 just to see if Toyota has, in fact, saved the smooth and silky family six-cylinder from fuel economy oblivion. Most importantly, Toyota did the unthinkable and designed a stylish and in some cases downright sporty looking family sedan. Don’t worry, it’s still just as comfortable as your favorite pair of pajamas.
2012 Toyota Camry Pricing
- Toyota Camry L—(4-Cylinder)--$21,955
- Toyota Camry LE—(4-Cylinder)--$22,500
- Toyota Camry SE—(4-Cylinder)--$23,000
- Toyota Camry XLE—(4-Cylinder)--$24,725
- Toyota Camry SE—(V-6)--$26,640
- Toyota Camry XLE—(V-6)--$29,845
- Toyota Camry Hybrid LE--$25,900
- Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE--$27,400
Toyota provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by James Hamel