2012 Toyota Camry Review
Can an update to America's best-selling car restore Toyota's reputation?
- Comfortable ride
- Roomy for five
- Powerful and efficient hybrid
- Korea builds better interior
- Dull styling
- Less than sporty handling
Between a global economic meltdown, a widely publicized series of auto recalls, and an earthquake and tsunami in its home country, Toyota has had a tough few years. Through it all, the midsize Toyota Camry has remained America's best-selling car. But recently sales have declined, and the Japanese giant has looked vulnerable. With the Camry undergoing a 2012 redesign, it seems like an ideal time for Toyota to restore its tarnished reputation.
However, while the all-new Camry is a solid vehicle and an improvement over the outgoing model, it still doesn't take a great leap forward to distance itself from improving competitors. Except, that is, for the Camry Hybrid, which offers an amazing balance of power, space and fuel economy.
Standard-line versions of the 2012 Toyota Camry are offered in L, LE, and sportier SE and XLE trims, while the Hybrid expands to LE and XLE trims. The L is a very base trim, but it still comes with air conditioning, power locks and windows, cruise control, and an AM/FM/CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack and USB port. The LE adds remote keyless entry, Display Audio with a 6.1-inch touch screen, and a Bluetooth wireless cellphone link. The sportier SE gets paddle shifters, fog lamps, a body kit, a rear spoiler and alloy wheels.
The XLE is loaded, with dual-zone automatic climate control, sunroof, navigation system, HD radio with iTunes tagging, Sirius satellite radio and Toyota's Entune application-based entertainment system. The XLE V6 also adds leather upholstery and heated front seats, while the SE V6 gets the XLE's entertainment features. The hybrid models are equipped much like their standard-line counterparts, but they come with a bit more equipment.
Options are plentiful. They include a 10-speaker JBL GreenEdge sound system, a rearview camera, a universal garage-door opener, a blind-spot monitor, and a premium hard-drive navigation system with a 7-inch touch screen.
Under the Hood
The 2012 Toyota Camry is offered with three powertrains. The base engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder producing 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. A 3.5-liter V6 engine making 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque is optional. These engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Thanks to transmission changes and a higher final-drive ratio, Toyota estimates that fuel-economy ratings are up for both engines, with the 4-cylinder coming in at 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway and the V6 delivering 21/30 mpg.
Toyota has also achieved greater fuel efficiency with its Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain this year, improving from 31 mpg city/35 mpg highway to 43/39 mpg for the LE trim, and 41/38 mpg in the XLE. The main difference is the change from an older 2.4-liter 4-cylinder to the newer, more efficient 2.5-liter engine. The engine makes 156 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. It is aided by two electric motors, one that acts primarily as a generator to charge the nickel-metal hydride battery pack, and one that acts mostly as a motor to power the vehicle or assist the engine. A power-split planetary gear set routes the power between the engine and wheels, acting as a continuously variable automatic transmission. Toyota quotes a total output of 200 horsepower.
If Toyota planned to knock one out of the park, exterior and interior design would have been the best ways to do it. One look at the car shows that the exterior is not nearly as attractive as the Hyundai Sonata or Kia Optima. That leaves the inside, and Toyota has taken some steps to upgrade the interior for 2012.
The dashboard has a flowing design with a soft-touch surface highlighted by stitched accents. Soft-touch surfaces also adorn the upper door trim, door armrests and center armrest. The materials are nice for the class, but we get the feeling that Toyota didn't spend much, if any, more money to achieve the look.
As in the past, control layout is simple, with large, easy-to-use buttons on a well-defined center stack. The Hybrids have screens to display power flow and past and current fuel economy. Many Camry Hybrid owners will enjoy monitoring these screens to see how the system works and improve their car's fuel efficiency.
The Camry is offered with six different audio systems. Higher-end versions have the Entune multimedia system that debuted in the Prius V. It pairs with your smartphone to provide access to mobile apps, including music streaming through Pandora and iheartradio, Bing local search with navigation, OpenTable dining reservations and movietickets.com. It also provides access to information previously offered by satellite services, such as stock quotes, sports scores, fuel pricing, and live weather and traffic. Entune makes it easy to use these apps on your dashboard screen; you just need the right phone. We expect many more apps in the future.
While the exterior dimensions are basically the same, interior space is a bit more useful. Toyota has moved the pedals and front seats forward to improve rear-seat room and sculpted many of the panels and trim pieces to open up more space throughout. The front seats have longer cushions to reduce fatigue, and the tilt/telescoping steering wheel tilts 33 percent further to help tailor a better driving position. While we prefer the SE trim's extra seat bolstering, the result of all this work is a more relaxed ride that offers better passenger comfort, especially for long trips.
The rear seat has excellent head, leg and foot space, and it is wide enough to fit three--perfect for a family sedan. The rear seat folds down 60/40 to make the already large 15.4-cubic-foot trunk that much more useful. Due to the size and placement of the battery, the Hybrid's trunk has 13.1 cubic feet of space, and the rear seat folds only on the right side to reveal a shortened pass-through.
On the Road
The Camry has earned a reputation for delivering a comfortable ride worthy of a luxury car. It has also been known for milquetoast handling. While that formula is still very much intact for 2012, the handling has improved. The Camry is more controlled this year, with less body lean in turns, better straight-line stability, and a bit more road feel. That's thanks in part to reduced weight (150 to 220 pounds depending on the trim) and some suspension tweaking.
The SE trim has stiffer suspension settings for a sportier experience. It offers quicker reactions and a firmer ride. Some will prefer it, but others will want the cosseting feel of the base suspension. Try before you buy.
Toyota says the steering feel is improved, too. While we find it predictable, it's still not quick and doesn't offer much feel. The Honda Accord is still the class leader in this regard.
The standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is no world-beater, but it provides as much power as most will ever need, and does so without much noise. The V6 engine is even more powerful, and it is amazingly smooth and quiet, delivering willing power. It's one of the best V6s in this class.
The real star of the 2012 show, though, is the hybrid powertrain. Fuel economy is improved 24 percent over the previous model, and power, while up only 13 horsepower, is far easier to access. The Hybrid is notably quicker than the standard 4-cylinder engine. During testing, we were amazed it was a hybrid.
Greenies will like the fact that the Camry Hybrid can run on electric power alone up to 25 mph and that it shuts off the engine at stoplights. There is also an "EV" button that allows you to drive the vehicle on electric power alone for about a mile, provided you don't go too fast or get on the throttle too hard. This uses up the battery, though, and doesn't improve fuel economy, so it's just a gimmick. An "ECO mode" button dulls throttle response and cuts back on air conditioning to help you get a bit better fuel economy. We don't like how dull it is, but it would work well for stop-and-go traffic.
Right for You?
With plenty of room for five and the most airbags in its class, the 2012 Toyota Camry continues as an excellent choice for families, and the Hybrid is now one of the best hybrids on the market. In a class with many strong competitors, the Camry should keep its sales lead, but the quality gap between it and the competition is slim.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Toyota provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.
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It's a strategy that has worked and it gave Hyundai-Kia the opportunity to show customers that they really did improve quality along the way. They almost had to improve quality because the warranty obligated them to make any repairs and that could become very costly unless your product can live up to the warranty offered. It will be interesting to see how long they keep it in place and use it as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition.