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2012 Toyota Camry

08/23/2011

Shahed Hussain

The Camry has consistently been at the top of the heap among midsize sedans, as well as the best-selling car in the US for years. Despite perennial competition from the Honda Accord, and more recently, the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, Toyota has managed to retain its title as the most popular family sedan.

Although based on the current platform, the 2012 Camry has been thoroughly redesigned and despite additional standard equipment, is priced significantly lower than the outgoing model. The new base trim level is the Camry L ($21,955), followed by the popular LE ($22,500), sporty SE ($23,000), and luxurious XLE ($24,725). Toyota also retained the fuel-efficient Camry Hybrid, available in two models: LE ($25,900) and XLE ($27,400).

Powertrain choices remain unchanged, with the familiar 2.5L inline-4 and 3.5L V-6 mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. Horsepower and torque output for the 2.5L are 178 bhp @ 6,000 RPM and 170 lb.-ft. @ 4,100 RPM. The V-6 cranks out 268 bhp @ 6,200 RPM and 248 lb.-ft. @ 4,700 RPM. The automatic shares identical gear ratios with both engines, but the V-6 gets a taller 3.458:1 final drive ratio vs. 3.634:1 for the inline four. Mileage ratings are 25/35 MPG (city/hwy.) for the 2.5L and 21/30 MPG (city/hwy.) with the V-6. The EPA rating for the Hybrid is an impressive 43/39 MPG (city/hwy.).

Since the 2012 Camry shares the same platform as the previous-generation model, there are no surprises under the skin. Electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering reflects the industry trend toward greater efficiency. The front suspension consists of MacPherson struts, coil springs, and stabilizer bar. At the rear is an independent dual link layout with coil springs, dampers, and stabilizer bar. Disc brakes are at all four corners, with vented rotors in front. ABS, traction control, and stability control are standard.

The Camry's interior design is more distinctive than before, with details such as stitching on the dashboard and higher quality materials lending a more luxurious feel. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard on the Camry SE and XLE. The standard cloth seats in base trim levels are not especially attractive, but the sporty Softex cloth upholstery in the SE is a worthwhile upgrade. Moving up to the XLE V-6 adds heated leather-trimmed seats with power adjustments for the front seats.

We had the opportunity to drive the Camry LE Hybrid and the SE V-6. Both models share similar ride and handling characteristics, with the typical comfortable, well damped suspension tuning expected from Toyota. Despite its sporting pretensions, the Camry SE will not be mistaken as a sport sedan, although Toyota aims this model at a younger customer than the typical 60-year old Camry owner. Performance from the V-6/automatic combination is certainly better than adequate, with the polished, unflustered acceleration expected.

In contrast, driving the Camry Hybrid is a different experience entirely. A pure electric mode allows nearly silent takeoff from a stop before the gasoline engine takes over. Pressing the ECO mode button on the dash reduces acceleration severely enough to make highway merging difficult. Aside from leisurely cruising, we would not recommend using the ECO mode in most driving conditions, as the normal mode ensures adequate acceleration is available when needed.

Toyota's philosophy has always been to progressively refine and improve each generation of its most popular sedan. The 2012 Camry is now a better value and is priced competitively with other midsize competitors, which should ensure that it retains its top-selling title. Toyota customers will find much to like about the latest Camry, although Accord and Altima owners may not be convinced to switch.

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