Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A bit bigger: 2012 Toyota Camry: Improving the best seller

2012 Toyota Camry SE - Subcompact Culture

Although many will argue the Toyota Camry isn’t the epitome of automotive enthusiasm, it’s impossible to argue against its tremendous sales in the U.S. In fact, it’s been a best seller in America for 13 of the past 14 years, and Toyota has built 6.5 million of them in its Georgetown, Kentucky facility. But for 2012, Toyota aims to inject more driving enthusiasm into the Camry, as well as a host of improvements.

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid - Subcompact Culture
Across the board, the new Camry lineup offers a lot of changes over the 2011 models. In the styling department, Camry gets a higher belt line and more angular looks. It also has reshaped A-pillars for better outward visibility. The gasoline-powered cars lose 150 lbs.; the hybrid loses a more impressive 220 lbs. All cars get electric power steering, while the sportier SE models gets a sport-tuned steering system that imparts more road feel, as well as a sportier suspension, and other true performance-enhancing bits. There are 56 additional welds on the chassis to improve overall rigidity, which translates into a more high-performance chassis. This is just a snippet of the many changes Toyota made to its best-selling mid-size sedan.

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid engine

The seventh-generation Camry is available with three engine choices: a 178 hp. 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivering 25 city/35 highway MPG; a 268 hp. 3.5-liter V-6 yielding 21 city/30 highway MPG; and a gas/electric hybrid, which also uses the 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but also employs a high-torque electric motor. This setup, pictured above, offers makes 200 hp. and delivers an impressive 43 city/39 highway MPG. Gas engines are mated to six-speed automatics; the hybrid uses Toyota’s CVT. There are several trim levels to choose from, allowing buyers to get the engine and interior combinations they want.

2012 Toyota Camry XLE interior - Subcompact Culture

Previous Camrys have developed a reputation for having “vanilla” interiors. While the new interior might not set the automotive world on fire, I’m here to say the 2012 model is much improved and quite nice, especially in XLE an SE trim. There’s soft-touch dash textures, available (and very handsome) stitched leather seats, and a host of other accoutrements that give the new Camry an upscale feel, even in some of the lower trim levels. Buyers who do opt for the upper trim packages will be rewarded with great fabrics, supple leather, and tasteful accents. Toyota has also upped the ante in the infotainment system wars. Camrys will be available with the Toyota Entune multimedia system. This system offers a host of popular apps such as Bing, iheartradio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable.com, and Pandora, just to name a few. It is a unique experience that integrates smart phones, voice recognition, and safety features. Even those who don't opt for Entune get a standard 6.1” screen and six speakers. Of course, all of the connectivity is available including Bluetooth, USB, and such.

2012 Toyota Camry autocross - Subcompact Culture
No, the Camry isn’t necessarily designed for the autocross track, but Toyota brought out several 2012s (and some 2011s for comparison’s sake) and let us loose at a small autocross course at Portland International Raceway. And yes, the ’12s all showed great improvement in nearly all aspects over the ’11s on the track. This includes road feel, grip, steering turn-in, acceleration, and ride.

In the power department, the V-6 powered Camry XLE had plenty of grunt on tap and clawed at the pavement for traction while exiting corners—it really showed off its 268 hp. The four-cylinder still had plenty of get-up-and-go, and was smooth and responsive. The big surprise for me was the hybrid, though. There is a very healthy amount of low-end torque due to the electric motor assist, which made for great acceleration. In fact, it felt as powerful as the V-6 from a standing start. Even during non-jackrabbit acceleration jaunts, the hybrid pulled hard, which would translate into plenty of passing power on the streets, plus outstanding mileage. If it were me ponying up the cash for a Camry, I’d likely opt for the hybrid option.

Toyota has done a nice job improving its best-seller in nearly all respects, and I foresee the car continuing as a top choice in the hyper-competitive mid-size sedan market. And if the driving dynamics, interior, and exterior design weren’t enough, all Camry models (except the base L model) are less expensive than the 2011 models, or have no increase in price. Yes, a price decrease. In fact, the 2012 XLE with the four-cylinder is a whopping 7.5% less expensive than a 2011 model. It could be said that the 2012 Camrys offer more and less of everything mid-sized sedan buyers are looking for.

2012 Toyota Camry XLE - Subcompact Culture

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