2012 Toyota Camry HD Video Review

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For some people, cars are emotional purchases.  Others approach them like an Excel spread sheet, ticking off purchase price, fuel economy, insurance rates, predicted maintenance costs, and resale value.  Argue all you want about what method is best, people are people and we all have our ways of justifying our particular actions.  Talk to Kim Kardashian about that.

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If you’re a by-the-numbers person here are some figures- For 13 of the past 14 years, Camry has been the best selling passenger car in America.  Since it’s launch in 1983, we Yanks have bought 9.7 million of them with 15 million copies purchased worldwide.  6,500,000 of them have been built in Georgetown, Kentucky.  If you’ve bought one in the past 15 years there’s a 90 percent chance it’s still on the road.

Those are impressive numerals.

For the emotional, Camry has never been a top 10 choice.  Go ahead, call it “appliance” and “vanilla”.  Then ask yourself this (and answer truthfully)- If you had a machine that printed money, would you tamper with it in any way, shape or form?  I’ll take that as a no.

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Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary

When Toyota began redesigning Camry for 2012, they asked their loyal customers what they wanted.  Their answer?   Familiarity.  “Don’t change the size” was a popular response.  So Camry keeps it’s dimensions, on the outside anyway.  The body is all-new.  It adapts a crisp and formal look that’s easy to ID as a Camry from 100 paces, especially in profile.  Personally I’d like more advancement to the familiar design but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t… well, you know.   If design is your thing, Sonata, Optima, and 2012 Malibu offer up more emotion.

The big news is the interior, which is a huge upgrade from the outgoing car. Even number crunchers will fall for it.  My last outing with a 2010 XLE found a drab and generic space with pieces that didn’t always fit flush and seat seams that were less than straight.

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The instrument panel now has a pleasant three-dimensional sculpting to it with real stitching on the gauge cluster hood and passenger-side dashboard (though there’s molded faux stitching down near the console shifter).   All models get the upgrade.  Toyota engineers also winnowed away small spaces here and there to create more space throughout the cabin.

Seats get better fabrics, contrasting colors catch the eye.  Gauges are bright and clean, the center stack rises away from the main dash.  The whole experience is much like the exterior, defined and formal.  My only gripe is that against the elegant interior, the large steering wheel controls look like an Xbox controller.

Powertrain Are Familiar Too

Toyota sees the classic LE, sport-tuned SE and gas-miser hybrid models as three different cars.  Gas engines pretty much carry over from last year, the 2.5 liter four-cylinder makes 178 horsepower and the 3.5-liter V6 delivers 268.  The hybrid system is extensively reworked and now delivers 200 hp to your right foot.

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Fuel economy?  EPA rates the four at 25 city, 35 highway, the V6 at 21/30, and the hybrid at a lofty 43 city 39 highway.  Toyota emphasizes all powertrains now deliver best-in-class efficiency.  These are numbers everyone can embrace.

Gas models get six-speed transmissions with the V6 version of the SE model scoring exclusive steering wheel paddle shifters and rev-matching downshifts.  The hybrid gets a CVT and a new battery pack that’s a few cubic feet smaller than the last one.

With no seat time in the hybrid, impressions on it will have to wait.  The six-cylinder that I spent most of my time in is powerful, Toyota claims a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds (I chirped the tires at speed while on a freeway onramp).  The popular choice four-cylinder does it in a respectable 8.8 seconds, most drivers will be happy with it.  Surprisingly, the hybrid slots in between the four and six when it comes to performance, Toyota says 7.6 seconds.

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A Race Track?  Really?

Turns out that Akio Toyoda, Toyota President and CEO is a driving enthusiast so he’s dictated a crisper driving dynamic this time around.  To prove the point, they’ve brought us to Portland International Raceway.  Not exactly Camry’s natural habitat.  With a wide-open playground of asphalt and orange cones, auto writers are first put in 2011 Camrys, then 2012s.  There’s a noticeable difference.

For starters, with more high-strength steel in the chassis, Camry is now 150 pounds lighter (the hybrid looses 220).  The structure is also more rigid, making precise suspension tuning easier.  All this makes the 2012 car more engaging in hard maneuvers.  It feels similar to an Accord now, especially the SE.

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SE is no longer just a badge and trim package.  Like Sienna SE, the 2012 suspension gets tuned for more fun in the twisties. Let’s get something straight- Camry isn’t a sport sedan.  Better?  You bet.  A BMW 5-Series?  That’s not Camry’s mission.  Consider it an olive branch to enthusiasts who have never been amped about Camry.  Score one for the emotional buyer.

It’s the open road where the comfortable Camry will be appreciated.  With added sound insulation plus tiny aerodynamic fins near the side mirror and rear turn signal lenses, the cabin is as hushed as some luxury sedans on the highway.  It would be an excellent road trip machine, especially with those gas mileage numbers.

Get Comfortable

My XLE tester at $33,3000 gets heated leather chairs, a very good JBL sound system, backup camera, plus all knee airbags upfront and rear side impact units (which all Camrys get).  In total there are ten airbags.  Phone and iPod integration is standard across the board.  There’s no “tap for three blinks” for the turn signals, a handy feature that’s becoming more common.

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New this year is Toyota’s available Entune system, which allows a driver to hook up a registered Android, Blackberry or iPhone smartphone and run apps like Bing search, Pandora, and iHeartRadio. The service is free for the first three years, Toyota hasn’t determined pricing after that.  Toyota Safety Connect will call first responders in the unfortunate event of an accident and pinpoint your location.  It can also locate a stolen vehicle.

Room For Friends

Camry’s backseat has never been described as cramped.  For 2012 it only gets better, there’s almost two more inches of knee room, generous foot room and a flat floor.  Put a passenger in the middle and even though the seat is raised there’s still decent headroom.  Door and seat pockets are here, so is a foldable armrest but no 12v power port to charge electronics.  Back seats cushions don’t get heat.

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Since I’m on a press launch there’ll be no TP trunk test, instead I’m using my luggage.  I travel light for a TV crew but my camera and tripod case, suitcase and computer bag still take up a good amount of space.  It’s equal to what most couples would travel with and stows without any problems.  Eye balling the cargo hold I’d say it’s the same as the outgoing Camry which took 6 bundles of the two-ply.

Like many sedans, the gooseneck hinge arms will pinch your stuff if it isn’t loaded carefully.  The seatbacks split and fold to expand cargo.  Also, there’s a spare tire, which is becoming more rare.

What Is Value?

Base model Camrys are now $200 less than last year and get added equipment such as those four extra airbags, a large LCD display for the audio system and that posh interior. A base L model starts at $22,700 with destination.  Toyota has cut the price of the high-end XLE by two grand, my well-equipped car stickers for $33,300.

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This leads us to the definition of value.  Comparing my V6 XLE tester with a loaded Kia Optima SE Turbo finds the Korean to be about $3,000 less.  Optima also offers a panoramic glass roof to Camry’s standard sized unit, and adds heated seats in the rear, heated steering wheel and ventilated seats up front.  So what it comes down how a buyer defines value.  For some it’s a low price and loads of features.  For others it’s the peace of mind additional airbags and the promise of Toyota’s reliability reputation.  Toyota also picks up all your maintenance costs for two years.

Summing up, the 2012 Camry is more affordable, competitive, luxurious, fuel-efficient and handles better.  All that and it remains very Camryesque.  It’s all part of Toyota’s by-the-numbers strategy to keep Camry familiar to it’s loyal owners.  Will that be enough to keep it the most popular car in America? Check back in another nine years.

FULL GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY TOYOTA.


10 Comments

  1. AM says:

    Thanks Tom for your reviews. They are the best ! Are you gonna review the new VW Passat 2012 soon ?

    Also, I was wondering why you don’t add the Driven Logo to your website adress. I add my favorite sites on my bookmarks toolbar using only the websites logos (so I can stack more!). I can’t do it with Driven because there’s no logo. It’s one of the rare sites without one.

    • TV says:

      Welcome to the site AM! I’m hoping to get to both soon. There hasn’t been a Passat in the press fleet yet but I’m told it will be here soon. I hope to get to the logo over the holidays. I need to learn how to do it. TV

  2. FinalBlue says:

    Wow, the ads in these videos are getting really well-integrated. I barely even noticed when that Kia Optima advertisement interrupted the Camry review.

    …Oh wait.

    Anyway, I’m not sure why so many people are disappointed with the new Camry’s styling, or at least in how much it’s changed. Could someone please explain to me how exactly the design is boring?

    • Ted says:

      Agreed with you regarding design. Looks like some people are so insecure they have to bash anything that isn’t a 500hp+ luxury rocket on wheels. You don’t have to be a potential buyer to appreciate whatever positive attributes any car may have, regardless its hp or price. This said, I find the exterior and interior styling rather pleasant to look at except, perhaps, that cheap leather scheme on the V6. Oh, and fake vortex rims, as usual…

  3. kenwenzel says:

    My first ride in a Camry came a few years ago when I went from a rented Volvo S80 to a Camry, after the back doors on the Volvo quit working. I was bummed by the lack of power (going form the great 6 to an anemic 4) and by the seats. The Volvo had twice the mileage as the Camry and the Camry’s seats felt like a 400# guy had been the owner. Two years later I needed a ride and I rented a Camry for a trip from Lufkin to Houston. The second Camry seemed tolerable. As you said to JF above, I am probably not their target audience, but I could see how they could be a decent car. It also made me think of what you said about your wife’s realizing that there is more to a badge than just the car badge. Volvos cost more for a reason. The Camry may be boring from the outside, but if you can just ignore it in the driveway, and enjoy the passenger compartment it might be a nice ride. Probably not my ride, but somebody’s nice ride. Was that fold out thing in the dash for holding the phone, or just an oddly shaped storage compartment? Also regarding the spare. My wife recently drove from Dallas to Houston in our Chrysler 300 SRT8 and lost tire pressure in the run flat tires. It is nice having a spare since the run flats are hard to find anywhere but the cities, and who wants their trip (either business or pleasure) ruined by some moron’s decision that we don’t need spare tires. Until run flats will complete a 200 mile stint at speed, we still need the spare. A tire guy on a TV show once said spares are dumb. What other car part do we carry around as a spare? The truth is no other car part takes the abuse of a tire, and until we have the aforementioned 200 mile run flat, or a hovercraft, we will still need spare tires.

  4. Ken says:

    If I were nice, I would say it’s boring as hell. If I were mean, I would say it’s ugly, like Acura and Nissan had a bastard child. It’s like a bad fashion designer whose designs are just a collection of little bit of everything, no focal point, no character, and no consistent design them thought out. Then again, I am not Camry’s target market, I bet the pensioner and retirees wouldn’t care too much anyway…………….LOL

  5. JF says:

    Here’s my logic. Instead of buying a ~$28k Camry, I would buy a used BMW 5 series:

    - 8000$ for the initial purchase (2002 E39 530i)
    - 2000$ in repairs, fuel & insurance yearly (a generous amount)

    For approximately the same amount, you could be driving a used 5 series for 10 years. You could even exchange that 5 series in 5 years time if you compare the price to the top of the line Camry. Also, the price of the Camry does not include fuel and insurance.

  6. clali288 says:

    It’s interesting that the names mean crown. It is kind of a theme for Toyota. In Japan they have a luxury line that truly rivals Mercedes called Crown.