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2012 Toyota Camry
More of what you really want
In place of styling gimmicks and ridiculous hype, you'll get what you always get when you buy a Camry ... and a bit more for 2012.
By Malcolm Gunn
It has been a rocky road for the Toyota faithful as the company recovers from a natural disaster in Japan and a rash of very public -- and extensive -- recalls that threw into question its normally cut-above-the-rest reputation.
So, the question is whether the new seventh-generation Camry and Camry Hybrid will get you down to the dealership to sign on the dotted line. Honestly, it should, based on a number of key incremental improvements to fuel economy and interior quality in particular.
Despite the best efforts of the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Hyundai Sonata, et al, the Camry has owned the numero uno spot outright for the past decade. And it has managed this feat by playing it safe with styling, steadily improving its safety and technology features and offering its loyal owners plenty of cabin comfort and refinement.
For 2012, the 2012 Camry's oh-so-subtle physical changes include a pointier front end, chiselled front fenders and an accent crease extending across the doors and fenders. The windshield area has also been increased for improved visibility.
That's about the only part of the Camry that's bigger. In terms of overall length, width, height and distance between the front and rear wheels, it's a wash, although Toyota claims there's now slightly more passenger space resulting from cabin layout adjustments.
In fact, the interior is where this Camry makes a more definitive statement. The organically shaped dashboard presents a layered appearance and lacks the former droopy look. As well, the dash and control panel's shiny bits added to up-level models are tastefully done. Buyers can now choose from four different upholstery finishes, depending on the model, from woven fabric on base models to leather with faux suede seat covers at the luxury end of the scale.
Unseen changes have also been made beneath the car's surface, where lightweight, high-strength steel helps to stiffen the platform. Additionally, revisions to the front and rear suspension are designed to keep the Camry more stable in a straight line with sharper steering response and improved ride comfort.
Very little has changed beneath the hood of both gasoline-engine Camrys, although Toyota now rates the standard-issue 178-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder at 8.2 L/100 km in the city and 5.6 on the highway, compared to the 2011 model's 9.0/6.0 numbers. Meanwhile, the carryover 268-horsepower, 3.5-litre V6 achieves a claimed 9.7/6.4 L/100 km city/highway, compared with 10.6/6.8 before.
2012 Camry Hybrid
Easily the most impressive fuel-efficiency gain originates the new Camry Hybrid. Toyota has installed a 156-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that replaces the 147-horse 2.4-litre. The 2.5 functions in tandem with an electric motor that produces the same amount of torque (199 pound-feet) as the 2011 model, but the Hybrid's net 200 horsepower is now greater by 13.
Most importantly, fuel-economy numbers improve to 4.5 L/100 km in the city and 4.9 highway, versus 5.7 city and highway for the 2011 Hybrid. Toyota touts more efficient electrical and mechanical components for the improvements, along with reduced overall weight and improved aerodynamics. Additionally, the more compact battery system located behind the rear seat means more trunk space.
Toyota ranks the Camry Hybrid's 7.6-second zero-to-60 mph (96 km/h) time somewhere between that of the four- and six-cylinder gasoline-only Camrys.
Both models continue to use six-speed automatic transmissions, while the Hybrid uses a continuously variable unit.
Base LE Camrys arrive in a fairly well-equipped state, including air conditioning and various power-operated accessories, plus keyless remote entry and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Naturally, the top-line XLE is loaded to the hilt, but it's the SE that should be the most fun to drive with its sporty suspension tuning, steering-wheel paddle shifters, more supportive front seats and a quicker-shifting transmission that blips the throttle when downshifting to match the engine speed to the new gear.
Compared to a similarly contented 2011 base model, the list price has been reduced by $1,600. You might consider that a return-to-full-strength bonus, however for the conservative Camry, saving money is always in fashion.
What you should know: 2012 Toyota Camry
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan
Engines: 2.5-litre DOHC I4 (178); 3.5-litre DOHC V6 (268 hp); 2.5-litre DOHC I4 (156 hp) combined with 105-kilowatt electric motor (200 net hp combined)
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic; continuously variable (Hybrid)
Market position: Led by the Camry, mid-size sedans are the backbone of the auto industry. Toyota appears committed to solidifying its sedan sales performance with the newly upgraded and improved four-door.
Points: Not significantly different looking, but overall styling is better; Vastly upgraded interior; Hybrid-fuel-economy-gains impressive; 10 standard airbags now the mid-size benchmark; Suspension revisions should make Camry more fun to drive; Cautious and conservative will likely still keep Camry a category best-seller.
Safety: Front airbags; front/rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front knee airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 8.2/5.6 (for the 2.5-litre engine)
Base price (incl. destination): $25,200
Base price: $21,600
Popular four-door offered with manual gearbox, plus fuel-sipping hybrid version.
Base price: $26,200
Comfy cabin plus excellent road manners makes this a fun-to-drive sedan.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu
Base price: $25,000 (est.)
New sedan has four cylinders and a part-hybrid model.
Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!
Posted March 13, 2012. © CarTest.ca TM