By Bruce Caldwell
The Toyota Camry is the benchmark for how to build a top-notch midsize sedan. The Camry has been a perennial best seller based on first class engineering, quality construction, reliability, comfort, safety, and excellent resale value. The Camry has long been the midsize sedan other manufacturers seek to beat. Since its introduction in 1983, the Camry has sold more than 15 million units worldwide.
2012 marks the introduction of the seventh-generation Camry. In keeping with the car’s traditionally conservative format, the new Camry is as much evolutionary as revolutionary. That approach makes perfect sense when you’re dealing with an already excellent product. The 2012 Camry is a fine-tuned extension of its predecessors.
Walkaround: The new 2012 Camry is a very handsome car done in a contemporary, but not radical design that should insure that it looks fresh for many years. That line of logic won’t win styling awards, but it does enhance resale values. Our sporty SE model had stylish 17-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels with P215/55R17 tires. Handsome, crisp and well balanced are terms we would use to describe the Camry’s styling. The SE trim does a lot to distinguish the Camry from more mundane midsize sedans.
Interior: We rank driver/passenger comfort at the top of our list of favorite Camry attributes. The driver’s seat and driving position were outstanding for any car, much less one with a base price of $23,000. Comfortable, supportive seats (with thicker side bolsters) are part of the SE package and our tester had the optional 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat. That adjustability combined with stretch-out legroom for even quite tall drivers and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel made finding an ideal driving position easy. There’s ample room for drivers well over six feet tall.
Given the spaciousness of the front seats we thought rear seating might be compromised, but it also was roomy enough for six-foot-plus occupants with the front seats all the way back. There’s ample head, knee, and foot room in the outboard positions and even the middle spot will accommodate tall people. The floor is almost flat, but the center position padding isn’t conducive to long trips.
Door bins, cup holders, seatback pouches, console bins, a sunglasses holder and a locking glovebox add up to above average interior storage capacity. The center console cup holders have spring-loaded tension devices to secure various sized containers.
The excellent, thick, contoured leather steering wheel has easy to use auxiliary control buttons. Paddle shifters are located behind the steering wheel. The auxiliary controls are great for keeping your eyes on the road while operating the first class sound system and various communications devices. The optional Display/Audio/Navigation/Entune (Toyota’s innovative new multimedia system that uses smartphones) system provided more advanced connectivity features than we had devices to connect. There were also lots of ports for whatever electronic gizmos people fill their cars with these days.
Cargo capacity is excellent thanks to a large trunk with a flat floor and split folding rear seats. The pass-through opening is large and the seatbacks have protective ribbed plastic. Unfortunately, the seats don’t fold very flat.
Toyota puts a lot of effort into creating a quiet passenger environment and it shows in the new Camry. They suppressed noise transmission and put extra insulation where it’s most useful. The interior ambiance is much more luxurious than people normally expect at the Camry’s price point.
Under The Hood: Toyotas are known for their excellent drivetrains and the 2012 Camry is no exception. The DOHC 3.5-liter V6 that’s available in SE and XLE models delivers 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. The 6-speed transmission was very smooth and nicely programmed for optimum performance and economy. There are paddle shifters, but we rarely used them because the car’s overall demeanor didn’t inspire us to bang through the gears. Acceleration was brisk and we never felt any lack of power.
The EPA rates the Camry SE at 25-mpg city and 35-mpg highway. We averaged just short of 30-mpg in mixed driving, which we felt was excellent given the responsiveness of the V6 engine.
Behind The Wheel: The Camry SE is positioned as the sporty model in-between the base LE and the upscale XLE (and hybrid XLE) versions. We wouldn’t classify the SE as the same kind of sporty as more aggressive sedans specifically designed for high performance, but within the generally conservative parameters of affordable midsize sedans the Camry SE is a very enjoyable (bordering on fun) car to drive. It has enough “sport” so as not to totally bore more demanding drivers, but not so much harshness/responsiveness as to annoy drivers who value comfort over suspension connectivity. Like almost everything about the Camry the SE ride characteristics are a pleasant compromise.
A key summation of the 2012 Camry SE driving experience is that it’s car that a very broad spectrum of drivers would enjoy on a daily basis. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Whines: The steep angle of the folded rear seats greatly impairs the usability of what would otherwise be a bonus cargo area.
Bottom Line: We think Toyota has another winner on their hands with the new 2012 Camry SE. It’s an outstanding value with quality, performance, safety, economy, style and comfort that exceed its affordable price.