The 2012 Toyota Camry is the seventh generation, with redesigns coming every five years since 1982. Toyota claims that the new Camry is not only the current bestselling midsize sedan, but also the safest, quietest, and most fuel-efficient. Five models of the 2012 Camry range from the stripped-down L to the sport-tuned SE to the Hybrid.
New for 2012, the Camry hasn't changed its size, as the wheelbase, length, track and height are within fractions of an inch of those of the sixth-generation 2011 model. But the sheetmetal is totally new, and a new roofline makes it slightly more slippery. The 2012 Camry's lines are attractive, and it's clearly more contemporary than the 2011. What Toyota calls aero-corner design enhances this image. There are four new colors: Clearwater Blue, Attitude Black, Cypress Pearl and Cosmic Gray Mica.
The 2012 Camry interior is all new, both design and materials. Interior dimensions stay the same within fractions of those of the previous version. There's a bit more backseat legroom, and some interior parts have been thinned to create more eye, knee and elbow room. The instrument panel is pretty and functional, storage spaces well thought-out, and a 60/40 split rear seat is standard. A new leather dashboard is neat and stylish.
For powertrains, the standard I4 and optional V6 engines are carryovers from 2010 and 2011, respectively. Six-speed automatic transmissions are standard. The standard 2.5-liter I4 has double VVT-I technology, making 178 horsepower. The 3.5-liter V6 produces 268 horsepower. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated City/Highway 25/35 mpg with the four-cylinder, 21/30 mpg with the V6.
We were impressed with such smooth and responsive acceleration from the standard four-cylinder while averaging 30 miles per gallon, and Toyota boasts a range of 650 miles.
The 2012 Camry boasts a new chassis with increased rigidity, using more high- and ultra-high-strength steel, as well as 56 more welded spots. It reflects ongoing research in impact energy management.
The tuned suspension in the Camry SE might be too firm for some; we didn't find the SE uncomfortable, but we did find the softer Camry XLE more relaxing around town. We preferred the SE's tighter steering in all circumstances.
The Camry Hybrid uses a new 2.5-liter Atkinson Cycle engine, with more horsepower and electric power than before. It feels like a totally different car than the I4 or V6, as it slows everything down and makes the vehicle feel bigger. The 2012 Camry Hybrid LE is rated by the government at 43/39 mpg, Camry Hybrid XLT at 40/38 mpg.
The redesigned 2012 Camry hasn't changed its size, as the wheelbase, length, track and height are the same within fractions of an inch. But the sheetmetal is 100 percent new, and a new roofline makes it slightly more slippery, at 0.27 Cd vs. the previous 0.28. It's quite attractive for a vanilla car, with clean sides and nice edges, with no lumpy cladding or gratuitous chrome. Hold up pics of the 2011 and 2012 side-by-side, and clearly see the styling evolution from yesterday to today.
In fact there's almost no chrome, which makes the new Camry look svelte. Indeed it has lost weight, 150 pounds (220 pounds for the Hybrid). It might all be under the skin, but no matter, it's all good. What Toyota calls aero-corner design enhances this image. Hips and shoulders tucked in.
The Camry LE uses wheelcovers over 16-inch steel wheels, the Camry XLE uses 17-inch alloy wheels, and the Camry SE uses 17- or 18-inchers. All three styles successfully avoid cookie cutting, with the LE's 20-spoke titanium-tinted wheelcovers ironically being the most ambitious and eye-catching, if not the classiest.
The new roofline angles the windshield more steeply. There's a nice character line under the windows slanting slightly up to the rear deck, where there's a small spoiler lip on the SE. Windows outlined in chrome, but no more, except for a thin strip at the rocker level on the LE and XLE. Body-colored door handles on all models.
The face of the Camry SE is tweaked, for the better, with body color over the black mesh grille, and more aggressive air intakes in the valance under the bumper. Headlamps are the same, angled, narrow and sleek, with a neat little notch in the line at the bottom.
Interior dimensions for the seventh-generation 2012 Camry are within fractions of an inch of the sixth-generation (2007-11) models. There's a bit more backseat legroom, with 38.9 inches on a flat rear floor decent for a midsize car. Some interior parts have been thinned to create more eye, knee and elbow room: A-pillars, control panels on the doors, front seatbacks, center console.
Interior materials are different depending on the model, with the Camry L, LE and XLE using a nice standard fabric, and the Camry SE fabric with SofTex synthetic leather trim. Real leather is available on the Camry XLE I4 and standard on the XLE V6, with leather-trimmed ultrasuede available on the SE and XLE Hybrid.
The fit of the front buckets is good on the Camry LE and XLE, with more bolstering on the SE. The Camry Hybrid has its own material, more like the SE. Trims are different too: LE is silver, XLE wood, SE silver grain, and Hybrid a metallic tech grain.
Steering wheels too, with LE a four-spoke urethane, XLE four-spoke leather, and SE four-spoke leather. They all work well enough, no inconveniences noted in driving all four models.
The Camry LE feels quiet, solid and firm; but the XLE with optional leather and a grander display screen feels markedly uptown.
It's hard to make a dashboard not boring, because after all it is a board, but the Camry succeeds. The standard leather is overlapped in an arc with neat stitching, for a saddle-like effect; new passengers will compliment it and maybe run their hands over the seam. The little window for the clock up at the top looks like a hood scoop.
We found the driver's position comfortable, with thoughtful padding for the driver's right leg against the center console, and high armrests. Decent door pocket, great cubby forward in the center console, big glovebox with light door.
The instrument panel is all new for 2012. The four Camry models have four different faces, and those on the LE, XLE and SE are in 3D. We wonder what the stripper Camry L model without the 3D face looks like. Instruments are the same, only difference is in the rings around the gauges, chrome or satin.
The Hybrid's panel is the same only prettier. In Toyota-speak it has optitron meters with white illumination, blue metallic printing, and white lighting pointer. Three gauges, with clear dials and numbers that glow up at you in crystal clear white. We like it. Another plus: relocation of the battery packs increase the trunk space in the Camry Hybrid to 13.1 cubic feet (from the previous 10.6).
Trunk space on all Camry models except the Hybrid is a roomy 15.4 cubic feet.
The manually operated climate control has big dials and easy buttons on the Camry LE. The automatic climate control on Camry XLE uses a 6.1-inch LCD touch-screen also used for radio tuning, and navigation. The screen grows to 7 inches with upgrade systems.
In pursuit of fuel mileage, the torque converter ratio was changed to lower the revs at freeway speeds, making the car quieter inside; at 70 mph you can't hear the motor. But you can hear the tire noise, new tires with less rolling resistance, louder on the pavement.
There's the optional JBL Green Edge sound system, which uses up to 58 percent less power and is 27 percent lighter; and Entune, which does Bing searches and allegedly enables you to buy movie tickets while you're driving into the city on a crowded freeway in a hurry at night, and stuff like that. Safely and simply they say, and we say don't believe it. It can all be bundled with navigation and satellite radio and voice recognition, and controlled on the 7-inch touch screen. Have fun, good luck, and don't crash.
Ironically, after driving four models of the 2012 Toyota Camry, we think the model we didn't drive might be the call. That would be a Camry SE with the I4 engine, rather than our V6. That's because the Camry SE is tighter than the Camry XLE or LE; and the 178-hp I4 is quick, silent and smooth, no matter that the 268-hp V6 is faster. Both the I4 and V6 are carried over, the I4 new in 2010 and V6 new for 2011.
On the Camry XLE, using the lighter 6-speed for the I4, we noted good ratios, smooth upshifts and invisible kickdowns around town. With the I4, to get 30 mpg with that kind of performance is great. Toyota boasts a range of 650 miles, at 35 highway mpg.
Four-cylinder and V6 models use a 6-speed automatic that on the Camry SE comes with paddle shifters and normal and sport modes. No problems with the way the transmissions were programmed; both 5th and 6th gears in the V6 transmission are overdrives, with 6th being super overdrive at 0.068:1, for highway fuel mileage. There's a big leap between 1st and 2nd gears, but the 248 foot-pounds of torque in the V6 can make it.
The even-keel Camry SE suspension might be too firm for some; we didn't find it uncomfortable, but did find the softer Camry XLE more relaxing around town. We preferred the SE's tighter steering in all circumstances. Slightly bigger brakes felt good too, sensitive with good feel.
The Hybrid uses a new 2.5-liter Atkinson Cycle engine in 2012, with more horsepower and electric power than before. It feels like a totally different car than the I4 or V6. It slows everything down and it feels bigger; even the seats feel wider. Don't expect much from acceleration, cornering, or quick response, although Toyota says 0-60 acceleration is 0.5 seconds quicker than before.
Braking is regenerative and sensitive, sometimes diving the nose. It's quieter, when you're not straining at throttle, but the tire noise on a rough freeway is still there.
Eco mode reduces the throttle opening, slowing the car way down, although Eco defaults to Power mode when you need more speed. EV mode with a good charge couldn't get us out of the parking lot. It wouldn't even run the air conditioner with the car at a standstill.
The Hybrid is more slippery in the wind, with underbody fairing panels lowering the Cd to 0.27, but a small blue badge is the only visible difference.
The Camry XLE Hybrid is rated at 40 combined mpg (on Premium gasoline because the compression ratio with the Atkinson Cycle is raised to 12.5:1). We actually saw 45 mpg on our test run, probably because we were aghast at the idea of booting it.
The Toyota Camry is redesigned for 2012, using a two-year-old I4 engine, one-year-old V6, and new hybrid. It features a more rigid chassis and sleeker body, with a smooth 6-speed automatic transmission. Camry powertrains are so different you should consider your needs or drive them all before you choose. The I4 is exceptional, with good smooth response while delivering 30 mpg combined. The suspension is comfortable and all-new interior clean and convenient, while infotainment options can move the Camry upscale.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from the Columbia River Gorge.