Return of the Camry
"The new 2012 Toyota Camry is back to take its rightful place on the top of the midsize sedan segment."
My outlook towards Toyota has been quite negative over the last few years. Their products and their attitude have been a constant irritant, but it is clear that one of these elements is on the mend. The other will come, I'm certain, once the residual dark clouds move on.
Much like Honda and Acura, Toyota has clearly lost its way. The cars themselves just haven't been up to par. Honda will do its darnedest to get back on track. Toyota? They've already begun.
A Camry on the outside
A Toyota Camry is never exciting to look at, not particularly attractive, bland in some instances with perhaps one micro-sized ounce of jazz somewhere in the mix. In other words, vanilla is a Camry shopper's favourite flavour. I think I'm starting to like vanilla...
The 2012 Toyota Camry has been comprehensively revised inside and out. The non-"SE" cars maintain the distinctive low-fat, low-cal, low-taste aspects but stepping up to the SE ads zing and that's what I like. Overall, the car dropped some fat and replaced it with toned body panels and a more determined outlook.
The SE sparkles mostly thanks to its 18" wheels, rear spoiler, skirts and sportier front grille. Front fog lamps and chrome exhaust finisher ad more pizzazz without upsetting the vanilla. Truthfully, the car looks good but a Kia Optima SX is downright racy and exotic by comparison. About the whole styling affair, I'd say that the fang-shaped taillamps are completely wrong but the remainder is classic and modern-ish.
A Camry on the inside
Toyota had made great strides to spruce up the cabin of the previous 2007-'11 Camry but I'm of the opinion that they tried too hard and failed. This time around, the sobered-up dashboard and general presentation are pleasing and very well thought-out.
Materials are generally nice and details throughout, such as the stitching and various interior accents, bring almost an austere, mature feel to the cabin. The seats lack support especially in the lower thigh department but otherwise, the environment is comfortable thanks to its sheer size.
Another feature Camry shoppers like is the serene atmosphere typically provided by the midsize Toyota. The 2012 is impressively quiet and feels immensely solid to boot. I can sum up my time with the 2012 Camry as follows: I've not driven such a well sorted Camry since I test-drove a brand new 2001 XLE V6.
At the heart of the Camry
I'm a big fan of the Korean midsize cars for many reasons including their advanced direct-injection engines. While the Camry's 2.5L 4-cylinder does not have this feature, its 178 hp seem nearly as athletic as the Hyundai Sonata 4-cylinder's 198 hp.
Mated to the 6-speed, the 1,451-kg (3,199-lb) sedan moves briskly from point A to point B. Don't be fooled into thinking that this is all it can do. The 2012 Toyota Camry SE carries itself on a sport-tuned suspension that, really now, makes the Camry handle rather better than just "well."
On top of that, the Camry is stately and refined. The ride is smooth, the drive is relaxed, but it will not send you to the land of the z's. The car's steering is properly assorted to the Toyota's characteristics with the right balance between assistance and feedback. The brakes are good; the pedal is firm and cooperative.
Fuel consumption is acceptable but nothing to scream about. I averaged 9L/100km, which slots the car smack in the middle of the midsize 4-cylinder cars. If a sub-8L/100km average is the goal, then only a diesel (Volkswagen Passat) or a hybrid will do.
The comeback of the decade
I seriously can't get over how much this car's drive surprised me. But then again, I am talking about the juggernaut that is Toyota and the car that symbolizes Toyota in the US; the Camry. Sales of the Camry had slipped but it never relinquished the top spot.
In Canada, the story is wholly different. The Camry has long since been beaten out by the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata. This, in part and in my opinion, reflects the growing trend of Canadians looking for a more youthful product, essentially not their parents' Camry. The 2012 Toyota Camry is not.
The trick for Toyota now is to transpose the key essential elements that make the new Camry as good as it is into the Corolla and Matrix and the skies will clear up real fast -- and the sales will come pouring in.
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