A funny thing has happened to the Toyota Camry. The all-new, 2012, seventh-gen car has become, well, acceptable. Even respectable. For years this amazingly popular midsized car has been hammered by automotive writers for being a car with substantial credentials in quality, durability and reliability because, perhaps, it didn’t have sufficient quirkiness or compromise. Go figure.
But consider this, from the “First Drive” in Automobile Magazine by Jason Cammisa: “It's been twenty years, but the Camry might have just leapt back to the front of the pack as the worry-free car you'd gladly recommend to your mother -- without being afraid to be seen in it yourself. We predict that it'll remain the gold standard in sales volume, but we look forward to pitting it against the Hyundai Sonata to see if it's regained its crown as the gold standard of mid-size motoring.”
The Sonata has become something of a darling, so the comparison is a reasonable one.
Or this from Zach Bowman on Autoblog: “In the end, the seventh generation sedan remains all Camry, through and through. There are absolutely no surprises here, and that simple fact will likely be enough to keep the model ahead of invading hordes, especially as Toyota fully expects half of 2012 Camry buyers to be former owners of the model. Given the number of Camrys still on the road right now, that nearly guarantees it will hold onto its crown as the best-selling car in the United States.”
For someone buying a midsize car for purposes of solid, reliable, durable transportation, “no surprises” is a good thing.
But in my time with the 2012 Camry SE, I’ve found the car to be surprising in that it is good to get a sense of what it is that makes the car one that people continue to want to own, even despite (1) the whole (non-existent) acceleration problem and consequent hysteria that Toyotas were alleged to vexed by and (2) the previous on-going ho-hum attitude expressed about the car by the motoring press (i.e., the Camry was the poster child for the term “appliance,” but if having a car that runs day in, day out is to have bought into an “appliance,” then I’m all for more appliances. Anyone who is interested in having something more “spirited” in their garage as a daily driver ought to spend some time in their local repair shop waiting for the other shoe to drop when the invoice is being calculated, only after having figured out how to get the kids to school and back because the car that “cuts though the curves like a hot knife through foie gras” isn’t cutting through Wonder Bread for the kids’ lunch on a real regular basis).
The SE is the sporty version of the Camry. Again, let’s keep in context what we’re talking about here, and recognize that this is not the NASCAR Camry. Still, it is available a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque (the base engine for the car is a 178-hp 2.5-liter four), as well as a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters for those inclined to feel “sporty” as they make that mad dash to Costco.
What is worth noting about the car—and let’s face it, it is in the category that one could call “family car,” assuming that not all families have abandoned sedans for crossovers—is that it has received a five-star composite rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and that it has 10 standard airbags, and the Toyota Star Safety System, which includes vehicle stability control), traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, and, for those who are concerned about the aforementioned non-existent ghost-in-the machine acceleration problem, the Smart Stop Technology brake-override system.
While the exterior sheet metal isn’t radically different from the sixth-generation model, inside, there is a marked improvement in the overall environment, not the least of which is that it has a feeling of greater spaciousness, thanks to the fact that the designers reshaped things like seatbacks and trim pieces, relocated things like the pedals, so that there is a bit more room in a car that is pretty much dimensionally the same size as the one it replaces. The SE has something called SofTex seating material; it is leather-like without being pleather-like.
The instrument panel has an interesting tiered-design (Toyota refers to it as “three-dimensional,” but let’s face it, all IPs not in pictures are 3D), and there is soft-touch plastic throughout.
The SE has a standard audio system with a 6.1-inch screen in the IP that allows various functions, from seeing the overall performance of the car to tuning the radio and so on. Toyota had been behind in this whole infotainment space. They’ve pretty much gotten back in the game.
Back in the day, when Toyota would introduce a new model to the press part of the presentation was on the quietness of the interior (e.g., there would be a video of someone holding a dB meter in a car and the needle would barely budge when the engine was started), and while I haven’t seen one of those for quite some time, the 2012 Camry is certainly quiet.
Previously I mentioned that many people are looking for a solid car, and there is certainly structural solidity to the vehicle, as the engineers went at it with lots of high strength steels for the structure (440 Mpa and 590 Mpa for those counting).
I drove it to work. I drove it to the store. I drove it here and there. I didn’t drive it on the racetrack. I didn’t drive it to “find its limits.” I drove the 2012 Camry SE as probably most people who own cars like this do on a daily basis. And I didn’t find it lacking. Quite the opposite.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 with dual VVT-i
Material: Aluminum alloy block and heads
Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Length: 189.2 in.
Width: 71.7 in.
Height: 57.9 in.
Base curb weight: 3,420 lb.
EPA: 21/30 mpg city/hwy