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Behind the wheel: Redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry

Consumer Reports News: August 26, 2011 09:23 AM

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Let’s be honest: Boring sells. Since 1983, Toyota has sold around 15 million Camrys worldwide. The Camry has often been among the most competitive sedans in Consumer Reports' tests, but none of my colleagues will put it on their top-40 most fun cars to drive. Ever.

So the Camry is popular but is it loved? Can Toyota make a fairly dull car enjoyable? Does the company even care about driving enjoyment? Note that there are still no replacements for the Celica, MR2, or Supra.

The 2012 Camry was just introduced, and among the usual remarks about the car being more fuel efficient, less expensive, and filled with safety equipment, the company said another goal was to give it an “engaging driving experience.”

Well, the only way to go here, really, is up.

2012-Toyota-Camry-driving-r.jpgThe new Camry will again be offered in four-cylinder, V6, and hybrid models, with prices ranging from $21,955 for the base L up to $29,800 for the XLE V6. The rest of the line includes the mid-level LE, premium XLE, and “sporty” SE grades. The Hybrid is offered in LE and XLE trim lines, and it is priced from $25,900 to $27,400, respectively.

The four-cylinder engine gains nine horsepower (now making 178) and returns an EPA-estimated 25 mpg city, 35 highway. The V6 version has the same 268 horsepower as before, and it gets an estimated 21 mpg city, 30 highway. Both engines hook up to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Hybrid versions use the new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a small electric motor, producing a combined 200 horsepower. The EPA estimates 43 mpg city, 39 highway. Toyota also says the fuel sipper is 200 pounds lighter.

All 2012 Camrys come standard with 10 air bags and ABS. Of course, stability control and electronic tire pressure monitoring are also included.

My initial impression after driving a number of versions is that the company took great care upgrading the interiors. Granted, the ones I drove were preproduction models, but the fit and finish looked decidedly upscale--almost, um, Hyundai-like. The front cowl is very low and visibility seems excellent. The seats were comfortable, a bit more generous with thigh support (a criticism we’ve had in previous models) and fully adjustable.

The ride was very quiet and comfortable, and the steering didn’t feel as lifeless as models past.

We’ll do a full evaluation of the new Camry as soon as they go on sale and we can put some miles on them. The on-sale date is scheduled for October.

Overall, the new Camry will very likely hit its mark of pleasing mainstream America. With a new larger, less-expensive Volkswagen Passat about to join the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, and Honda Accord in the market, the Camry needs to make a sales splash. Moreover, Toyota better be constantly looking over its shoulder at Hyundai—which is fast becoming the company to beat for producing edgy, interesting, and fun-to-drive cars.

Preview and pricing: 2012 Toyota Camry

Mike Quincy

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