2012 Toyota Camry: There's a Reason
October 9, 2012
There really is no accounting for popular taste. How else does one explain Maroon 5? Or Crocs? Or Gangnam Style? Sometimes a lot of people simply like bad things. Conversely, sometimes a lot of people know a good thing when they see it. Porsche 911s. Bob Marley. Beer.
So how does one explain the Toyota Camry? More than 300,000 people bought the car last year. It's the midsize sedan gorilla, even with formidable foes like the Altima, Accord and Sonata. Here's how I explain it:
The Camry does just about everything right.
Our SE, for example. You walk up to it, grab the door handle, and it unlocks. I'm a simple knuckle-dragger, so things like remote access and push-button start delight me. But then you sit down and realize you have a lot of space. A big center console and all the requisite gadget connections you expect in 2012. Power front seats.
A big rear seat area, even a suede/leather upholstery package. That package is looking a little shabbier these days as we approach 15,000 miles. Our kids spill cracker crumbs and vanilla cream (at least I think that's what it is) and our dogs climb around back there finding a comfortable spot. The door panel and console plastic is getting scuffed. Readers regular chide us for being hard on our cars, but remember that for every year you put on your family sedan, we probably put on three.
The four-cylinder's good. Nothing to rave about, but nothing to disparage. It jumps off the line quick enough and gets a little raspy when wide open. The V6 is the call for those who want more motor, but many won't want or need it.
What's more about the Camry, it feels like it wants to be used. It's not precious. Toyota dressed it up a bit for the redesign; Hyundai forced everyone to step up their interior game. But otherwise, you don't feel bad using the Camry. Door panels get kicked, armrests get scratched on the point edge of a flat-screen TV box. The Camry feels comfortable. You take care of it, sure. But you don't obsess.
We may all know people whose homes just feel welcoming. The furniture's a little banged up. Maybe the oak table suffered a few pumpkin carving mishaps over the years. But the kids are happy and there's room to play tag without knocking over a vase from the Ming Dynasty. Life happens there. It's not a place whose owners treat it like a hotel lobby, a place you're afraid to set down even a cocktail napkin.
Enthusiasts will always trot out the Camry as emblematic of defeat. Suburban dad, ground into submission. The car that says you no longer seek thrills behind the wheel, you no longer wish to connect with a machine. The Camry says you didn't want to think too hard, and would you please just leave me alone so I can watch network TV."
I'm not buying it. I mean, I'm literally not buying a Camry (I'm soft-pedaling around a minivan purchase, so I've got my own problems). But I wouldn't blame anyone who does and I'm not buying the enthusiast argument. The Camry's a great car. The new Ford Fusion may give it a serious run for the money. It's equally adept at everything, but offers an even sexier interior and an optional buttercream turbo 2.0-liter under the hood.
As for the Camry, I'm probably telling you nothing you didn't already know. Go ahead: tell me why it sucks.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor