You Kids Get Off My Lawn! - 2012 Toyota Camry Long-Term Road Test

2012 Toyota Camry Long Term Road Test

2012 Toyota Camry: You Kids Get Off My Lawn!

May 24, 2012

2012 Toyota Camry 

So there I am driving down the street in this perfectly nice 2012 Toyota Camry SE, the latest expression of the Toyota's most influential automobile. It's been reinvented and everyone loves it.

Except me. No matter how much I drive this car, it still rubs me the wrong way.

Not that anyone should care, really. I feel like just another cranky old guy standing on his porch, waving his cane at the sky as if to warn off invisible alien invaders, and yelling, "Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!"

2012 Toyota Camry 

As soon as you roll down the road a couple hundred feet, you can feel that the Camry is screwed together a little tighter than before. And that's really the whole message of the car. It's meant to have a little stronger personality in the way it looks and the way it drives. It's meant to be a little more like the other cars in its class, like the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima.

Only I think this is totally the wrong thing to do.

First of all, the Camry's former persona as a silent (even impassive), trouble-free apotheosis of pure transportation has been a good one, even though it might not make your heart beat faster. The Camry has been the perfectly average automobile, only in a good way. It's the automotive idea refined to a kind of perfection.

To abandon such a unique position in the marketplace to become more like other cars seems like a bad idea, and I suspect that it has more to do with whining from automotive journalists than any genuine change in the priorities of the average American driver.

What's worse, the Camry isn't particularly good at being like other cars. In terms of style, it's a total wallflower compared to the Hyundai Sonata and doesn't even set itself apart in a class full of wallflowers like the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat. The interior is just as uninspired, combining some nice materials with tawdry bits of shiny plastic in an overall design that has so little cohesion that other car designers look away in embarrassment. Really this interior treatment is no better than the awful plastic sheath of the last Camry.

The new Camry goes down the road all right, and it can even be coaxed into producing some useful performance numbers, both mph and mpg. But it does so without the same standard of quiet and refinement delivered by the last Camry. It's like they didn't even try.

The transmission hunts and surges as gear ratios and lock-up clutches are engaged in the quest for optimum mpg, and the clumsy results are particularly noticeable in commute traffic. (We've seen the same in the BMW 5 Series and Chevy Cruze.) When you put your foot to the floor, the transmission thinks way too long and then has to downshift two gears to get where you need to go (so unlike the quick, intuitive Mazda CX-5 crossover). And when the transmission finally makes a decision, the engine makes the same kind of sounds that you hear from someone whipping some batter down at the Waffle House. Plus the electric-assist steering has just enough stiction that you find the car effectively wandering from side to side in your lane on the freeway as if you were driving a Ford LTD from the 1970s.

Really, the 2012 Toyota Camry isn't a bad car. In fact, there are plenty of people around here who think it's a great car and even the best in its class, as you can read in this Inside Line comparison test.

But to me this car seems like the fourth-place finisher in a Camry lookalike contest. It offers more style, but not more quality. It makes better numbers, but doesn't actually drive better. Whatever this car is trying to do, I think everyone else is doing it better.

Then again, what do you expect from some old guy trying to chase the kids off of his lawn.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 9,001 miles

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