It's been a banner couple of years in the midsize sedan market. Brands from South Korea have upped the ante considerably by introducing redesigned models that have been more rethought than refreshed, and all in an effort to dethrone the Toyota Camry, which dominates sales in the category.
In response the 2012 Toyota Camry has been redesigned, but while it can be considered to have been improved, this car is not a giant leap forward. The all-new model has addressed some of our past complaints, particularly in regard to interior refinement, features and quality. But in terms of overall styling and that elusive "joy-to-drive" feeling, it has barely moved the needle. That's not to say the Camry falls flat, though, as it's a perfectly admirable choice for the average shopper. The past formula worked, and the new model simply adds to the sum total.
It's only when you consider mounting competition from the Hyundai Sonata and related Kia Optima does the Camry's lack of style, personality and appeal become apparent. And competition in this category looks to grow even stronger when the redesigned Ford Fusion and Honda Accord debut later this year. In comparison, the 2012 Toyota Camry SE (which is the sportier model) banks on the core principles that have served the Camry so well in the past. It is an unassuming sedan that is comfortable, convenient, reliable and uncomplicated. It never dips below adequate and in some ways approaches excellence.
This 2012 Toyota Camry SE is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 178 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. A V6 with a more robust output of 268 hp is available as an option, though the vast majority of buyers typically select the four-cylinder. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission that features manual shift paddles on the steering wheel. The EPA estimates fuel consumption at 25 city/35 highway mpg and 28 mpg combined. In our extended test, we averaged 22.5 mpg in mostly city driving, with the best tank returning 27 mpg.
In Edmunds instrumented testing, the Camry SE accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, which is about average among its four-cylinder sedan rivals. Coming to a complete stop from that speed required 123 feet, which is also an average distance, though our test driver noted that the rear end had a tendency to drift to the right under maximum braking.
While acceleration and braking numbers were merely par for the course, we were surprised by how well the Camry fared in terms of handling. As a test driver commented, "This is a Camry? Seriously, it's not bad at all." He went on to note that the sport-tuned SE suspension possessed good damping and kept body roll to a minimum. The car's only weakness could be found in its low-rolling-resistance tires, which didn't offer much grip in their quest for maximum mpg. Still, we were surprised and impressed with the Camry SE's cornering ability.
A sport sedan the Camry is not, however, and in the end, the SE's sport-tuned suspension yielded only the slightest of performance advantages over a midrange Camry LE we tested. The steering lacks some communication, although it's precise and predictable. Besides the added features and cosmetic flourishes, the SE trim level essentially gives you a bit more confidence in the curves, but it doesn't transform the car's basic nature.
As the sporty trim level in the Camry lineup, the SE's unique suspension tuning does not compromise ride quality by adding unnecessary harshness, as some of the Toyota's rivals do. Imperfections in the road are smoothed over, yet the body is controlled sufficiently so the car doesn't feel disconnected from the road. Likewise, road and wind noise are abated, providing a fairly quiet cabin.
The SE's seats also provide a decent level of comfort, with enough space laterally and lengthwise for larger drivers. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel further widens this comfort range. Rear seats (middle position excepted) have enough space for the average adult without feeling confined. Overall support is acceptable for a family sedan, while the SE's faux-suede seat panels help to keep passengers in position.
Once seated in the 2012 Toyota Camry, the driver is afforded a mostly unobstructed view all around. The roof pillars are kept narrow enough for a clear view of the road ahead, while the dash and window sills are low enough to foster good sight lines and deliver a feeling of interior spaciousness.
The controls are well placed and clearly labeled, and even the more advanced features are intuitive. Equipped with navigation and Toyota's Entune infotainment system, our Camry SE test vehicle represents a fully loaded model, save for a stereo upgrade and V6 engine. Complete smartphone integration requires downloading the free Entune app, and pairing to the car is as simple as any other system.
Once set up, occupants can take advantage of streaming Internet radio via Pandora, as well as Bing search functions, real-time traffic, sports and stock information, and the ability to make restaurant reservations. These functions can only be accessed when the car is stationary, however, even if a passenger is present to operate the controls. The voice recognition system acts as a substitute, but we found it mostly inaccurate and sometimes frustrating.
We never found ourselves wanting for more in the way of internal storage, though. Numerous bins capably held all of our personal effects, as did the cupholders and water bottle door pockets. The trunk holds up to 15.4 cubic feet of cargo, which is right in line with other midsize sedans, and further benefits from hinges that don't impinge on that space. The rear seats fold down (though not flat) for transporting longer items.
Design/Fit and Finish
From the outside, the 2012 Toyota Camry is hardly a departure from the previous-generation car. The addition of sporty-looking 17-inch wheels, front and rear fascia, rocker-sill extensions and a rear spoiler add a dash of visual interest to the SE, but on the whole, the Camry gives the impression that the designers took the safe route rather than create a stir.
The Camry's interior represents a much bigger shift between generations. Any point at which you contact the interior is lightly padded, and the surrounding harder plastics are convincingly grained to match. There are a few gaps here or there that might bother the more obsessive out there, but the Camry's overall fit and finish is quite good, considering the mainstream market in which it competes.
Who should consider this vehicle
With the complete redesign, the 2012 Toyota Camry SE is worthy of competing with the best of the midsize family sedan segment. It doesn't lead the class in any respect, but neither does it lack for the fundamentals, notably the stress-free driving experience. What the new car lacks in excitement, it makes up for with the Camry's customary feature-rich content and sterling reputation for reliability. If these attributes appeal to you and you're looking for a comfortable sedan that doesn't need to make a statement, this and any other Camry will serve you well.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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