2012 Toyota Camry XLE
If you've read up on the details of the all-new 2012 Toyota Camry, including our First Drive observations, you might be left wondering: Why did Toyota decide to stick with a V-6, when rivals like the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and upcoming 2013 Chevrolet Malibu are moving to lineups that have in-line fours exclusively?
According to Toyota group vice president and general manager Bob Carter, the SE V-6 model has demographics that Toyota simply didn't want to give up—it's a wealthier male buyer, typically in his late 40s or 50s, who wouldn't otherwise consider an Avalon or a Lexus ES.
Meanwhile, the Sonata and Optima are offered with turbocharged four-cylinder engines that provide gas mileage close to that of their base fours with the performance of a V-6; on the other hand, the 2012 Camry V-6 gets a 21/30 rating.
The automaker is expecting that the number of buyers opting for the V-6 will continue to shrink, but it's too important of a market segment to abandon—at least in this new seventh-generation Camry. And as company officials hinted, Hyundai and Kia hasn't been in the market as long and earned a following from that more affluent demographic set; but it might be a market niche that Honda will also have more trouble leaving with its Accord.
Due to ever-tightening gas-mileage requirements, automakers will face increased pressure to install smaller, more economical engines in their top-selling mid-size sedans. There's a significant difference in Combined mileage, for example between the Camry Hybrid's 41 mpg, the base Camry's 28 mpg, and the V-6's 24 mpg.
The V-6 Camry lineup has narrowed somewhat; V-6 models are now offered only in sporty SE and luxurious XLE trims. Toyota is expecting to sell more Hybrid models than V-6 models this time, with the Hybrid to make up 50,000 or more of the model's 360,000 overall sales.
Toyota is being conservative with features and options, and hopes to better-tune demand in this generation (along with reducing build cost). In all, the automaker says last year's model could be had in nearly 1,200 build combinations, but it's reduced that to just 36 possible build combinations for 2012.