2012 Toyota Camry Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
March 13, 2012

The redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry remains the most conservative-looking pick among mid-size sedans, but if you want comfort, value, and frugality above all else, it's probably just your style.

Toyota has given its lineup of best-selling Camry sedans a full redesign for 2012, but at first look you might not even know it. Nearly everything—every piece of sheetmetal, every element of the Camry's underbody structure, the suspension, and all the interior components—is different in the 2012, with only some engines and transmissions carried over. Instead of trying to make the new car radically different, Toyota essentially took a look at the existing car and asked how it could redesign nearly every component to make a better end result for core values like comfort and safety.

The Camry's new design (yes again, it's really new) definitely skews toward pragmatism at every possible opportunity. Corners are a little boxier this time, for aerodynamic reasons; front A-pillars are narrower (yet stronger) for better visibility; and the roofline has been tucked up and back just a tad for rear headroom.

Besides, the Camry has never been one for sex appeal. It's been such a strong seller for its combination of soft ride and roomy interior appointments, and for its strong value for the money, reliability, resale value, and other very sensible factors.

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In most of those respects, the 2012 Toyota Camry is even better. Overall, the Camry rides and drives in a more refined, responsive way, and the package and features have been much improved. Thanks to some very significant weight savings, the base four-cylinder Camry performs better than ever, while the V-6 fills a niche for those wanting a particularly strong, refined (yet still budget-priced) sedan.

Toyota has refocused the Hybrid model, making it a more significant part of the model lineup and offering it in both LE and XLE trims. It's both better-performing and more frugal this year, gaining many of the improvements to the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and Hybrid Synergy Drive that the Prius got last year. Just like the previous-generation Camry, the Hybrid version feels about as quick as the base four—possibly a little more so when you tap into full electric-motor boost. And the mileage improvement is phenomenal: 43 mpg city, 39 highway for the LE.

With 10 standard airbags, Toyota has reclaimed top safety ratings with the 2012 Camry. It also has made Bluetooth hands-free connectivity a standard feature; sound systems have been upgraded; and the Entune system allows easy access to integrated apps—for Pandora music streaming, for instance. 

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2012 Toyota Camry

Styling

The 2012 Toyota Camry looks crisper, neater, and a little more upscale than the previous version, but it's as ubiquitous as ever.

The Camry has been completely redesigned for 2012, but it can be so subtle from some exterior angles that you might not even notice. Admittedly, there's nothing radical here: The dimensions are almost exactly the same; the doorcuts are slightly different; and the roofline and greenhouse has been subtly tweaked. Overall, the new Camry is not a thing of beauty; all the changes in styling and shape seem geared more for interior space and aerodynamics than for shape or stance.

And to confirm the new Camry's evolutionary direction, Toyota calls the design theme "Rational Tech-Dynamism," which "aims for a rational and advanced style with sporty exterior and a modern, luxurious interior."

Essentially, the result is a Camry that from most angles looks a little boxier and more angular, and reminds us a bit more of the 1996-2001-era Camry. Toyota claims that the sharpness of the Camry's corners—they call it 'aero corners'—helps improve aerodynamics. And in back, it helps increase trunk space.

There are a few key appearance differences within the Camry lineup, too. For instance, sporty SE models get a split, winged air dam that we saw at times as Subaru-influenced; but XLE and hybrid trims come with a more wide-open (but louvered) air dam (with XLEs getting a little extra chrome in the upper grille). Toyota also placed more consideration on the lower area's design to aid pedestrian safety, improve aerodynamics, and yield better cooling.

Thankfully, Toyota has replaced the former interior that we saw as a 'Corolla-plus' layout with one that looks part influenced by Lexus sedans, accented with some of the dash details from Toyota's newest SUVs, like the new 4Runner. Like most new models, the Camry gets a multi-layered dash appearance; Toyota says that the layered, stitched-leather look of the instrument panel was modeled after saddles, while the center gauge cluster and audio and climate controls were inspired by media players like the iPod. And we like the chunky, multi-function controllers on either side of the steering wheel, positioned right where your thumbs can be.

While some might think the styling a snooze, we ended up really liking it for two main reasons: Firstly, it goes against the grain with respect to more organic designs like the Hyundai Sonata and the (albeit more conservative) Volkswagen Passat. And secondly it doesn't sacrifice function for form, especially with respect to rear headroom. 

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2012 Toyota Camry

Performance

The 2012 Toyota Camry accelerates responsively and handles well enough, but most of the lineup won't delight driving enthusiasts.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the 2012 Camry, like the 2011 model, still doesn't feel much like a performance car. Push the Camry hard into a corner and there's still a fair amount of body lean, as well as lots of roll; what has changed is that it deals with recoveries and transitions a bit better; combined with a reconfigured electric power steering system the net effect is that it's a bit more nimble—particularly in four-cylinder form.

Just like the previous Camry—and still like most mid-size sedans today—the new 2012 Camry can be had with either four-cylinder or V-6 engines. The 178-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that was introduced for model-year 2010 remains the base engine in the Camry, and it's uncharacteristically smooth in the way it starts and idles; though you can hear a hint of coarseness if you push it hard, this engine provides plenty of power for most needs. The 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 is still available and gives the Camry a completely different, luxury-car personality. In either case, the six-speed automatic transmission shifts unobtrusively and doesn't balk to downshift.

In general, we like the base model's lighter front end and more balanced feel. And if you want a little more sportiness—and to maximize all the Camry's improvements—sporty SE models get stuffer springs, rebound springs, solid stabilizer bars, and exclusive steering knuckles and lower arms, and we found that altogether these changes make the Camry feel a little more responsive without riding all that harsher on most surfaces. In the SE, you also get steering-wheel paddle-shifters and downshift rev-matching.

Toyota has refocused the Hybrid model, making it a more significant part of the model lineup and offering it in both LE and XLE trims. It's both better-performing and more frugal this year, gaining many of the improvements to the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and Hybrid Synergy Drive that the Prius got last year. Hybrid models get an Atkinson-cycle version of the four, making 156 hp and 156 lb-ft, and altogether the powertrain makes 200 horsepower. Just like the previous-generation Camry, the Hybrid version feels about as quick as the base four—possibly al little more so when you tap into full electric-motor boost. And the mileage improvement is phenomenal: 43 mpg city, 39 highway for the LE, or 41/38 for the XLE (because of different tires and more component weight). 

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2012 Toyota Camry

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Camry is quiet, spacious, and comfortable—especially if you get the SE's upgraded seats.

The Toyota Camry has long had one of the most comfortable rides among mid-size sedans. That hasn't changed, but Toyota has worked hard to maximize interior space and to give this model a somewhat more upscale feel. Especially compared to the more cockpit-like layouts among mid-size sedans, like the Kia Optima, the Camry feels downright airy from the front seats. Toyota redesigned everything to increase interior space and the perception of roominess; roof pillars are reshaped in a way that will appear thinner from the inside and door-trim panels have been reshaped for more front kneeroom.

Front seats have also been redesigned to get more rear knee and legroom, and the back of the center console was reshaped. In back, there's enough space even for taller adults, though three might still be tight for shoulder space sitting back there. We aren't at all enthused about the spongy, flat seats in the most affordable Camry models, as they seemed to lack side support; the perches that come with the SE are a huge improvement—more snug, firm, and supportive in corners.

Cabin noise has also been better hushed in the 2012 Camry. Toyota has cut a total of about 150 pounds in the Camry's structure, mostly by migrating to high-strength steel and other advanced materials; but at the same time, they've increased sound insulation, and even added things like sandwiched metal layers at the firewall.

Materials and trims aren't any revelation, but they no longer look and feel the chintziest in this class of mid-size sedans. If anything, they're a little more traditional-looking and conservative, with a look borrowed from recently redone truck models like the 4Runner and Land Cruiser.

The trunk in Camrys is very roomy, though families heading home from IKEA will likely be let down when it comes time to haul a long piece of furniture or assembly kit home; the rear seatbacks don't fold all the way flat, and the opening back there allows a narrow angle all the way through. But positively, Camry Hybrid models no longer sacrifice rear seating comfort or trunk space. The entire battery assembly is considerably smaller, and 150 pounds lighter, and it's been moved forward about 5.5 inches, which increases trunk space significantly, from 10.6 cubic feet to 13.1. 

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2012 Toyota Camry

Safety

With the most airbags in its class and a reengineered structure, the 2012 Toyota Camry should provide excellent protection.

In a class of safety high-achievers, the last-generation Toyota Camry was mid-pack or worse with respect to the two U.S. organizations that crash-test vehicles (it had received one 'marginal' rating from the IIHS and a combination of three- and four-star ratings from the federal government).

Safety ratings for the 2012 Camry have arrived, and Toyota's turned the tide. It's upgraded and bolstered the safety of the 2012 Camry, achieving both the IIHS' Top Safety Pick award and a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA.

Structurally, Toyota has redone many of the components underneath, with the aim of increasing rigidity and safety. It's quite a feat that in the process, Toyota has cut a total of up to 220 pounds in the Camry—including about 150 pounds even in the base four-cylinder models.

And Toyota clearly hasn't wasted any opportunities for safety bragging rights in the new Camry. It packs a class-leading ten standard airbags, including new front passenger knee bags and rear side airbags for outboard occupants. A blind-spot monitoring system will also be available, as will a rearview camera--but only on some models.

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2012 Toyota Camry

Features

Even base 2012 Toyota Camry models come well-stocked, while the feature list in upper trims like the XLE and SE would match that of some luxury cars.

Overall, the 2012 Toyota Camry has all the features you'd expect to find in an affordable mid-size sedan, along with a few added delights—like standard Bluetooth connectivity. As before, there are four different trim levels offered: value-priced CE, mainstream LE, sporty SE, and luxurious XLE. There's also a limited-availability, base L model that will probably be aimed at fleets.

For the first time, Camry Hybrid models come in more than a single trim: Hybrid shoppers have a choice of 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE models, which include dual-zone climate control, a Smart Key system, and Optitron meters, while the new Hybrid XLE comes with all the goodies that the V-6 XLE includes. SE models also also get sport seats, 17-inch (four-cylinder) or 18-inch (V-6) alloy wheels, a special three-spoke leather-trimmed steering wheel and, perhaps most importantly, a Sport mode with downshift rev-matching for the transmission, along with steering-wheel paddle shifters.

Each of the models get different upholstery and trim combinations; L and LE models come with Silver trim and fabric seats; SE models get silver-grain trim and synthetic leather; XLE models come with faux-woodgrain and leather, and Hybrids come with Metallic Tech grain and in XLE Hybrid (or available on the SE) a leather-trimmed ultrasuede.

Most 2012 Camrys will come with a new Display Audio system—adding a large display screen, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a iPod connectivity—but even the base audio system includes USB connectivity, an aux-input jack, and a CD player. A high-end JBL sound system, with HD Radio and satellite radio, is also available, as is a navigationi system and voice recognition.

Toyota says that the Bluetooth interface has been dramatically improved; however the combination of fringe cellphone reception at a remote first-drive location, combined with several pre-production bugs, kept us from putting it through the paces. Toyota's advanced Entune system is also available, bringing a suite of connected services, including access to Pandora streaming audio, for example. On both of these, we'll have to update you with later driving impressions. 

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2012 Toyota Camry

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid could almost be an honorary Prius, with its stunning 43 mpg in the city, while the four-cylinder model is near the top at 35 mpg highway.

Families are paying much closer attention to gas mileage numbers than they used to, and fortunately Toyota has eked out a few more mpg out of its mainstream four-cylinder and V-6 models. But that's only part of it; the automaker has completely reengineered the Camry Hybrid's powertrain, to achieve a class-leading 43 mpg city.

Throughout most of the Camry lineup, Toyota has increased the torque-converter lockup range for the automatic transmission to help keep revs down; that, combined with a tremendous weight savings of 150 pounds or more across the model line, has added at least 1 mpg to every model. Four-cylinder models are now up to 25/35 mpg, while mileage ratings for the Camry V-6 have increased 1 mpg, to 21/30.

The all-new 2012 Camry Hybrid gets excellent gas mileage, of up to 43 mpg city, 39 highway. That's better than the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which up until this point we'd grown to like better than the Camry Hybrid because of its better drivability, more responsive steering, and of course its better EPA rating in previous model years.

Just as in the Prius, Toyota has added EV Mode and Eco Mode to the Camry. Under some situations, given proper charge, the lack of steep hills, and light throttle application, the Camry Hybrid can go about a half-mile or more on electricity alone. In addition to the power-flow screens and the histograms for mileage in time increments, the Camry Hybrid gets a screen readout for real-time mileage and its own power-flow display. 

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November 29, 2015
2012 Toyota Camry 4-Door Sedan I4 Automatic SE (SE)

Good practical car.

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No problems with my Camry. I bought it new. The SE model has paddle shiftier and will not shift unless it go's into the red. So to keep from damaging the engine it will shift on its own.
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November 21, 2015
For 2012 Toyota Camry

Solid as expected - Toyota Camry - smooth ride, great gas mileage, highest % of U.S. parts for passenger cars

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Handling is great. Ride is great. Gas mileage is 35-40 mpg on 80/20 highway/city driving. Dealership provides service. All I do is add gas. Driven this for 4 years.
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May 22, 2015
2012 Toyota Camry 4-Door Sedan I4 Automatic LE (Natl)

Boring in a good way , I don't have to think about my Toyota

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Not exciting, I don't know the service or parts dept guys. by their first names. I have a Silverado this Camry and a XKR Jaguar. They all do their jobs well. I'm happy with all three. That being said I think I... + More »
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April 16, 2015
For 2012 Toyota Camry

My Toyota Camry.

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A very good and strong car, that's very reliable and has great gas mileage. It is very comfortable on long highway rides.
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April 13, 2015
For 2012 Toyota Camry

Great car for long distance , mpg 35 and better

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Purchased in 2012 SE model, drove from Alabama to all the western states, spent a month on the road, no problems, couple tanks of gas averages 38 MPG, only problem had was coming out of stores and seeing 2 or... + More »
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