2012 Toyota Camry: First Drive Page 2

August 23, 2011

The improvement you'll notice in person—especially compared to the more cockpit-like layouts among mid-size sedans, like the Kia Optima, is how airy the Camry feels 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.

Toyota emphasizes that early 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. The only things that carry over are powertrain-related. 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.

Ride quality perhaps best in class

From behind the wheel, we can't say that the Camry driving experience has changed all that much, but the new 2012 model does respond a little more crisply and have a more refined feel overall. Toyota aimed to preserve the Camry's very absorbent, isolated ride while improving handling—especially straight-line stability and steering response. Toyota has redone the suspension geometry in back for better stability and agility—especially resulting in less lift/dive during hard braking—and the combination of inversely wound coil springs in front plus a new electric power steering system are said to improve steering feel and response.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the 2012 Camry, like the 2011 model, still doesn't feel like a performance car in the way it handles. Push the Camry hard into a corner and, yep, 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. In general, we liked the base model's lighter front end and more balanced feel. And if you want to maximize the improvements, sporty SE models get stuffer springs, rebound springs, solid stabilizer bars, and exclusive steering knuckles and lower arms.

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.

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