As we reported earlier in the week in our first drive of the 2012 Camry, Toyota is serious about earning its reputation for dependability and safety back in the redesigned version of this best-selling sedan.
And it has room for improvement with respect to safety. Aside from the blemishes it has to deal with surrounding its accelerator-related recalls, the current-generation 2011 Toyota Camry earns just three-star results for frontal impact and four stars in side impact (after a retest, improving from three stars). And its seat-based rear-impact scores are only 'marginal' from the IIHS. In a class of safety high achievers, that's not so impressive.
Top safety expectations
Toyota has both top five-star and Top Safety Pick results in its sights this time for the 2012 Camry. And while we can't say yet whether that will really be the case, we can say that this all-new Camry ups the ante for safety equipment in an affordable mid-size sedan.
At launch, each 2012 Toyota Camry—even the new base-level L model—will come with a total of ten airbags, including new front passenger knee bags (in addition to driver knee bags), plus new rear outboard seat-mounted torso-protecting airbags.
Those standard rear side bags are a first in the Camry's class.
Kid-friendly rear side airbags for all
Yet a number of vehicles from Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have for years offered side-torso airbags as an extra-cost option, because they might not be compatible with all child-seat designs. But according to chief engineer Yukihiro Okane, child seats are no longer a concern with the rear bags in the 2012 Camry; they're of a new profile and design that's fully compatible with child seats—not requiring any deactivation through child locks, as with some past optional designs.
The 2012 Camry's structure has been significantly bolstered versus the 2011 model in several key areas. Frontal impact should be improved with strengthened floor members and reinforced pillars and door innards. That also aids side impact performance, which has been boosted especially for rear occupants with overlapping box-and-gusset structures. Also, roof strength has been improved thanks to more high-strength steel, with officials also expecting a top 'good' rating in that IIHS test.
Other standard safety gear on the 2012 Camry includes electronic stability control, and the four-wheel disc brakes include Brake Assist to help provide peak braking during panic stops.
Smarter acceleration and braking
And to address the accelerator issue—still a sticky point to some—the 2012 Camry comes with a so-called Smart Stop system. Largely the result of last year's accelerator-related recall investigations, it reduces engine power when both the brake and accelerator are pressed at the same time, yet it still allows you to use both feet when starting on a steep hill.
Also, as an option, the Camry is for the first time offering an available Blind Spot Monitor; like the system that's been offered in a number of luxury models, plus the Prius, it uses radar to single out objects larger than a 125-cc motorcycle, with a speed within 18 mph of your speed (above 25 mph), and warns you with a light in the side mirror.
Will the 2012 Camry help mend Toyota's safety reputation? Especially if the automaker can achieve top ratings on U.S. crash tests, it just might.