Toyota has redesigned its best-selling Camry midsize sedan for 2012, giving it a new exterior, upgraded interior materials, increased passenger space, more-responsive handling, better fuel efficiency, and a quieter ride.
Representing the seventh generation of the Camry, this one also gets Toyota's new Entune multimedia system, and both USB and Bluetooth connections are standard.
The interior is impressively roomy, thanks to some shifting and reworking of space. For example, the front seat rails and the accelerator pedal have been move slightly forward.
Also, the backs of the front seats have been slightly scooped to add 1.8 inches of legroom to the rear, bringing the total to 38.9 inches. The rear seatbacks also fold 60/40 to expand the trunk, which has 15.4 cubic feet of its own space, although the pass-through is narrower than the main cargo area, not allowing for long, wide objects.
Slimmer front windshield pillar trim offers better forward visibility. The middle rear seat is actually comfortable enough for an extended ride, and the upgraded materials, with soft-touch surfaces and faux-suede seat inserts, create a feel of comfort and quality. But I was a little concerned that the textured, perforated fabric might attract and hold debris, especially if children are riding in the vehicle.
For 2012, Camry prices start at $22,055, with various packages available for each of six trim levels. My tester was a Camry (from a Japanese word for "crown") SE V-6 sedan, with a base price a few hundred dollars less than the comparable 2011 model.
It came with a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter engine, connected to a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, which is designed to respond to each particular operator's driving style. It has paddle shifters on the steering wheel for those who want to decide when it should shift.
The V-6 had plenty of punch for my everyday commute - probably more than I need. I'd be happy with the more-fuel-efficient base four-cylinder engine. Acceleration was smooth, and handling in turns and curves was confident and effortless with sport-tuned electric power steering and suspension.
Inside, the ride was very quiet, thanks in part to an acoustic windshield and application of sound-deadening material throughout the
I didn't clock it myself, but I understand that the SE V-6 will reach 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, and that the braking distance back to zero is 173 feet. I will take Toyota's word for that.
Included on the Camry is Toyota's Star Safety System, which includes electronic stability control with traction control, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, and Smart Stop, which overrides the accelerator when the brakes are applied - even if the accelerator pedal is fully depressed.
The V-6 is EPA rated at 21 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway, and the car has a 17-gallon tank; unleaded regular is acceptable. According to the dash driver-information system, I achieved a little more than 27 mpg, mostly on the not-so-open highway between home and work.
The Camry also has more air bags this year - 10 in all with the addition of driver and front-passenger knee bags, along with front and rear seat-mounted side air bags. Roof-mounted side-curtain (head protection) air bags were already standard. The front seats have whiplash injury-reducing headrests.
Of course, the Camry isn't a sports car, but the mesh grille, integrated front and rear underbody spoilers and rear spoiler, and chrome-tipped dual exhaust outlets, along with the 18-inch painted-alloy wheels with five sculpted spokes give it a sporty edge.
SE models come with navigation, but my tester was upgraded with a Audio/Nav package, which included 10 JBL GreenEdge speakers, which take up less space and consume less energy, while producing higher volumes and more authentic sound, in eight locations. It also had advanced voice recognition, text-to-speech with programmed and customizable text responses, the Entune system (with Bing, Pandora, iHeartRadio, OpenTable, MovieTickets.com, user-customizable real-time traffic/weather, fuel prices, sports scores and stocks), AM/FM/CD with MP3/WMA capability, satellite radio, HD radio with iTunes tagging, hands-free capability, phonebook access and music streaming via Bluetooth.
A Convenience Package included a backup camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and universal garage door opener, and an antitheft system with alarm.
The leather/faux-suede sport seats were included in a package that also heated the front seats, trimmed the front doors and powered the front passenger seat. Additional options included power tilt/slide moon roof and carpeted floor mats.
Emma Jayne Williams' auto reviews appear in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She can be reached at email@example.com.