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How Affordable Is the 2012 Toyota Camry?

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Toyota showed off its 2012 Camry to a discerning public yesterday. The new version of America’s top-selling sedan goes on sale in October, with the Toyota Camry Hybrid following in December.

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Although Camry shoppers will see numerous improvements — slightly better ride and handling, a more luxurious interior and improved fuel economy — there’s the unfortunate reality that the Camry’s  introductory price has inflated to $21,995 excluding $760 for destination. That’s $1,800 more than the 2011 Camry.

But the price increase doesn’t tell the whole story. The new Camry packs a lot more value and is more competitively priced than its predecessor.

Below, we compare the Camry’s value to its three closest competitors in terms of sales — the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord — and we’ll throw in the up-and-coming Hyundai Sonata for good measure.

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The base Camry L trim comes with air conditioning, cruise control, power accessories, Bluetooth, iPod-compatible stereo and an automatic transmission standard. All Camrys get 10 airbags standard – that beats everyone in this comparison. Here are the prices of the similarly equipped competition: Altima, $20,270; Sonata, $20,695; Fusion, $20,745; and Accord, $22,180. It’s important to note that the Altima and Fusion can’t be equipped with Bluetooth or a USB port but have other standard features, such as push-button start (Altima) and alloy wheels (Fusion), that balance out the value equation.

The 178-horsepower four-cylinder in the 2012 Camry achieves 25/35 mpg city/highway, better than all the competitors here. The Sonata is the closest at 24/35 mpg.

Toyota acknowledges that not many car shoppers are going to buy the L trim, which is built mainly for commercial fleets, not consumers.

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For 2012, Toyota has pushed the 268-hp V-6 further out of reach for the average consumer. The high-powered V-6 is available only on the SE and XLE trims, and you must opt for even more feature content for the powertrains. The SE V-6 starts at $26,640, which is $1,275 more than the most affordable 2011 V-6 Camry LE. The model ekes out slightly better fuel economy at 21/30 mpg, but it’s more fuel efficient than V-6 equipped versions of the Fusion (18/27 mpg), Accord (20/30 mpg) and Altima (20/27 mpg). The Sonata’s turbocharged four-cylinder is more fuel efficient at 22/33 mpg and packs more power. Comparable high-powered competition starts with the Sonata at $24,645, Altima at $25,430, Fusion at $26,910 and Accord at  $27,280.

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Even at that price, the fully loaded Camry Hybrid XLE  — which includes features like an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, auto-dimming mirror, rear air vents, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and a 6.1-inch touch-screen – is less expensive at $27,400.

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Where the Camry really shines is its LE trim, which offers novel features such as a touch-screen and audio streaming at a price in between the competition’s base and midlevel trims. If you’re looking for an affordable hybrid sedan, the Camry Hybrid is impossible to beat once you account for annual fuel costs.

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