Toyota's favorite claim to fame for the Camry is it's "America's best-selling car." I've always attributed its best-seller status to the fact that it's one of the most sensible sedans out there, but not necessarily the most exciting. After my weeklong test drive I was proven wrong. The 2012 Camry is much more than an appliance on wheels.
From the redesigned Camry's angular exterior to its sleekly styled interior, I was impressed with Toyota's attempt at making the ho-hum family sedan into something a bit sexier and fun to drive — two adjectives that are rarely used to describe Mom's set of wheels.
The 2012 Camry underwent only slight tweaks to its exterior, and I'm guessing few will notice them. Toyota must be adhering to the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" design philosophy.
I test-drove the top-of-the-line XLE trim with the sporty V-6 engine. The first time I climbed behind the wheel I found myself cackling as I accelerated onto the freeway, passing cars with ease. As someone who normally putts along in a Toyota Prius, I was shocked by how fun the Camry was to drive. Bumps along the road were hardly noticeable, and braking was as effortless as accelerating.
The base Camry L with a four-cylinder starts at $21,955, and my stylish XLE with a V-6 starts at $29,845. The model I tested was priced at $32,205.
The redesigned Camry has a somewhat edgier look than its predecessor, opting for a more chiseled look this time around. However, the differences are so slight that it feels wrong to call it a redesign. Even if its changes are minimal, it still is a hot-looking midsize sedan that doesn't scream mom-mobile.
For my family, getting in and out of the Camry was done without a lot of fanfare, thanks to the low step-in height. Its sedan design made my 3-year-old happy to climb in and out on her own.
My trusty double jogging stroller was able to fit in the trunk without hogging up all of the cargo space. However, I had to have my husband hoist it up and over the trunk's lip. I know I looked pretty pathetic trying to maneuver the humongous stroller out of the cavernous cargo area.
The 2012 Camry offers two engine configurations. All trim levels come standard with 178-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The upper-level SE and XLE have an available 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine. While the four-cylinder gets an EPA-estimated 25/35 mpg city/highway, the more powerful V-6 gets 21/30 mpg. I was disappointed to average 18.3 mpg over my weeklong (mostly city) test drive. It's a good thing this baby takes regular gasoline.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
I instantly felt at home in the Camry's interior. Whether it was the contrast stitching on the dash, the wood-like trim on the center stack or the tri-tone leather seats, it felt inviting.
Toyota's designers got it right when they added covers to the Camry's multiple storage compartments, making it easy for the car's interior to look clean and clutter-free. After a week of handling my family of four, the interior didn't look completely trashed, which it usually does. The surfaces were textured so fingerprints were hardly noticeable. With two cupholders up front, two more in the fold-down armrest in the backseat and multiple bottleholders in the side door pockets, my Starbucks runs were a breeze.
The XLE test car had a 6.1-inch touch-screen that not only displayed the audio options but also vehicle information and the available backup camera's image. Thanks to the USB port with iPod connectivity, you can bring all your music along with you and control it using the steering-wheel buttons. An optional 7.0-inch touch-screen with sharper graphics is optional on the V-6-equipped XLE trim.
Also available for the redesigned Camry is Toyota's Entune multimedia system. Using a smartphone, you can access a limited number of applications — Bing, IHeartRadio, OpenTable and MovieTickets.com to name a few — on the touch-screen. There are some bugs to be worked out (I had slight connectivity issues), but Entune has the makings of a useful system. Not only can you look up what movie you want to go to, but you also can make dinner reservations, buy the movie tickets and then get turn-by-turn directions to the restaurant and theater all from the same screen that displays your radio stations and climate controls. There are hopes that Toyota will open up Entune to more apps in the near future.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2012 Camry received five out of five stars overall in crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety yet.
The Camry has standard antilock brakes and an electronic stability system, which are both federally mandated. It also has standard brake assist, front-wheel drive, traction control and 10 airbags, including side curtains for both rows, rear side-impact airbags and front knee airbags. Optional safety features include a lane departure warning system and a blind spot warning system.
There are two sets of easily accessible lower Latch anchors in the Camry's rear outboard seats. My two convertible child-safety seats — one forward-facing and one rear-facing — fit perfectly in the second row; however, fitting a third car seat was a no-go. There wasn't a lot of space left for a fifth passenger to sit between the car seats. I had to slide the front passenger seat forward to get the rear-facing car seat to fit. It was uncomfortable for my tall husband to sit in the front seat with it moved so far forward. Older children in booster seats should have an easy time buckling up by themselves, thanks to the sturdy seat belt buckles.
Get more safety information about the 2012 Toyota Camry here.