I was eating some plain toast the other morning, looking out the window at the 2012 Camry and wondering what it might be like to drive it again. But something distracted me and I forgot about it.
The new Camry has that ability, to be right on the tip of your tongue and then disappear before you can say it.
It's new, it's cheaper, and it's completely forgettable.
Note, I didn't say it was bad, because it's not.
I took another bite of the toast, sipped my black coffee and buttoned up my beige shirt, ready to head out.
It was another humdrum day. Drive to work, park, work, drive home from work, park, have a nice dinner, a couple of cocktails and go to bed. American life is not nearly as stressful as it can sometimes be numb.
The all-new Camry doesn't change any of that. Worry-free, stress-free and pretty much maintenance-free, the new Camry is the modern-day driving Prozac. Meet the new Camry, same as the old Camry, just a little nicer in some ways, worse in others.
The key never left my pocket as I sat in the seat and pushed the start button on this top-selling midsize sedan. There was no jolt of excitement, no shiver of fear going down my spine. I've owned cars that prompted a twinge of fear as I inserted the key. Would it start? Would the linkage stay in place? Would the AC work?
None of those fears ever entered my mind in a Toyota.
The 3.5-liter V-6 turned over and idled like a champ. There are 268 horses quietly racing under the hood (as well as 248 pound-feet of torque) but I couldn't hear them. I assumed they were there because when I put the car in reverse, it started to back up.
Today, Willy Loman would make sales calls in the 2012 Camry.
It's the risk-free choice for a large swath of the public who could care less what they drive as long as the vehicle always starts.
And despite everyone complaining that this car does not satisfy some inner urge or desire, for the most part, the Camry is just fine. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a car is just a car.
First, the redesigned Camry has an improved exterior. The front end loses that clunky three-bar grille and replaces it with one that incorporates the headlamps much nicer.
The car's new chin below the bumper has sharper edges and gives it a more aggressive look. But that's compared to the previous Camry, which had bulging eyes and a docile face. Park the new Camry next to the Hyundai Sonata, and the Camry looks like the 100-pound weakling at the beach getting sand kicked in his face.
The Camry's profile is pretty much the same as before, though there's all-new sheet metal and the edge once sculpted along the top of the door below the window has been smoothed away. Most people will have to tell others that it's the new, all-new Camry, as few will note the distinction.
Then again, it's not likely Camry owners hang out with people who care about such things. Instead, they'll nod approval and then forget it until they appear at a Toyota dealership and buy one.
V-6 improves performance
Those few people not under the spell of the Camry, which has led this machine to be the top-selling midsize sedan in 13 of the last 14 years, may notice its incrementally improved performance.
The V-6 gives the Camry good takeoff power and cruising speeds. For years to come, other drivers will be passed, cut off and otherwise abused by Camry drivers oblivious to the traffic around them. The car's stiff body holds corners well enough that the tires will squeal as they try to keep their all-season grip.
The six-speed transmission is also notable. It handles both aggressive and easy-going driving with precision. There's never a stutter or strain. It's remarkably satisfactory.
All of this creates a nearly silent ride, which is why people assume it's so well-made. And for the most part, it is.
The new Camry is even cheaper than the outgoing model, something else consumers will appreciate. Toyota cuts $2,000 from its top-of-the-line XLE model.
Some interior trim feels cheap
One reason Toyota was able to lower the price appears to be because the company spent a lot less money on inside materials.
While the performance is solid and the exterior is fine, the interior is a hodgepodge of plastic and stitching that has no real semblance of continuity.
The new blue-needled instrument gauges look nice and the seats are comfortable. There's lots of space in the second row — 38.9 inches of legroom — but the materials feel cheap.
The silver round switches that control the fans and temperature click with the confidence of a poorly constructed Happy Meal toy.
The asymmetrical dash slopes down on the passenger's side, as if it melted in the hot sun and a vent has started to leak out of it.
Even the heavy stitching on the dash doesn't flow very well, jumping off the dash instead of around it on each end. The layout is still familiar to any Camry owner, but this has the feel of confusion and disarray.
With the Camry, Toyota does introduce its new Entune system, a voice-recognition infotainment system that includes an app to help read other smartphone apps. The voice recognition system works remarkably well. The app also allows the driver to play things like Pandora, and overall it works well.
If you do not use the app and, instead, directly connect your iPhone to the system, it moves much slower and becomes more difficult to use.
While much of this sedan will please previous Camry owners, it may not attract too many new ones. This seventh-generation Camry never breaks ground or even maintains the ground it once held. That's unlikely to deter many loyal Toyota customers, but there are just too many other midsize cars better than the Camry to ignore.
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Exterior: Fair. Plain but better. Improved front and rear ends add a more aggressive look.
Interior: Fair. Cheaper materials and asymmetrical design not as appealing as simple outgoing model.
Performance: Good. Improved driving dynamics and quieter ride.
Pros: Decent ride and handling and improved gas mileage.
Cons: Boring exterior and inferior interior move this sedan down in the midsize segment.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair ** Poor