By on August 25, 2011

Back in 1994, I bought a brand new Toyota Camry. It drove like an underpowered Mercedes with an advanced sixteen valve, four-cylinder engine. Unbelievably quiet, refined, and durable beyond compare. The Camry offered a level of quality back then that most other automakers couldn’t match at even twice the price.

This good news spread throughout the land. Within eight years, everyone in my family along with millions of other new car buyers had a Camry or a Lexus ES300 in their garage. By 2002, Toyota had made the Toyota Camry a gold standard in the American marketplace and annually decimated the rest of best selling car rankings. The Camry was dominant, price aggressive, ubiquitous, and even hated.

Hated it was first and most of all by those enthusiasts who always lust for a mainstream car that can offer more thrill. If your desires were more on the pistachio and less on the vanilla side of things, the Camry was not for you. As Jim Press, when he still was at Toyota, used to say: “We make the best vanilla there is.”

Then there was a mainstream backlash. De-contenting and quality related recall issues gave a number of competitors an opportunity to convert the Camry faithful. Not to mention those who had yet joined the Camry fold.

Toyota had already been losing the conquest of non-Toyota owners due to the outgoing generation’s staid styling and it’s near-SUV like massiveness. The recent recalls and quality issues did hurt. Since 2008 Camry sales have collapsed while Fusion, Sonata and Altima have all gained ground.

The Toyota Camry has a tough road ahead. Can this brand new 2012 Toyota Camry LE carry on a once proud tradition of outclassing the competition? Or is it simply just one of the herd? The truth is…

Toyota is no longer in a dominant position. The new Camry offers a lot of virtues that the old model could not satisfy. It still does not excite.

The exterior has become trim and handsome in a way that is eerily reminiscent of the 2002 – 2006 generation. The front offers a slightly sporting pretension very much in line with today’s combination of sharp creases and low cowls. Side profile is contemporary without being bloated. The rear has removed the bloat, and to be frank… it’s a nice mainstream design. Nobody will reject the Camry for it’s good looks.

When you get into the driver’s seat, you have all the features of a nice vehicle circa 2011. The seats have good side bolsters. Toyota’s new Entune multimedia system allows you to perform a slew of modern commands and conveniences. From getting movie tickets. To getting directions and restaurant reservations. To letting you use your cell phone in a hands off by integrating your phone’s features and contacts with those of the Entune’s wireless system. Toyota will even upgrade this system as new features become available… and the system’s ease of use is commendable. Nobody will reject the Camry for it’s multimedia features.

The interior offers many of the elements of Toyota’s better selling models. The thin stitching of the dashboard is carried forward from the Lexus CT200h while many of the controls seem to be derivative of other upscale models like the RX and Highlander. The steering wheel is nice, thick, and has a quality feel to it. To be frank, the only weaknesses in the interior are the wafer thin wood and aluminum accents. Along with the cheap plastic buttons that surround the standard sound system controls and optional Entune system. A weakness that is shared with every one of the Camry’s modern day competitors. Nobody will reject the Camry for it’s interior quality. It leads the midsized segment.

The Toyota Camry will hold the line well at $22,500 for the LE version which is $200 cheaper than the outgoing model. The 2.5 iter 4-cylinder engine offers 178 horsepower along with a class matching 28 combined mpg (26 city / 35 highway). 10 airbags, a long list of vehicle safety control systems, and an anticipated 5 star NCAP and IIHS safety rating will likely make the Camry LE a class leader. Nobody will reject the Camry based on the specs.

The handling and suspension tuning is also at the head of the pack. The outgoing model didn’t do Toyota any favors when it came to attracting buyers seeking some sport in their drive. The new model is a tour de force. There is a precision in handling, and a flatness in the cornering, that is as unexpected as it is alluring. If Toyota were the only one offering this level of performance in today’s marketplace, it would be 1994 all over again (albeit a 1994 Camry SE). Nobody will reject the Camry based on how it drives. But then again…

The Camry has a lot of competition: Altima, Fusion, Optima and Sonata, just to name a few. The Altima 2.5 and Fusion SE offer comparable specs to the Camry LE without the reputation baggage of being the car of choice for older folks.

Are they better cars? Time will tell. But even with the Camry offering better fuel economy and safety than either Ford or Nissan models, and comparable real world handling, the Fusion and Altima will continue to be perceived as more sporty and youthful than the Camry. Still, some people might reject the Camry for it’s reputation as an ‘older persons’ car. Even if the content measures up.

The Optima and Sonata have the added advantage of price and warranty. The Sonata and Optima are approximately $1800 cheaper if you look headlong into the MSRP. When you start looking at features and advantages, the deficit narrows considerably. But in this marketplace the price advantage is partially one of perception. A car that seems to be the better deal may be chosen over the better car.

Then there is the warranty. Toyota only subtly acknowledged the recent recall issues during the press event. Paying stronger attention to the vast reduction in inventory from 250,000 cars to 113,000 due to the tsunami. That is not what shrank Camry’s marketshare from 18.8 percent in 2009 to 13.8 percent today.

The reality is that a 10 year / 100,000 mile warranty offers a lot of peace of mind for folks who are looking beyond the Camry. The Hyundai/Kia models do turn off some buyers who don’t like the more aero and European look. On the other hand, the design has been a net plus with both vehicles now selling at their manufacturing capacity in a depressed market. Still, some people might reject the Camry for other cars offering a more European design and a longer warranty.

Overall, I believe the Camry LE will lose some folks who want the ‘sporty’ car along with all the usual virtues of a class leading midsized sedan (high content, safety, and reliability). It will inevitable lose sales to the Hyundai/Kia juggernaut that now offers a better warranty and a cheaper price. Who knows? It may even lose sales to the next gen Malibu? Or the Passat which offers an authentic European reputation wrapped up in an all-American design?

The Camry will not lose any sales to any of these current competitors in the one metric which matters most. Is this Camry the better car? Time will tell on the long-term measure of durability and owner satisfaction. But when you look at the overall fuel economy, safety, reliability, and comfort of the Camry, the answer will likely be an emphatic yes.

The 2012 Camry LE should inevitably overcome the baggage of the recent past. It’s a great car that doesn’t turn off most of the mainstream buyers who seek ownership contentment for the next 10+ years. It’s a bullseye…. among a midsized segment that seems to attract more bullseyes than ever.

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91 Comments on “New Car Round-Robin: 2012 Toyota Camry LE...”

  • avatar

    Excellent write-up. I had no idea the MPG was so good… SE looks great, too. From what I’ve seen, Entune is really slow and not super smooth, though.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Fahey

      Glad you mentioned the SE because the article didn’t. I assume it’ll occupy a separate review, but it’s very relevant to this one because the SE will catch a lot of Camry folk who find the LE too bland and might otherwise fall into Schreyer’s tractor beam …

  • avatar

    So if Toyota builds a Camry that is as good as this review claims, and it doesn’t increase sales, what’s it going to take to do that?

    • 0 avatar

      I should add that because if it went for youthfulness, sportiness, or a more polarizing, radical look, it’s going to alienate some of its existing customer base

  • avatar

    I must say I hate the current gen’s Camry look. It’s soo cheap looking! That’s why it’s sold in U.S. only, the rest of the world (well, at least Asians) got different look Camry. because in the rest of the world Camry-sized sedans are luxury cars, and no way a car like the U.S. Camry with its cheap and durable look and low-rent dashboard can be sold as luxury cars, even by Toyota. Thus Asian Camrys have more upscale look and interiors. This new one is much improved, while not exactly mind-blowing or avant-garde, it’s now no longer handicapped. Still not as upscale as the current Asian Camrys, though. I wonder if we will get this Camry or a different one like before?

    • 0 avatar

      That’s why it’s sold in U.S. only, the rest of the world (well, at least Asians) got different look.

      We shall see. Schmitto-san is invited to the great Camry unveiling on Sept. 5, in Tokyo. Until a few minutes ago, I thought I can spend that in the back of the room, stifling yawns and exchanging funny remarks with other members of the media. Suddenly, it turned into real work.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      From the outside, the Camry that has just been replaced by the one in the review has looked exactly the same to me in Caracas, Tehran or Melbourne. I got to see very few of the USDM versions in Caracas and it was the same.

      The Aurion seems a little bit bigger and IIRC is the “luxury” one in Asia.

      Same with the Corolla, which in Latin America is sold as a luxury car. Toyota goes as far as saying that it’s the most aspirational car in Venezuela. The plastics quality seem to be the same anywhere.

      • 0 avatar

        The Camry in the Philippines looks much nicer than the US version, to my eyes.–2008-Toyota-Camry-24V.jpg

        This must be the Asian version which another commenter referred to.

  • avatar

    So… it actually… handles? How well do those incredibly flat front buckets hold your buttocks in during emergency lane changes?

  • avatar

    This review leaves me with a strikingly different impression than MK’s. The different reviews of the hybrid have muscled it onto my consideration list.

    Offering an all black interior (like the SE) on the lower trim models would certainly appeal to the 20 somethings like myself. I just can’t see myself driving a car with gray or tan seats. Of course, my last car had black and plaid seats that seem universally despised by everyone except those that bought the GTI, so I’m probably not a good target.

    • 0 avatar

      I also love the plaid seats in the GTI.

      • 0 avatar

        You can count me in as a GTI owner who digs on the plaid, but as a resident of temperate regions who can appreciate a light color interior.

        Dark interiors are awesome for the 8 months where my region isn’t chaffing against the surface of the sun. It would be nice if the GTI had a light plaid, but I guess interiors/greenhouses like these are what keep tinter’s children clothed.

        My first set of wheels was a ’84 Camry, and one of my fiancee’s cars is a late-nineties stalwart. Love ’em or hate ’em, just know that if your car is ‘cooler’ than a Camry, the Camry will no doubt outlive it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 28, and in the market for a new car.

      I find all-black interiors to be a big negative. In my opinion, a two-tone interior with tan/gray seats and lower dash and a darker color on the upper dash and window sills looks much nicer and more open than the same design in Black Hole trim.

      One of the reasons I’m not buying a WRX or RX8 is that they only come with black interiors.

      I don’t care if a light interior is harder to keep clean – I’d rather have to do a little more work and be a little more careful than sit in a black pit every day. There’s a reason you don’t see too many living rooms or offices painted floor-to-ceiling black. It’s depressing, and makes the space look smaller.

      As for plaid, I wish more cars had it. I loved the plaid interior on my TR7.

      I’m also emphatically not considering a Camry, or anything in that class; so I’m probably not a good target either.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m 180 degrees from you, I want black interiors, and nothing but black. I’ve had tan(1), blue(2), “burgandy”(2), two toned dark and light grey(1) (really hated that), and honestly, I hated them all. I rejected a car I ordered once when it came with plaid interior. Yuck. My mother had a car with white interior. Horrible, and so hard to keep clean. No dogs in mom’s car!

  • avatar
    Cammy Corrigan

    I’ve been racking my brains since looking at this new Toyota Camry was revealed as it had an echo of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I’ve just figured it out.

    Take a good, long look at the picture of the Camry by the lake, then take an equally good, long look at this picture:

    See if you can spot the similarities…

  • avatar

    I don’t know why Vanilla gets such a bad name. I love the taste of vanilla myself (real vanilla now, not just something that’s called ‘vanilla’), and the beautiful aroma of vanilla beans is hard to beat. It’s the fake ‘vanilla’ that give real vanilla a bad name, and fake ‘vanilla’ is indeed nothing to write home about.

    If the Camry was real Vanilla, I’d be impressed. The new design seesm fine enough, and looks like it was influenced by function a little more than form. For an everyday vehicle of this type, I think that’s a good thing.

  • avatar

    I am amazed at the difference with this review and Michael Karesh’s. Is the 2012 Camry better than the 2011 – yes but then that wouldn`t be hard. The new Malibu and Fusion (both due within 1 year) will give this Camry a run for it’s money on fuel economy, interior plastics (if the Cruze and Focus are anything to go by). That gets rid of two advantages cited in this review. I am also surprised that the Camry is, in Alex’s view, amongst the best handling mid-size cars. Move over Mazda!!
    Also I thought the side profile was virtually identical to the current generation Camry.

    • 0 avatar

      Two points:

      One, Michael is pretty hard on cars. Consistent and fair, but hard.

      Two, the Camry doesn’t handle as badly as people think (at least, outside of the base-tire version) and the SE is about the only midsize sedan with tuning that extends beyond “big rims”. Similarly, the Mazda6 isn’t as much fun as people give it credit for. Both brands tread on reputation in this space and, honestly, no midsize sedan is really exciting.

      • 0 avatar

        I understand where you are coming from but two points :

        Michael is fair and balanced in his reviews and several mid-sized cars have come out better than the Camry. So relatively speaking it is mid-pack – not so great when two of its top four competitors get refreshed/all new next year (Malibu and Fusion). It is irrelevant if Michael is “hard” since he is fair and if he rates several cars above the Camry that puts it in contradiction with this review.

        Two, don’t the Ford Fusion Sport and Subaru Legacy GT have their own specification specific engine and suspension setup? I accept no mid-size is real fun (I wouldn`t expect them to be BMW 3 series type cars).

      • 0 avatar

        On point one, yes, I agree. I’m not saying the Camry is magically better, only that Michael sometimes seems to have higher (or at least different) standards than Alex seems to.

        The problem with TTAC reviews is that they’re often in isolation: there’s rarely a six-car bake-off, and there’s nothing like CR’s performance rankings.

        On point two, yes, the Fusion Sport is more tightly sprung and the drivetrain is different, but I’d disagree on the current Legacy GT: it’s very much different-engine/bigger-tires/spoiler kind of sport package (do they still sell a Spec.B?) that everyone else does. As far as I can tell (and this is versus the 2011 Camry, I don’t know about the 2012) no one else in the segment does chassis brace, underbody or wholly different suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Another point: Michael is only one reviewer of many, and opinions almost always vary greatly between reviewers. His largely critical impressions of this car were in notable contrast to Dan Edmunds’s largely positive ones.

      • 0 avatar

        I actually like the fact that there are rarely “comparos” on TTAC. Its very boring to read a formulaic article, you just want to see who won. Obviously, opinions will vary among car reviewers, and I, for one, think its great that two contrasting opinions are published. Nothing grates on my nerves more than a car reviewer who constantly states, “we”, referring to the staff of the repective publication, as if they had a great meeting of the minds.

    • 0 avatar

      As much as I like Alex’s reviews, I think Michael’s review really drove home an important point. Camry’s have always been known for their smooth ride and refinement. Sure, sometimes automotive snobs poopoo’d their handling, but largely the reason for soft handling was known and respected. That refinement and buick-esque ride was a huge selling point for them. Toyota is not and never was a “sports car” company, so I really don’t understand their wish to make the Camry harder and less smooth. That’s a segment of the market they had nailed down, and it seems to be a failing in product design.

    • 0 avatar

      I am amazed at the difference with this review and Michael Karesh’s.

      Car and Driver, Road and Track, Motor Trend, Automobile, and Edmund’s Inside Line were all fairly positive. USA Today was lukewarm, although not negative.

      Mr. Karesh’s review was an outlier, certainly the most negative of those that I perused. He’s entitled to his opinion (and I haven’t driven the car, so I don’t have an opinion of my own), but his opinion doesn’t match most of what else I’ve read.

  • avatar

    Well, the new Camry appears to have improved, but until I see one up close, I’ll not judge, because I won’t buy one anyway.

    I respect Toyota, but I “hate” them, too. And Nissan. And Honda (even tho’ my wife’s car is a CR-V).

  • avatar

    We can speculate this for days, I’m betting it will sell very well.

    • 0 avatar

      It will sell well. But the point is that this car will battle to keep selling in the top 3. Prior Camry models (up until c. 2008) had a clear lead. Now the Camry is one of 6 class competitive cars that are popular (Camry, Accord, Malibu, Fusion, Altima, Sonata – not included Optima since too few Kia dealers). This car does not improve sufficiently above the previous model, which is dangerous for Toyota when several of their competitors are coming out with greatly improved cars.
      I agree with EChid – refinement and ride were key Camry attributes (along with reliability). If those are diluted then there is trouble. Interesting that Toyota is now trying to compete on price, they never used to and were happy to be several thousands more than Hyundai and others because they knew a) people would pay it and b) they had good residual values. If they are now reducing prices, that may hint that they know the car cannot stand out on positive attributes like ride, refinement, interior quality etc.

      • 0 avatar

        Not even an earthquake and a bogus recall attack could stop Camry from taking the #1 spot with a 7 year old vehicle.

        With a new vehicle with real technology, like a brand new transmission, and an advanced computer designed body using high strength steel, and a new suspension system, they clearly have the #1 spot for years.

      • 0 avatar

        jj99 – time will tell. I am disinclined to comment too much on what you say though since you have a very clear bias towards Toyota as shown by your recent comments in other postings. No problem having preferences and likes/dislikes but when it blinds you then it goes to far. My case in point is when you stated and argued with MK that the 2012 Camry has a new platform/chassis. You argued until blue in the face that MK was wrong and that the platform was new. Toyota said it is not new – yes some high strength steel has been added, but it is not new. Toyota said so. So just accept that. Accept that all cars have good and bad points, even your favored models.

        PS The 2011 was not a 7 year old vehicle. The Camry was redesigned for the 2007 model year : but then 4 does sounds as impressive as 7 does for your argument!

        Also the recall “attack” was not completely bogus – the floor mats were issues.

      • 0 avatar

        This car is a strong enough effort to keep the Camry comfortably in the number-one sales slot (both for its segment, and passenger cars in general).

        Yes, the competition is improving, but that is not enough. People forget how the Camry reached its present slot in the first place. The 1992 model was an exceptionally good car. But the domestic competition at that time was stale (original Taurus/Sable) mediocre (GM-10 cars) or awful (anything from Chrysler). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, buyers had plenty of reasons to consider a Toyota instead of, say, a Chevrolet or a Dodge.

        Camrys prior to the 1992 model also had a very good reputation, so the 1992 Camry didn’t come with a trunk load of negative expectations.

        The offerings from GM and Hyundai have improved, but the reputations of those manufacturers are still burdened by a fair amount of baggage. The new Camry, meanwhile, doesn’t have to overcome a bad reputation created by the previous generations.

        Most people aren’t going to switch unless they have a compelling reason to do so – say, Camrys start falling apart at 50,000 miles, or Toyota graces the Camry with mug like that of the 1961 Plymouth Fury. The second hasn’t happened, judging by the photos, and the first is a long shot.

        Its main problem is that some people think it’s boring. Guess what – doesn’t matter in this segment. If buyers were looking for excitement, VW or Mazda would dominate this segment. The last time I checked, VW was preparing to introduce an all-new Passat that…takes its inspiration from the Camry. The Mazda 6 is sinking without a trace. Both have long been also-rans in this segment. The sentiments of posters on this site do not reflect those of the majority of buyers in this size and price class.

  • avatar

    Toyota has played it safe. They needed to. The temptation to do something groundbreaking must be tempered by the lessons of the third-gen “Ovoid” Taurus. For thousands of Americans, this is exactly what they need, and for thousands still, nothing but a Camry will do.

    Also – and so sorry to be a Libyan grammar strongman – but the article misuses the contraction “it’s” five times.

  • avatar

    Have to join in the chorus of folks that are amazed at how different this review is from MK’s. While I will reserve judgment until I actually drive one, I have to say at this point I tend to lean more toward Michael’s opinion. I find it a stretch to call a car whose seat fabric even on the top trim grade looks so chintzy as “leading the midsized segment.”

    “To be frank, the only weaknesses in the interior are the wafer thin wood and aluminum accents.” Please let me correct that. BMW (and perhaps Lexus) use wood in their vehicles, even if it be “wafer-thin”. In the Camry, you have your choice of plastics on the LE and XLE: aluminum-look, or wood-look.

    I think one place where it will steal buyers away from other models and perhaps attract younger buyers, at least until other makers catch up, is with the appliance buyers who value tech gadgetry. The penetration of a touchscreen infotainment system down to the LE trim level is unique for now.

    I notice the review is of the LE trim, but the photos are of a mix of XLEs and SEs. Do you have any photos of an LE, especially of the interior?

  • avatar

    I just have to throw this out because I’m seeing it from multiple authors on TTAC and it’s getting annoying. “it’s” is not used to show possession. “it’s” is a contraction for IT IS. So unless you’re trying to say “it is”, its should be spelled as its.

    The Oatmeal says it best –

    And to keep on topic… The Camry is still a boring car and Toyota will sell boatloads of them to people that like to drive toasters on wheels.

    That is all.

  • avatar

    There is a excellent point made here about Hyundai/Kia’s 10-year warranty. Last year, during the recall scandal there was talk of Toyota adding the 10-year warranty to repair its reputation, that time I remember thinking it would be an opportune time to add the warranty not so much to repair its reputation but to fight the impending Hyundai/Kia onslaught.

    For what its worth the Camry does seem to be bettered its rivals, at least temporarily, in crucial areas. I’m sure people will like the interior, the iPhone integration with that Entune, and greater mileage the car offers. The hybrid model is particular has become the centerpiece of the Camry(they plan on doubling its hybrid sales).

    But the issue is that major rivals such as the Accord and Fusion are also set for a major update. This Camry obviously cannot last the next 4 years without an update, it will be updated as all modern cars are an evolving platform.

    The question becomes can Toyota evolve fast enough. One area that the Japanese makers are deficient is matching the engineering changes under the sheetmetal with cosmetic changes on the sheet-metal that reflect it. This obviously was the flaw of the new Civic, it may have made significant changes underneath but it didn’t make a significant exterior improvement to communicate that to consumer (we’ll see what Honda does with the Accord). Another example is Suzuki’s Swift which looks identical to the previous version.

    Toyota faces a similar challenge in that they will need to evolve this Camry faster then they did the previous generation from not just an engineering side, but also from a design perspective as well. Minor modifications to the grill and headlights won’t be enough anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      This is clearly an American idea. Changing shee tmetal just so your car looks different while changing little else under the hood.

      I think many buyers prefer fewer sheet metal changes so the vehicle they buy looks like the new model longer. This requires a sheet metal design that is not so trendy that it ages in a year or two.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s “an American idea” in that Alfred Sloan came up with it back when Toyota was making looms instead of cars, yes. In this century it’s what you might call an “industry standard”. You change the appearance of the car to signify that you changed the underlying mechanicals, unless you’re Porsche or something.

      • 0 avatar

        But the Camry is an American car, even called it the ‘most American car’ based on the percentage of US parts that comprise the vehicle. Its also designed for primarily the American market and for American sensibilities.

        In fairness to Toyota, the GenVI Camry did have steady upgrades to the vehicle throughout its 6-year lifespan. However, by last year the perception of the vehicle was that it was staid and growing old (same can be said about the Corolla now).

        Design matters. Good design is mark of progress. People want new things, something that has a fresher look, the new now. It communicates directly to the consumer, better then spec sheets and press releases.

        I good example of consistent design and evolution is the BMW 3-series. Nobody really cares about generational names of the car; E46, E91-E93, F30, whatever. Both the design and engineering have evolved gradually.

        Toyota have made that step now, the Camry looks handsome enough without it being kitschy. But for Toyota moving forward, no pun intended, it may be advisable to accompany a dramatic engineering change, like the addition of a new engine to the XV50/GenVII (which we should expect in the next few years), to be accompanied by a equally large change to the sheet-metal. Its a easy way to communicate to the end-user that something has changed with this car.

  • avatar

    The statement that a Camry in 1994 ‘drove like an underpowered Mercedes’ is so absurd I see one of two possibilities:

    1.) The author doesn’t understand steering feel, ride/handling balance, control repsonisveness, or other dynamic characteristics – or never bothered to drive either a Mercedes or a Camry in such away as to reveal those things.

    2.) The author actually does understand these things and simply wants to make a bold opening statement that assumes his readers are know-nothings.

    Either way, please… In 1993 I was visiting Germany and had the ride of my life in a new E-Class. This was on the still unimproved sections of the former East German autobahn. The road was rough, traffic was dense, and yet the car swallowed it up whole. Getting groceries in your front-wheel drive, under-braked, squishy suspended Camry is no test in this context.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Suffice it to say that the 94 Camry drove and felt like a luxury car compared to the domestic competition of the time. Comparable to a Mercedes? No. But compared to, say, the Lumina or Cutlass Cieras still being foisted upon us at the time, it sure felt like a Mercedes.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t doubt it, but that was a low bar to pass. Unfortunately for Toyota, but good for the consumer most manufacturers are now making great mid-size cars.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        It was a low bar, but that Camry went very far above it. It wasn’t a good car just because the competition sucked, it was a good car, period.

        You’re absolutely right about the current market. A lot of manufacturers are making great midsize sedans now. It doesn’t look like this Camry has any glaring deficiency, but everything else has improved so much it doesn’t stand out like it once did.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t want to get into the semantics conversation of adverbs, pronouns, when to use a semicolon, but the statement out of the gate reads as a 1:1 comparison. It isn’t even close. Nostalgia has a way of tainting our memories.

        I adored my 1989 Ford Probe. I still consider it the most perfect car I’ve ever owned to this day. But despite the esteem that I hold the Fazda Mrobe6 to, I hold no comparisons to it being like an underpowered BMW coupe or favorable comparisons to a Ferrari. It was by modern standards an under powered even in turbo form front wheel drive car, with obscene torque steer, a strong tendency to understeer, and lacked what we consider standard safety gear like ABS (became available in 1990). The suspension, despite being selectable, absorbed New England pot holes as best as it could, and fought the good fight against body roll, but it still wallowed in turns when pushed hard. It was a GREAT car. It remains my favorite car. But I’m always cautious when I wax nostaligic about my 186K miles of ownership.

        Other than huge rust issues in the snow belt and New England states the early 90’s Camrys up to around ’97, when decontenting started were the best ones built. One could easily argue the best midsize sedans ever built; I would say there is no arguement the best midsize sedan of the decade, and you could push it and say the 20th century for North America. However they came at a premium, almost $30K in inflation adjusted dollars – part of the equation that is left out when these observations are made. They weren’t cheap and you do get what you pay for (sort of).

        I for now can only go by what I’ve read in these reviews. I’ve had no wheel time in a 2012 Camry. I’ll get some chances coming up I suspect with a fair amount of business travel slated for the rest of the year.

    • 0 avatar

      True enough– I’d venture one step further and say: the (released in 1976)w123 was superior to the modern Camry– in dynamics and ride, anyway.

      The Camry, I suppose, is autodom’s Betty White. She’s never been exceedingly good at anything, but everyone knows her name because she was once a darling. She’s now a geriatric spitting profanity-laden soundbytes in some pathetic attempt to remain viable.

      Will these doors and bumpers bolt onto a 2002 model– that’s the only question I’ve got, personally.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        “never been exceedingly good at anything”

        Yes it has. Build quality, reliability, interior refinement, drivetrain refinement, remarkably quiet and smooth ride. Up until the 2007-2011 generation when Toyota slipped and the competition closed the gap, the Camry had a pretty clear advantage with those qualities over most competing sedans.

    • 0 avatar

      No Autobahn’s here in the US. That generation of Camry was pretty impressive, especially considering the price and competition.

    • 0 avatar

      I see one of two possibilities

      There is a third one that you overlooked — the Mercedes comparison was a bit rhetorical, and more importantly, price-dependent.

      For the money, the Camry was certainly near, if not at, the top of its class. But the C-class was not in that price class, then or now.

    • 0 avatar

      That statement brought back some memories: I forget the exact year, but it was during that generation that Consumer’s Reports tested a C-class Mercedes (I believe the bottom of the line model). At the end, they finished with the statement, “We’d really like to suggest that you look at a Camry instead.” As in, the Camry was just as good, for a lot less money.

      I think that was the only time they ever cross-suggested out of the class of the car they were testing.

  • avatar

    I don’t see this review as inconsistent with Michael’s at all. Michael noted many improvements in the car, including a nicer interior, trunk, mileage etc. The tone is different, but overall the conclusion is similar. It is a significant step forward for Toyota, but one that makes them competitive with the best in class, not out in front of the class alone.

    The formula works. Toyota wisely avoiding going bigger, and changed styling to make it look smaller and more sleek. It’s an improvement. Am I the only one who thinks the front steals from the Optima and perhaps the Fusion? They should reclaim some lost share, but will likely never go back to the volumes they once enjoyed when it was just them and the Accord and a bunch of also-rans.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. The last two paragraphs are somewhat contradictory – the second to last paragraph says the Camry is a great car that beats it competition “But when you look at the overall fuel economy, safety, reliability, and comfort of the Camry, the answer will likely be an emphatic yes.” – that is different to MK’s take.
      However the last paragraph makes it sound the Camry is just class competitive and is good amongst a sea of good mid-size sedans “It’s a bullseye…. among a midsized segment that seems to attract more bullseyes than ever.” This would agree with MK’s conclusion more.

    • 0 avatar

      “…Am I the only one who thinks the front steals from the Optima and perhaps the Fusion?…”

      No. I see a lot of Optima in that front end. This isn’t a bad thing as I like the look of my Forte, which appears to be a tastefully shrunken Optima. Not trying to be fanboyish, but I really like my little Banshee.

  • avatar

    These pictures make it look better than the ones seen yesterday. It seems to be decent looking. I’ll have to see one on the road though and see what I think then.

    Good write-up BTW.

  • avatar

    They sure played it safe with this one. The styling is still very very similar with overly plain generic side styling and familiar if tweaked grilles and tail lights. The interior is still dull boring gray but looks to be of better build quality compared to the dreary 2007 to current version. The engines are pretty much as before with the base 4 given a few more horses but still under some of the Korean competition and new Malibu and the V6 soldiers on with thinner oil and a few tweaks to get the magical 30 highway rating like the 2012 Impala with it’s more powerful 302 HP 3.6. The handling improvement may actually be a vice to 90% of this cars elderly audience who prefer a smooth soft quiet ride and aren’t looking for a sports car but time will tell. I’m just not seeing anything here that even raises my heartbeat and I doubt the majority of America will either.

  • avatar

    Bing? Really?

    How gauche…

  • avatar

    I’m probably smack in the heart of the market Toyota seeks for the Camry. Well-educated, decent income, conservative, and thanks to both the perception of quality and my own experience with Hondas and Toyotas, I tend to favor Asian imports over domestic brands.

    I will never buy another UAW-assembled vehicle (“built” implies the drones do something more than monitor robots and occasionally turn a wrench for their still-inflated wages and benefits) and I’m extremely unlikely to buy a GM, Fiasler or even Ford again… yet I still want to support (non-union) American workers, so I’d prefer to drive a car assembled on U.S. soil.

    I like what I’ve seen so far with the ’12 Camry. I think it’s a notable improvement over the prior generation, and the price cuts help increase its desirability. It’s built in Kentucky, and even with the Ray DaHood-led smear campaign against Toyota last year, the brand’s superior quality remains nigh-indisputable. However, Toyota seems to have once-again ignored its primary competition. Not the domestic brands (seriously, if you think the Malibomb or a Fiasler 200 is competitive with the Camry, I have a bridge to sell you) but rather the Koreans.

    This week I test drove a Kia Optima, and to say I was impressed would be a gross understatement. I poured over the car I drove, looking for flaws, and all I could come up with was the less-than-impressive trim quality… in the trunk. It accelerated smartly, the (non-turbo) engine seemed quite refined and very powerful for its size, and the interior fit and finish was miles beyond my Flat Rock-assembled Mazda6 (and, judging by the images so far, still superior to the new Camry.)

    While the Kia may prove to have a few more minor faults than the Camry, the benefits favor the Optima in my mind. It’s far more stylish than a Camry, soon-to-be-assembled in the States, with a killer warranty. Odds are an Optima will be my next car. While I’m sure the new Camry will still be a best-seller, and those owners will be extremely satisfied with their purchase, Toyota has missed at least one opportunity here by playing things too safe.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for your comments and I completely agree with you about the Optima. Could you just cut out the 505 of text that had none relevant political stuff.
      You say the domestics brands are uncompetitive to the Camry – I will give you the 200. But the new Malibu (not your mistyped spelling) and the Fusion both are competitive and due for significant redesigns in the next 6-12 months. Let the competition commence.

      • 0 avatar

        mike, I appreciate your response… but with respect, unless your surname is Niedermeyer or Schmitt, I’ll thank you to refrain from suggesting I edit my comments. Deal, friend?

        Politics play a significant role in almost all the decisions we make, whether we’re cognizant of it or not. Please tell me why I should give my hard-earned dollars to companies like GM and Fiasler, which should have been allowed to rot in 2008 as the market demanded, or the corrupt organization that directly benefitted from the misguided decision to save them — particularly when the competing product is at least equal to, and in many ways superior, to what those entities offer?

        The UAW has contributed directly to the downfall of US manufacturing, and the country as a whole. I’d much rather take my chances on South Korea being attacked by its belligerent neighbor, than support a similarly nefarious regime right here at home!

      • 0 avatar

        Rob – deal although saying Fiasler instead of Chrysler is just grandstanding.

        This thread was about the new Camry – pretty apolitical. I understand politics coming into some of the threads when they deal with the UAW, the bailout etc but basic car reviews are not political hotspots.

        I am not a fan of the UAW and its members but to think that a band of a few hundred thousand people could contribute to “the downfall of the country” is hyperbole. Plenty of good US manufacturing out there that has no UAW involvement (whether that is Toyota, VW and others auto plants, Boeing, pharmaceutical manufacture, Texas and Dell IT factories etc etc)

      • 0 avatar

        “Plenty of good US manufacturing out there that has no UAW involvement (whether that is Toyota, VW and others auto plants, Boeing, pharmaceutical manufacture, Texas and Dell IT factories etc etc)”

        …And you’ve just named five companies and three industries that used to produce a LOT more product in the US, versus overseas, until the exorbitant wages demanded by the unions (granted not only the UAW) pushed that production right off our shores. How many components for the 787-8 Dreamliner (to be certified tomorrow, finally) are actually produced overseas and shipped here for assembly? There’s very little actual “production” left, even in Everett, WA.

        But yes, back to the Camry. The styling is definitely “tighter” than last year’s model, and I think it will look even better in person. All in all, Toyota seems to be responding to the current market better than Honda, although that isn’t saying much. I think it will be a winner.

        I would like to see more Optimas on the road, though. I couldn’t believe how much I liked that car… only the lack of a non-turbo EX in pearl white kept me from talking numbers right there and then. Never thought I’d say that about a Kia.

    • 0 avatar

      Rob, I don’t know if you’re sincere, or if you’re among the thousands who are picking up a few bucks here and there from Koch brothers-funded front groups for every right-wing post or talk-show call you manage to place. But assuming you are sincere, you are painfully misguided in a way that’s damaging to your own interests if you’re anywhere near being an ordinary working American.

      The reason non-union transplant factories like Toyota’s in Kentucky pay near-union wages and benefits is because the unions exist as a baseline. Period. Toyota itself has discussed an assault on its own workers’ pay and benefits, and you can bet they’d have done more about it already if not for the existence of other car-industry workforces that make more.

      I’m not a union member (I’m luckier — I’m a white-collar who has the easier life Jack Baruth talked about elsewhere on this site). But right-wing leaders like Jim DeMint have come right out and said that the reason behind the anti-union assault underway today from Wisconsin to Michigan, Indiana to Ohio to New Jersey, is explicitly to weaken the voices in our democracy that resist corporate rule, and to move America toward a one-party state. These people are successfully manipulating the emotions of millions to turn us against each other, even as they strip us of everything from our incomes to our civil liberties, then snicker all the way to the bank.

      Personally, I feel lucky I can afford to own any kind of decent automobile at all. If the people you’re unconsciously promoting have your way, very soon neither of us will anymore.

      • 0 avatar

        tony, I fail to see anything in your patronizing ramblings that refutes my central point: unions have driven manufacturing from our shores. Nevermind your claims about how the unions drive the transplants towards pay scale parity with UAW shops — for each token Honda, Kia and Toyota facility in the States, how many plants are moving to Mexico to avoid the issue entirely?

        Unlike you, I don’t blame those evil corporations that (quite rightly) are driven primarily by profit, and not by feel-good sentiments for their workers, in seeking the most cost-effective means to producing goods. As a consumer, I could frankly care less whether the drones assembling the widget I just bought have medical care or not — but as an American, it concerns me how far we’ve let social engineering and worker coddling go in killing our manufacturing base. I’d rather Boeing, et al be known for highly-marketable, technologically-superior products, not their employee pension programs.

        I agree with your point that we’re being turned against each other in this country, except I happen to think it’s overdue. The side that represents those who have largely made their way on their own, without the need for social programs or union coddling, is indeed deeply resentful and bitter towards those still crying how they need federal assistance and big labor to make sure they’re treated “fairly” by this harsh and cruel world. Life isn’t fair, and we’ve allowed the mediocre (be it companies like GM and Fiasler, to welfare mothers, illegal immigrants, and other societal leeches) to thrive in this country long enough.

  • avatar

    Back in 1994, I bought a brand new Toyota Camry. It drove like an underpowered Mercedes…

    If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck…

    I’ve sat in mid-90’s Mercedes and Camrys. The Toyota Camry did not drive like an underpowered Mercedes on this, or any other planet.

    Overall a good review, but breathless hyperbole out of the gate like this taints the well. This is also the only review I’ve ready anywhere that calls the Camry interior, “class leading,” no one even comes close to that observation.

    In a few weeks I can stroke a dealer and kick the tires on one for myself. Also have September business travel coming up, maybe a 2012 L model awaits my future.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      A few updates…

      First off, I’m the writer of this review. I drove 2000 miles round-trip from Atlanta to New York in order to make this article a reality.

      I test drove every single version of the Camry… with the exception of the L which was not available at the press event. I also tested the outgoing 2011 model so that I could cross-reference it with the 2012 Camry LE (which I drove twice).

      I ended up being the absolute last journalist to leave the event. One of the security fellows at CitiField asked me and a few other Toyota employees to hit the road.

      As for my Mercedes comparison…

      The Mercedes comment is a recollection from WAY back in 1994. I drove the Mercedes C-Class (base model) along with the Camry LE (which I bought and kept for 12 years).

      The Camry was a far quieter vehicle. It offered exceptionally good handling (the Accord coupe was quite good as a well), and was a better built vehicle overall.

      I owned about six other 190’s in the interim years. When it came to handling in small spaces the 190 was a great car. But on the highway and most suburban driving the Camry was every bit it’s equal. I never knew that Consumer Reports made that comparison but I’m not surprised given what I experienced.

      The fact that Alex’s name is on the article is absolutely hilarious. I spent more time massaging this review than I do in a week’s worth of writing at TTAC. The name on this article was meant to be!

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Thanks for the clarification, Steven.

        I was surprised to read that Michael found the four cylinder a bit rough and the ride harsher than previous generations. Smooth engine and ride were typical trump cards for this car. Edmunds also cited a big difference in steering quality between 4 cylinder and V6 versions, regardless of whether it was an SE. What’s your opinion?

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        They are both correct…

        Mike and I talked over the phone over the fact that the Camry doesn’t have the same smoothness from takeoff that it used to have. It used to be Lexus like from 0 to about 5 mph. The LE version is just one of the crowd.

        As a side note… this may be the last generation for a Toyota Camry with a V6 engine. The hybrid offers such strong acceleration that the V6 engine is almost redundant. I suspect that Toyota will apply some add-on to make the hybrid four cylinder a full substitute for the V6.

        It may even happen within this generation. We’ll see.

    • 0 avatar

      This is a reply to rob finfrock’s post, above.

      Rob, you say: “I could frankly care less whether the drones assembling the widget I just bought have medical care or not — but as an American, it concerns me how far we’ve let social engineering and worker coddling go in killing our manufacturing base.”

      Rob, there are two problems with what you’re saying. You’re quite unabashed about the first one: that you don’t care at a moral level what happens to your fellow Americans. So let’s go straight to the second one: your fundamental misunderstanding of economics is ieading you to mistaken conclusions about what would serve America’s national economic interests, and those of the corporations that make the cars.

      We’ve been collectively brainwashed into the idea that wages vs. profits are a zero-sum game. That’s demonstrably false. Numerous respected economists and business analysts have stepped forward to state that what’s holding back America’s economic recovery now is not a lack of capital or corporate profits — it’s the fact that there are too many jobless and underemployed people to provide a market to BUY the products.

      The “race to the bottom” where corporations seek the workforce with the most inhumanly sub-living wage, as the supposedly only rational option, is not inevitable. For the society at large, it’s not even logical. For the first 200 years of our nation’s history, we had a very effective remedy for this problem. It was called “tariffs,” and it kept numerous areas of American industry thriving even as foreigners did the same. Since they were gutted in the Reagan and Clinton years at the behest of shortsighted corporate lobbyists, inflation-adjusted income of Americans — including most of the “self-sufficient” ones like you (don’t kid yourself, Finfrock — economically, no man is an island) — described a straight line down.

      The current Supreme Court may say a corporation is a person, but it’s not. It’s a legal invention created to aggregate resources into larger enterprises, and the purpose of allowing that was to benefit human beings. When we reach the point we’re at now, where the only human beings benefitted are CEOs and major stockholders, the system is in need of correction.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve ruminated on your words, tony. I’ve tried to give them due credence and consideration, because I do think you’re trying to teach a lesson despite your obvious pontificating. And, with due eloquence and tone, here’s what I’ve come up with…

        Oh, bullsh!t.

        Here’s where your logic is flawed: I get the sense you seem to believe it will always be someone’s job — in this case, the government’s — to maintain “fairness.” Your ideology seeps through your words, and your advocacy for tariffs shores up all I really need to know about you and your viewpoint.

        Never mind competition; never mind survival of the fittest, regardless of whether we’re talking about companies or people. If someone or something can’t survive on the same playing field as its neighbor, then it’s the government’s job to step in and help… often by taking what the neighbor has, and giving it to you!

        That attitude directly contradicts centuries of human progress.

        The truth is this: if you’re not the leader, then your competitors will always dictate the rules. It is your job to either adapt to the playing field, or perish. Thanks to those who think like you, we’ve allowed the third option — let the government help! — run roughshod over the ideals that once made this a country worth fighting for.

        Fact is, from where I stand firmly in what’s left of middle class America, we have a lot of worthless crud in this country. Be it mediocre people who await handouts from the government, or mediocre companies that survive only because our helpful government deemed them “too big to fail.” To a great extent, we’ve made it too easy to be a worthless leech in America, and it has been our downfall.

        If we are ever to be great again, we need to make it HARDER for those entities to survive. Goodbye perpetual welfare, goodbye government handouts, goodbye unions. Attention, citizens and companies — you are now on your own, to succeed or fail solely by your talents, intellect and cunning. Some of us will do better than others, because that’s the way it is. Some of you won’t make it. Too bad.

        If this country is going to survive a world where it is no longer the leader — and make no mistake, today’s United States is not — then we will have to play by our competitors’ rules. And I have just described the rules they’re playing by.

      • 0 avatar


        C’mon man, that’s stating things rather strongly don’t you think? It sounds like you are proposing that social/economic darwinism was a primary founding principle of this nation. Those “glory days” were actually the time of endemic tariffs and top down infrastructure and industry initiatives. It’s fine to propose that social darwinism is a viewpoint that you support, but it hurts your argument to reference US history when trying to lend your argument romantic appeal.

        On the car front, this is a Camry I’d love to test drive. Do they still provide a manual trans. 4 cylinder combo? This segment is in no way relevant to my lifestyle, but the recent uptick in competitive presence is making things interesting nonetheless. Kind of like the C segment battle of the last year.

  • avatar

    While this review seems a tad different than Michael’s, the more I read it, the more I wonder if Alex actually DROVE the thing at all. It seems like a lot of repeating words either another review, or combining Toytoa press releases with other reviews…can’t quite put my finger on it.
    As for the car itself, some will love it, some will like it, some will hate it, and others won’t give two whiffs either way. But suffice to say, it will more than likely remain Toyota’s bread and butter and will more than likely also remain on top of the leader board. It has been improved over the outgoing model, one can debate all day long about just how far it has been improved, and as always, visual appeal remains solely in the eye of the beholder.

  • avatar

    Did I see the word alluring used to describe its steering and handling? I’d have to drive to believe.
    Sorry, but the words Camry and alluring just don’t go well together.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    If people talk about Hyundai and 1994, it is in amazement at how far they’ve come since then.

    If people talk about Toyota and 1994, they are trying to find out if the new car is as good as the old car.

    I’m married, with children; I have a niece in college. Yet I wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s license in 1994. That was a long f’ing time ago. Why should I even care about the new Camry? How about this: I’ll care if, when people talk about the next generation Camry that replaces this one, they don’t make any references to 1994.

  • avatar

    Sounds alright, but I’m still not in love with the current AR engine family.

    I wish Toyota would bump up the power and redline of the 2.5L a bit for SE and tC duty.

  • avatar

    Am I the only one who finds it interesting that this article does not mention the Honda Accord even once?

  • avatar

    I think it’s a sharp looking car, although I think the “grill” element that houses the logo looks a little chintzy. The side and back angles however look great. I also see a little Cadillac in the look, which I personally think are the best looking sedans right now.

    It would be a mistake to make the car have “European” handling (which usually means stiffer) Camry’s are supposed to be a Japanese Buick, Americans like the tranquility of a soft and quiet ride after a long day at work. Very few “canyon carvers” are going to buy a Camry anyway, and the few that do can make upgrades on their own like adding sway bars, stiffer springs/struts etc.

    The best part of a Camry is the reliability, something that’s hard to quantify in an article like this. I’m sure some of the competition seems fierce, but once you get outside that warranty, that’s when a Toyota’s value shines. I never really bought the whole “Toyota quality is slipping” meme. I would take Toyota on their worst day over anything from the Big 3.

  • avatar

    Let’s remember a little bit of D-segment vehicle history in the US. Back in the early 1990’s prior to the 1992 Camry there wasn’t a real “American” mid-size offered by the Japanese. I knew plenty of people with Camry’s and Accord’s, but when it came to packing 5 people in a car we would all pile in something domestic.

    The 1992-1996 “wide” Camry was designed to compete with the Ford Taurus. Although the ’92-’95 Taurus was much less car than the Camry of the same generation, the Ford demolished the Toyota in sales. Ford was selling 450,000+ units a year. Nothing in the segment has even come close to matching that since. Toyota took the sales crown by making their Camry larger & cheaper and letting Ford ignore the D-segment and focus on SUV’s.

    Is Toyota to be praised because they made the Camry everything that was bad about the Ford Taurus? I hardly think so. Then again Ford was punished for the ’96 Taurus that was actually much better than the prev gen, just with funky styling and a price increase. Go figure?

    Toyota has been good at one thing in the past decade in my humble opinion, and that’s reading the market. Certinaly not at making great vehicles. This Camry will sell well and probably stay the sales king, but if history is anything, being tops in sales does not mean you have the best product in that segment. I’ll pass….

    • 0 avatar

      There is some revisionist history going on here.

      The legendary ’92 Camry was the next logical step in a series of steps up for Toyota in the family-car class. It was a nearly bolt-for-bolt, crease-for-crease plagiarism of the brilliant ’89 Maxima, with some decontenting and a lower price, but sharing that car’s tremendous solidity, modern curvy design (for the era — remember GM’s razor-edged toaster look) and propelled by less sexy but more bulletproof engines.

      The Taurus was the #1 seller at that time, but helped by lots of discounting and fleet sales Toyota didn’t need; Toyota was making a lot more profit per unit despite a much higher transaction price.

      When it came time for both to refresh the cars for ’96-97, the two carmakers moved in opposite directions. Toyota, like all its Japanese peers, was getting increasingly stung by the strong yen, so it moved to decontent and cheapen the car. Ford, not realizing Toyota was about to reverse course on the car that had cemented its golden reputation, dramatically raised the content level — actually beyond Toyota’s newly degraded one, with niceties like triple-sealed doors — but simultaneously screwed the pooch with misbegotten styling and poor space utilization. The latter is well covered in Mary Walton’s excellent book Car.

      The upshot, as they say, was history. Buyers didn’t recognize the decay of the Camry, seduced by the Camry name and the misleading ad slogan “Camry. Better than ever.” They only knew Toyota had lowered the price, so they bought it. Ford was stuck with a car that was suddenly price-uncompetitive, yet saddled with the quality-image baggage of the previous cars’ mismatch, so they couldn’t give them away. And because so much of the higher cost of the Ford was baked into the car, even introducing a price-stripper model a year in wasn’t enough to help.

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