Base model mid-size sedans are purchased after pragmatism and price have once again triumphed over passion and prodigality, but this doesn’t mean you won’t feel pleased with yourself and with your new ride if you opt for a 2012 Toyota Camry LE.
Even though, from the day the first of the 15 million Camrys sold since the original rolled out of a dealership almost three decades ago, it’s a pretty safe bet not a single sidewalk-bound soul has pointed a finger as one went by and mouthed the word “wow.”
It’s just never been that kind of car. And in redesigned, but-not-too-much-to-step-out-of-character, seventh-generation form for 2012, it still isn’t.
It does, however, continue to offer exactly what all those people who bought one new and the many millions more who acquired one second- or third-hand expect it to (Toyota claims a remarkable 90 percent of those built in the last 15 years are still in use). Which is solid family values virtues.
Camrys in $23,700 base model LE form, offer just right size, pleasing style, far-from-Spartan levels of comfort and features, decent performance and economy, reliability and resale value, at an affordable price (sticker totals actually dropped across the range for 2012).
And if you want more than base level amenities, you can have them by opting for a better-equipped SE four-cylinder for $26,950 or step up to a V-6-engined and more feature-laden $29,900 SE. Or skip the family vacation to Disneyland and blow $33,700 on a woo-hoo XLE.
Sticking to its knitting is why this latest generation, introduced last October, has been the best-selling intermediate sedan in Canada for the past five months. And that’s in a fiercely competitive field packed with some of the best mid-sizers ever offered.
The generational change for 2012 left the Camry virtually the same size outside and not looking much different, although there’s new sheetmetal from front to back that has been artfully rearranged, particularly the pretty new nose section. The rear looks good too, from dead abaft, but the side view behind the wheels is a little uninspired. Tech tidbit: Formula One technology used in the mirrors apparently creates airflow vortexes that improve aerodynamics.
Careful paring of internal bits and pieces has resulted in only a modicum more interior room, but a perhaps slightly more open-feeling cabin. A white-stitched leather-look soft-touch dash-top, some shiny trim pieces and flat black plastic contrast to make the new instrument panel attractive. And functional, too, with three nestled gauge and display pods providing clear driver info and the centre-stack-mounted HVAC and audio controls large, well-marked and easy to operate.
The steering wheel rim feels good (and there are controls in the spokes) and the redesigned seats offer more travel and length. But typical of Toyota, they are still a bit short under the thighs although they proved quite comfortable. You could fit three into the roomy rear seat area, and the trunk offers 436 litres of space, expandable with the 60/40-split rear seatback.
A pair of cup holders are handily located on the console, where you’ll find more stitching, which along with that on the dash lends a classy note to the interior. A trace of wind noise up front slightly disturbs an otherwise Lexus-like quiet inside.
On the equipment list are the usual power assist features, tilt/telescope wheel, air conditioning, six-speaker audio system with display screen that provides driving information, Bluetooth connectivity, plus 10 airbags.
The days when opting for just four cylinders was punished by tepid performance (and often not all that brilliant fuel economy) are past and the Camry is powered by a 2.5-litre unit that makes 178 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic makes the most of this to produce enthusiastic step-off away from traffic lights, and more than enough urge for other driving situations, including passing or merging with highway traffic.
A tall top gear means it shifts back to fifth on some highway hills, but helps produce fuel economy ratings of 8.2 litres/100 km city and 5.6 highway. Highway cruising speed usage during my test period was 7.2 litres/100 km and that, combined with mostly rural driving produced an average of just 7.0 in my week of driving.
The steering has a light but natural weight at highway speeds with good on-centre feel. And the 16-inch steel front wheels, despite being shod with tall-sidewalled comfort-oriented P205/65R16 all-season rubber follow wheel input willingly if not exactly crisply.
Overall handling is about what you’d expect from a family-sedan-spec suspension that’s been tuned to offer no surprises and a comfortable, rather than sporty, ride. It’s a car you just get in and drive, without having to think very much about the actual process.
The 2012 Camry isn’t very different from the generation that went before, but it is different – read refined – in very many areas. And the sum of these adds up to a car that should more than maintain the reputation built by its forebears.
2012 Toyota Camry LE
Type: Mid-size sedan
Base Price: $23,700; as tested, $25,400
Engine: 2.45-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 178 hp/170 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.2 city/5.6 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Honda Accord, Buick Regal