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2012 Toyota Camry

2012 Camry designed to take on rivals Add to ...

The 2012 Camry intermediate sedan is exactly what you’d expect it to be: competent, fuel-efficient, attractive rather than sexy, and almost certainly reliable.

Toyota Canada would like to sell 20,000 Camrys a year and has three different powertrain choices to get there: four-cylinder, V-6 and gasoline-electric hybrid. And then there’s pricing. The base LE with four-banger (178 horsepower) starts at $23,700, compared to $25,310 for the old 2011 LE.

“You can get North America’s most popular car with automatic (transmission) for less than the starting price of the (Hyundai) Sonata, which starts with a manual transmission,” says Sandy Di Felice, a senior spokesperson for Toyota Canada, adding the same story holds true for the rival Ford Fusion – not including discounts, of course.

Moving up the line, a new Camry SE with a V-6 engine (268 hp) starts at $29,900, versus $34,255 for the 2011 SE model. And when the Camry Hybrid arrives in late November or December, expect a similar pricing story, though details are yet to be announced.

Obviously, the design is different for 2012 and it’s an improvement in its simplicity. The car now looks like one car, rather than a loose collection of lines and shapes and cuts. Fuel economy is better, too, despite the fact Toyota has not gone the direct fuel injection route favoured by rivals such as Hyundai (in the Sonata) and Kia (in the Optima).

The 2012 Camry with four-banger is rated at a solid 7.0 litres/100 km combined, or 8.2 city/5.6 highway. The Sonata four-cylinder? It is at 8.7 city/5.6 highway/7.3 combined, while the Fusion four gets 9.0 city/6.0 highway/7.7 combined. The Camry V-6? Same sort of tale: 8.2 combined/9.7 city/6.4 highway. Hyundai does not sell a V-6 Sonata, but the Fusion with V-6 comes in at 9.0 combined/10.6 city/7.0 highway.

To be deadly honest, while a long list of numbers can be mind-numbing, this is the sort of thing that sells Camrys. Buyers want fuel economy, reliability, sturdiness and an utter lack of ugly surprises. As Scott Burgess of The Detroit News said recently, the Camry is the sort of car Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman selects from the list of available company cars. The Camry is for those of you toodling from sales call to sales call.

And for that, this Camry hits home nicely. Coming off two pretty rough years, Toyota knows the 2012 model needs to reclaim past glories with not just fuel economy, but also styling, comfort and features.

Indeed, the interior is a big improvement, especially in pricier models. That’s because there is much less noisy hard plastic and much more in the way of soft-touch materials. Blue-needled instrument needles are nice, too.

And Toyota is thrilled to offer its new Entune voice-recognition infotainment system. You can get an app to pair it with your smartphone and the learning curve is not too steep, though Ford’s MyFord Touch system is a more thoroughly complete approach to voice activated controls. The Entune display screen is a bit small, too.

Overall, Toyota has done all the basics quite well. But that’s no surprise. What’s missing is a more striking design and a more daring approach to being leading edge in the four-cylinder and V-6 engine department.

But then, if you know Toyota, that’s exactly what you’d expect.

Tech specs

2012 Toyota Camry LE

Type: Intermediate four-door sedan

Price: $23,700 ($1,560 freight)

Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, DOHC

Horsepower/torque: 178 hp/170 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.2 city/5.6 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Volkswagen Passat, Ford Fusion, Mazda6, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima

jcato@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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