First Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry

By now, you’ve seen the ads. Certainly, Toyota Canada’s Managing Director Stephen Beatty hopes that you’ve seen them — he admitted that the 2012 Camry campaign is the “biggest spending launch in our history.” This disclosure came last month, when Beatty and a complement of Toyota engineers and publicists spent a few days with the media demonstrating why. The reasoning fascinates.

Drop in Price, Boost in Upgrades
It’s been a brutal few years for Toyota. Between the natural disasters across Asia this year and those irksome 2009 and 2010 recalls, the manufacturer needed a few good headlines. There are two ways to make that happen: 1) Make a better product, or 2) Drop your prices. Toyota did both.

Better Sit Down
The 2012 Camry SE costs $805 less than last year’s model, the Camry XLE, an even more welcome $4,355. The Camry SE V6 is $4,335 less expensive (hence: better sit down) but comes with $428 more equipment, and the Camry XLE V6 is selling for $2,700 less but with more than $4,200 in additional equipment. With 7 models to discuss (2 of them hybrids), this can get confusing. So, unless stated, what’s discussed hereon in this article comes standard across all 2012 Camrys.

New Design
Inside: There’s more space in the new Camry, but that doesn’t translate to more energy expenditure (see below for mileage). A stitched-leather surface covering the dashboard gives the impression of a saddle surrounding an entertainment unit. The 60/40 fold-down rear seats allow for plenty of cargo space, adding to an already-spacious trunk. Speaking of which: Toyota has moved the battery in the hybrid. Before, it blocked much of the trunk.

Outside: The new Camry has a sportier, lower-to-the-ground look. Toyota’s clearly targeting the young folk.

A More Spirited Ride
The sporty redesign translates into the drive, most noticeably in the turns. We had an opportunity to push several models and a few competitors hard at Shannonville race track in Eastern Ontario’s wine region. Most surprising was the hybrid’s thrust and pep — the new 2.5 litre engine makes a big difference to its acceleration.

Improvements Improvements Improvements
All Camrys now come with folding outside mirrors, a new suspension, better fuel economy, more airbags, hill-start assist, and “ECO mode.” An ongoing lesson in efficiency, this lights a green leaf when you’re driving with environmental virtuousness. You can disable it.

The hybrid boasts a humidity sensor to prevent fogging in the rear windshield. Announcing the vehicle’s otherwise silent presence (in electric mode) to unaware nearby pedestrians is the new Vehicle Approach Notice.

Choice of Engines
High on Toyota’s list of goals for this model year was a better balance of comfort and performance. The V6 Camrys attain this. Their 3.5 litre engine emits 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. (Further proof of success: At the race track, the other journalists were reluctant to share them.) The entry choice, a 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine, peaks at 179 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque — a 10% leap over last year. Both engines have dual variable valve timing and sequential multiport electronic fuel injection.

Fuel Efficiency
Using Transport Canada Test Methods, every Camry rates best-in-class fuel efficiency (for those of you keeping score at home: 4-cylinder intermediate, V6 intermediate and hybrids). The 4-cylinder gets 8.2 litres per 100km in the city and 5.6 on the highway; V6, 9.7 and 6.4; LE hybrid, 4.5 and 4.9; XLE Hybrid, 4.7, 5.1. In all cases it’s a big improvement from 2011.

The Elephant in the Roomier Sedan
So, yes, during the media Q&A session, someone asked about the floor mats. Even those have been redesigned and are standard equipment to all models. Beatty handled the question that we all knew was coming with aplomb: “It forced us to re-think everything.” Starting with the price.

2012 Toyota Camry (base pricing)

Camry LE: $23,700
Camry SE: $26,950
Camry XLE: $29,900
Camry SE V6: $29,900
Camry XLE V6: $33,700
Camry LE Hybrid: $26,990
Camry XLE Hybrid: $28,990

They’re even less expensive in the U.S.

Image courtesy of Steven Bochenek.

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