For two decades, the Toyota Camry was virtually unchallenged for the title of America’s favorite mid-size sedan, but that era is over. Barbarians are at the gate armed with better styling, newer technology, and superior fuel economy. The 2012 Camry intends to turn them back with an all-new design and thoroughly revised mechanicals. The transformation is most readily apparent inside, where the hard, tan plastics have given way to stitched leather and chrome accents. The new exterior design still plays to conservative tastes but is no longer bland. Unlike some of its newest competitors, the Camry still offers a V-6. The familiar 3.5-liter engine, despite mild fuel economy gains, gives up 4 mpg on the highway to the Hyundai Sonata’s more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The six is still worth considering, though, as it’s perhaps the smoothest engine in the segment. The four-cylinder and hybrid powertrains both post gains as well, with the Hybrid likely to achieve an impressive 41 mpg combined. We’re most surprised–and pleasantly so–by how the new Camry drives, particularly the Hybrid. The soupy handling, artificial steering, bouncy ride, grabby brakes, and clumsy throttle response we complained about have all vanished without a trace. The electric power steering (now fitted to all Camrys) is precise and almost natural, the brake pedal feels as good as any hybrid’s, and the suspension tuning is nothing short of a revelation. The top-level SE serves up surprisingly balanced handling from its firmer suspension and heavier steering.

Base Price Range: $22,715-$30,605

Drive: Front-wheel

Trim levels: L, LE, SE, XLE, LE Hybrid, XLE Hybrid

Body style: Sedan, 5-passenger

Engines: 2.5L I-4, 178 hp, 170 lb-ft

2.5L I-4/electric hybrid, 200 hp net, 156 lb-ft

3.5L V-6, 268 hp, 248 lb-ft

Transmissions: 6-speed automatic, continuously variable

Passenger volume: 101.3-102.7 cu ft

CARGO SPACE: 13.1-15.4 cu ft

The Camry is new for 2012. Beyond the stylish sheetmetal and much improved interior materials, the Camry boasts improved fuel economy in all its variants. Leading the way again is the Hybrid, which improves to an estimated 41 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

Front, side, side curtain, and driver’s knee air bags; ABS; traction and stability control; and a tire-pressure monitoring system are all standard.

All: 21-43 mpg city/30-39 mpg highway

  • Upscale new interior
  • Hybrid mpg leads segment
  • Good driving dynamics
  • Six-cylinder can’t match fuel economy of a turbo four
  • Somewhat dull styling

The empire strikes back.

  • Chevrolet Malibu
  • Ford Fusion
  • Honda Accord
  • Hyundai Sonata

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