The Camry's redesign hasn't quite fixed its weaknesses, but it has convincingly played up its traditional strengths. There are still competitors that have more style, have richer interiors, and drive more sportingly. I'm particularly disappointed that the interior materials feel so chintzy -- a "stitched" dash is only impressive if the stitching looks remotely authentic. This base model also understeers to the point that it makes the Chevrolet Malibu we have in the office feel like a sports car. But I suspect most mid-size buyers won't care so much about these things. They will care that the Camry's cabin feels like it's a size bigger than most mid-size cars. The specs say it's slightly roomier than a Malibu and slightly more cramped than a Hyundai Sonata, but Toyota designers provide a real-world impression of airiness that eludes either competitor. The four-cylinder model is exceptionally refined -- the engine isn't gritty like some competitors and the automatic transmission doesn't constantly hunt for the highest gear to squeak out better mileage. It achieves segment-best four-cylinder fuel economy anyway, and nearly beats the Malibu Eco's mild-hybrid powertrain.
So, if you need a midsize car, the new Camry belongs at the top of your list. I do have a caveat, though, in the form of a question: Do you really need a midsize car? I ask because $23,700 -- the sticker on our barebones, steel-wheels Camry -- will now buy you one hell of a compact car these days, one loaded with options. It'll probably get even better fuel economy, too.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I came away from my weekend with the Camry impressed. I came in expecting milquetoast, and while the LE as tested isn't exactly an enthusiast's dream machine, it's a quiet, comfortable, midsize sedan that drives surprisingly well. The 2.5-liter I-4 is tremendously peppy off the line, and the six-speed automatic's manual shift mode is a bit hokey (it's more a range selection than an actual manual shift function), but its wide gear spread helps fuel economy. I noticed the tachometer read only 2100-2200 rpm while I was cruising at about 75 mph.
Zenlea may be a bit disappointed in the Camry's handling, but keep in mind that this is the mid-grade LE model; those seeking a little more flash and sportiness can always opt for the SE. I may have held low expectations going in, but the Camry surprised me; it wasn't the flaccid four-door I expected and it's far less wallowy than before. Steering is well weighted (though still devoid of feedback), and the brake pedal was anything but spongy. Well done.
That said, the Camry falls flat from a styling perspective. The front fascia looks a little sharper than before but it's still nowhere as attractive as many of its competitors. The same can be said of the interior: it's roomy and ergonomically pleasing, but plastics are hard and not that impressive -- the faux-stitched dash plastic, for instance. I remember that from my father-in-law's 1990 Camry sedan; it didn't work then, and it doesn't work now.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
Although the 2012 Camry is all new, it pretty much follows the same formula that it always has: A plainly styled mid-size sedan that appeals more to the head than to the heart. The one shining star in the prosaic Camry universe is its powertrain. The four-cylinder is responsive and uncannily smooth and quiet and shifts from the 6-speed automatic are nearly undetectable. In the past, we've praised the Camry's V-6 for being the smoothest in its class and the 2.5-liter four in this 2012 LE isn't far off. Even under hard acceleration it never drones or becomes harsh. In terms of true dynamic flaws, the most flagrant is the lack of brake pedal travel and progressivity.
There is new sheetmetal but the most noticeable styling change is up front, where the headlights and front fascia have, dare I say, some attitude. Inside, the changes are much more significant. The center stack has been redesigned to accommodate an infotainment screen and everything from the controls, to the gauges, to the steering wheel has been reworked. Unfortunately, it still lacks even the slightest hint of style and the fit and finish have definitely taken a step backward. The most obvious flaw was some rough cut plastic I noticed around the base of the center console where there seems to have been no attempt made at all to create a finished look.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I was going to refrain from offering too harsh a critique on this base-level Camry, lest I set in stone my reputation as the staff Toyota-assassin, but there is one failing so egregious in this Camry, that I cannot let it stand without comment. It is the "rough cut plastic" referred to by Jen -- two slabs of rubber at the base of the center stack so poorly finished and integrated into the console. Horrendous.
I expected conservative styling inside and out, and materials not as good as a Hyundai's -- and the Camry met those low expectations -- but as long as buyers keep lining up for this car, I can hardly blame Toyota for failing to rock the boat. Otherwise, I didn't think the Camry was that bad. The interior is roomy and comfortable, and the driving experience is perfectly fine. All in all, it felt like a solid car that is sure to please most current Camry owners who drive into their dealer and re-up without test-driving the competition.
I'm not so sure, however, that this car is going to woo potential new Toyota customers away from better-styled and better-executed competition from Korea, elsewhere in Japan, and yes, even America.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
The Camry is not an exciting car to drive, but there's a reason that it is the bestselling car in America (and its nearest competitor doesn't even come close). For about $23,000, you get a vehicle that's roomy and comfortable and has a smooth powertrain and a long-standing reputation for reliability. People who buy Camrys trade them in for new Camrys because they know that there won't be any surprises.
The Camry is new for 2012, but that doesn't mean it will be unfamiliar to existing Camry owners. The car sits somewhat lower but the seating position is much the same, as is the feeling of interior spaciousness and driver comfort. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, so any driver can adjust it to the proper position. The touchscreen audio system is logical and easy to use. The four-cylinder engine helps the Camry accelerate smoothly and with no drama. The trunk has plenty of room for carrying multiple pieces of luggage or other chattel.
Car enthusiasts may not understand the appeal of a Camry, but for someone who is looking for a vehicle that will not demand too much of its driver and will deliver reliable, stress-free transportation, it's hard to beat.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor