2012 Toyota Camry SE V6 Ride and Review By Dan Poler

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What’s in a name?

By Dan Poler
Bureau Chief
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

There’s a certain image that’s conjured by the name “Camry”, the basic family hauler, reliable if somewhat boring, very good at being a basic sedan. Despite this ho-hum-ness, Toyota sold nearly 310,000 of them in the United States in 2011.

So, suppose I told you that there’s a great new sports sedan on the market – stylish, very well-equipped at just a little over $31,000, great for daily driving and hauling car seats, but opens up for some excitement as well… Would you think less of it because it’s a Camry?

Completely redesigned for 2012, the new Camry has done an exceptional job of breaking its stereotypes. It’s evident that Toyota’s team went back to the drawing board with the intent of correcting some of the specific critiques about the prior model, and in the process relieved the Camry of a great deal of it’s stereotyped “Camryness”, coming up with a bold departure from prior models that is stylish and fun to drive.

Equipped in the SE V6 trim that I drove, the Camry includes 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, foglamps, a unique update to both interior and exterior styling, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and upgraded power-adjustable seats. Adding that V6 will net you a 3.5 liter generating 268 HP and 248 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The powerplant setup provides for a 0-60 clocking in at a very respectable 6.6 seconds; the V6 package also provides for a Smart Key and an enhanced radio and GPS unit that also includes HD radio, satellite radio, voice recognition and Toyota’s Entune smartphone and Web integration.

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The exterior treatments specific to the SE trim are tasteful for a sport sedan without going overboard. The aggressively styled front fascia is attractive but functional, without being so low as to make parking in crowded parking lots a challenge. The back end sports dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes, a nice touch.

Another attractive addition are the 18-inch turbine-style alloy wheels, surprisingly nice for a car in this class and a nice touch to differentiate the SE trim level.

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Inside, you’ll find an attractive, well-appointed cabin with nice touches throughout that make the Camry a nice place to spend extended drives. The trim is a brushed-aluminum-look plastic, and the two-tone perforated ultrasuede seats are not only good-looking, they’re supremely comfortable for long drives, with power adjustment for both driver and passenger.

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There are storage cubbies and compartments everywhere, as is Toyota’s style. The in-dash entertainment unit combines Bluetooth GPS, backup camera, HD and XM radio, and Toyota’s Entune product which allows the entertainment system to utilize the Internet connection of a smartphone to provide online content such as access to Pandora Radio or Bing for searches. The entertainment system, although more straightforward than most, can be a bit daunting to use on the go, given its host of physical and touchscreen buttons. The back seat is quite accommodating of adults, although the center seat is a bit raised relative to the outboard positions and can run a tall person into the headliner.

The Camry is no slouch when it comes to safety, sporting what we’ve come to think of as typical features including ABS with brake assist, electronic stability control, front and rear side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, and knee airbags for both driver and front passenger. A blind-spot warning system is also available, although it was not equipped to the tested vehicle. The US government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have both given very high marks to the new Camry.

The Camry SE’s performance is exceptional – the V6 engine is no slouch and handles freeway onramps and passing with ease. The six-speed ECT-i transmission generally performed well, I did note the occasional jumpiness as the transmission skipped a gear when downshifting, or when it didn’t downshift as expected – both conditions easily remedied with the steering wheel’s paddle shifters. Even with the great performance of the Camry SE, I averaged a decent 27 MPG in combined city and highway driving, against estimates of 21 city / 30 highway.

The sport suspension does a decent – although not perfect – job of countering body roll, at the expense of a somewhat harsh, bumpy ride on the freeway; it’s easy to feel every pavement seam.

Despite the great improvements to the 2012 Camry SE, there are still a couple places where it clearly retains its stereotypical “Camryness” – for one, steering leaves a bit to be desired – for 2012, Toyota switched the entire Camry line to the electric-assisted steering setup previously found only on the Camry Hybrid; although the setup enables Toyota to tune the steering to the application, I’m not a fan of the new configuration. The steering is soft and vague, but without any dead spot in the middle – a combination makes it easy to overcorrect at highway speeds.

One other concern sits at the intersection of tires and traction control – The Camry SE sports Michelin low-rolling resistance tires which don’t feel well mated to the SE’s sporty visage. It’s easy to get the tires spinning and squealing in the corners and during acceleration – even on dry pavement – leading an overly-aggressive traction control to engage and remove power. This combination can be frustrating and results in needing to gently nudge the accelerator pedal off the line.

So, what’s in a name? If you’re in the market for a sports sedan in the low-$30,000 range, don’t pass over the Camry SE V6! Toyota has clearly put a lot of effort into breaking out of the boring-family-sedan mold, and it shows. The Camry SE V6 is a pleasure to drive and deserving of consideration.

Specifications: 2012 Toyota Camry SE V6

Base Price: $22,055

Price as Tested: $31,202

Engine Type: 3.5 L V6 DOHC 24V with Dual VVT-i

Horsepower: 268

Torque (lb-ft): 248

Transmission: 6-Speed ECT-i automatic with paddle shifters

Wheelbase / Length (in): 109.3 / 189.2

Curb Weight: 3,420 lbs

Pounds per HP: 12.76

Fuel Capacity (U.S. Gal): 17

Fuel Requirement: Regular unleaded

Tires: Michelin Radial X: P225/45R18

Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated disc / Solid disc

Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / MacPherson strut

Ground clearance (in): 6.1

Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - MPG
city / highway / observed:
21 / 30 / 27

Base Trim Price: $26,640

Options and Charges

Package – Convenience Package: $895 (Integrated backup camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and HomeLink universal transceiver, anti-theft system with alarm)

Package – Leather Package: $1,050 (Leather trimmed ultrasuede sport seats and leather door trim with seatback pockets, multi-stage heated driver and passenger front seats, 4-way power adjustable front passenger seat)

Option – Display Audio with Navigation: $650

Option – Power Tilt/Slide Moonroof: $915

Option – Carpet Trunk/Mat Set: $225

Option – Wheel Locks: $67

Delivery: $760

Price as tested: $31,202

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