2012 Toyota Camry XLE review:

2012 Toyota Camry XLE

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With Toyota's new voice command system you can say the names of artists and albums to begin playing music.

Toyota has improved its voice command substantially in the Camry, as well. When I activated the system, a list of available commands popped up on the LCD, a useful helper. The system did well understanding addresses for navigation, and was even able to understand commands to play artists and albums. At least, that is, when the iPod connection was actually working.

A USB drive proved a more reliable audio source. The Camry XLE also came with satellite radio, as mentioned above, and HD Radio for FM broadcast. This new band for Toyota also had a button on the interface for tagging songs, which saves their information to a connected iPod, making it easy to find those songs in the iTunes store when the iPod is synced with a computer.

The audio system in the Camry XLE was an interesting bit of energy-efficient technology from JBL. Called GreenEdge, this system is supposed to produce robust audio without heavy power consumption. As such, JBL doesn't advertise the system's watts, a specification often used to tout the quality of a system.

Whatever its power, the sound coming through its 10 speakers was very well defined. Although not at the level of a really high-end audio system, it was certainly better than most car audio systems, and probably the best ever in a Camry. Playing music quietly, I found it was still easy to hear some of the more buried layers in a track. And the system did not skimp on the bass, giving a good punch to tracks with a lot of thump.

The available engines don't show the same drive for efficiency as the stereo. CNET's review car came with the most powerful option, a 3.5-liter V-6, which generates 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. These numbers are not particularly impressive when competitive six-cylinder engines rate around 300 horsepower. Toyota continues to rely on its variable valve timing technology, not pushing into the more advanced efficiency technology being used by the competition.

But this engine did a fine job of moving the Camry. Over hills, merging into traffic, and maintaining freeway speeds, the power came in handy, driving the car with ease. The power gets to the front wheel through a six-speed automatic transmission, a unit that has become standard in Lexus and Toyota models. This transmission includes manual and sport modes, although the latter doesn't make a lot of sense for the Camry.

The ride quality felt very solid, the Camry trundling over bumps in the road with businesslike professionalism. It dealt with the jolts quickly, with minimal disturbance to the passenger compartment. This suspension was not soft, so the car did not wallow in tight turns.

The Camry showed decent stability on an autocross course.

Toyota made much of the new Camry's enhanced stability, so much that I had the opportunity earlier this year to compare it on an autocross course with the previous-generation model. The autocross consisted of a cone course with many tight turns and one straight long enough to get the car up to 50 mph. Although the improved stability was obvious, there was no mistaking the Camry for a Mini Cooper. Click here to read more about how the Camry fared on the autocross course.

The V-6 only gets 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, according to EPA estimates, while the available 2.5-liter four-cylinder gets 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. Neither engine shows remarkable fuel economy, but potential buyers should definitely consider the smaller engine. Although only making 178 horsepower, it is adequate for most needs.

Still, the choice that makes the most sense is the 2012 Camry Hybrid, which should average about 40 mpg. Its total system output is 200 horsepower, striking a good balance between the two gas-only engines. The Camry Hybrid can also be had in high XLE trim, with all the cabin electronics of the V-6 version.

In sum
The real highlight of the 2012 Toyota Camry XLE is the new cabin tech. The new app integration with Entune should have helped the car achieve a better score, but I had to downgrade it a little due to the connectivity problems I encountered. But the new voice command, navigation system, and JBL GreenEdge stereo help the overall score.

Although the six-speed automatic transmission and electric power-steering system are good for efficiency, the tired tech of the V-6 weighed down the performance tech score. The Camry Hybrid would have earned more points in this regard.

One last note: the Camry XLE with the V-6 engine is the most expensive model in the lineup, with the price of our car coming in well above $30,000. For that kind of money, models from premium marques such as Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota's own Lexus brand, become available.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Toyota Camry
Trim XLE V-6
Power train 3.5-liter V-6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 21.8 mpg
Navigation Optional hard-drive-based navigation system with traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Standard, contact list integration optional
Disc player MP3 compatible single-CD player
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system JBL GreenEdge 10-speaker audio system
Driver aids Blind-spot detection, rearview camera
Base price $29,845
Price as tested $33,372

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