Although Toyota made some significant changes to the Camry for 2012, most people would be hard-pressed to pick them out when seeing the car drive down the street. Camry has been a huge sales success for Toyota, and I am not surprised to see the company stick with this winning formula.
But the new Camry does have one feature that shoots for the cutting edge. Entune gives the Camry apps and connectivity, a rare technological innovation from largely conservative Toyota. Entune in the Camry is kind of like if Betty White showed up wearing a nose ring. There is nothing wrong with Betty White trying something different, but her long career makes it unnecessary.
The success of the Camry may be baffling to sports car enthusiasts, who assume everyone loves the adrenaline rush of cornering at the very edge of grip. But the 2012 model makes it easy to see why the Camry has become so popular. This sedan has a spacious cabin easily seating five, and plenty of trunk room.
These attributes make it a perfect multiuse vehicle for the majority of America's driving needs. It will get a parent to work and back five days a week, tote the kids to school, take the whole family to Grandma's house on Saturday, and fit a load of groceries or home improvement items when taken out for Sunday errands.
Of course, Toyota won't want to rest too much on its laurels, which explains the inclusion of Entune, along with some of the other improvements to the Camry. CNET's review car was about the most expensive Camry available, in XLE trim with a V-6 engine. As a high-trim model, it had some luxury interior appointments, such as stitched leather over the dashboard. But Toyota has made an effort to improve interior quality in all Camry trims, which I've seen in lesser SE models.
The 2012 Camry gets subtle aesthetic changes that keep its lines modern.
Aesthetic changes include a less ostentatious nose bump and a lower fascia made busy with more vents. In a practical change, Toyota thinned the A pillars, which I found made it easier to see objects off the front fenders. The seating position also felt high, and no amount of pushing down on the seat control would bring it down to a more comfortable height. My knees seemed uncomfortably close to the dashboard.
A new safety feature I was very happy to see was blind-spot detection, which lights up icons in the side mirrors when other cars are in the Camry's blind spots. I didn't notice any false positives with this system, and the electronic help when maneuvering through heavy traffic was greatly appreciated.
But Entune is the most interesting change, and a big step forward for Toyota into connected cabin technology. Unfortunately, it is not entirely successful. Entune comprises a select set of well-known applications, such as Pandora and OpenTable, available through the car's head unit, with a data connection coming through a connected smartphone. Android phones can connect via Bluetooth to provide the data connection, and iPhones must be plugged into the car's USB port.
Among two Android phones we tried, one connected without issues, while the other kept on getting connection errors. An iPhone 3G S loaded with IOS 5 and cabled to the car's USB port experienced problems connecting to the head unit. Beyond the problem with Entune, the normal iPod integration didn't work, so that we couldn't play music from the iPhone. After some cable jiggling and repeated plug-ins, the iPhone worked for a good chunk of time, letting me test the system's apps. An iPhone 4 plugged into the system worked immediately, with no problems, so it seems the Camry has some backward-compatibility issues.
Once the system was working, I could search for local points of interest in Bing, listen to Pandora or iHeartRadio, buy movie tickets, and make restaurant reservations. Each function involved a bit of wait time, something most people will already have become inured to with their smartphones.
Bing does not list its search results by distance, and it returned few results for an item that can be picked up at most hardware stores.
A simple search on the term "hamburger" brought up many nearby hamburger-focused restaurants from Bing, but the results were not arranged by distance, which would be more helpful. A more esoteric search for "vacuum cleaner bags" returned only three results, none of them a nearby hardware store where I could have easily found vacuum cleaner bags.
Pandora and iHeartRadio worked much better, and required much less wait time. The Pandora interface let me choose stations and give songs the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. My only complaint is regarding the interface. Toyota added an Apps tab among the other audio sources, but the resulting screen did not let me choose between Pandora and iHeartRadio. I had to go back through a main apps screen to make that selection.
Entune can also show nearby fuel prices, traffic, and weather, which it does in Toyota's midgrade head unit. In the head unit included with the XLE trim car, this data comes in through the satellite radio connection. This data is very convenient to have available, although the immediacy with which it shows up emphasizes the slower load times of Entune.
Toyota still refuses to include perspective-view maps in its navigation system, but the resolution of the 2D maps is much improved. Street names are very easy to read and the maps show some detail within blocks. Traffic data overlays the map, showing specific incidents and average speeds. The route guidance uses this data to avoid serious problems.
The route guidance was capable of saying the names of streets for upcoming turns, and showed large, easy-to-read graphics to explain upcoming maneuvers. The 6.1-inch LCD had room for a dual-map display, so I could have one map zoomed in and the other showing more of the surrounding roads, useful for finding traffic problems farther out.
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..
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, 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.
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.
|Model||2012 Toyota Camry|
|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|
|Price as tested||$33,372|