2012 Toyota Camry XLE - It's In the Special Sauce

Years of speculation and innuendo recently prompted the world's largest fast food restaurant chain to release the recipe for the "Special Sauce" served on its famed "Big Mac" burger.

A 2012 Toyota Camry XLE just spent a week with us at the friendly confines of "Drive...He Said. "  Unable to send the Camry to the Hadron Collider for sub-atomic bombardment we attempt to unravel the secret to Toyota's "smashing" success in the mid-size family car segment. As this post goes to publication the Georgetown, Kentucky-made Toyota Camry is the back on top as the number one selling car in the U.S. and third overall only to two pick-up trucks, the Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado. Neither piled-up floormats , nor claims of mind-of-their-own throttles, nor Congressional beratement nor the most massive voluntary automotive recall (over 2 million vehicles) could undo twenty years and seven generations of  rabid customer loyalty to the brand and model.

(1) Two All Beef Patties:

Check under the hood and there's the beef : The all-aluminum alloy 2.5 four cylinder engine benefits from de-rigeur variable timing for intake and exhaust valves and direct injection. While the Camry engine is 100 cc larger than the Hyundai Sonata/ Kia Optima's four-banger, it is down 20 horsepower and 15 lb-ft or torque to both, with a respective 178 hp at 6100 rpm and 170 lb-ft. at the same engine speed. As the engine block has greater piston stroke than bore, it doesn't have to be wound out to bring on the power. If four-cylinder mills tend to make sewing-machine sounds, this one, fitted with a pair of counter-rotating balance shafts, is the Swiss Bernina.

Move the gated shifter into Drive and the six-speed automatic transmission makes seamless shifts, without the drama of excessive hunt in the name of fuel economy typically observed in this segment. Even slight throttle blipping is possible in manu-matic mode above 4500 rpm. The moderately short 3.6:1 final drive spins the front wheels to the 60 mph mark under 9 seconds, while maintaining plenty of steam even upon entry into the realm of triple-digits. Combined with more moderate driving the four-cylinder Camry returned a strictly par 26 miles per gallon of fuel economy. There simply has to be a reason for the gas-electric hybrid version of the model.

(2) Special Sauce:

The hallmark of a genteel driving experience has been further refined in the seventh generation of the Toyota Camry. The front Macpherson strut suspension features inversely wound coil springs which stand the wheel more perpendicular to the steering axis, thereby reducing wheel tug. Larger diameter sway bars fitted to the rear twin link indy suspension permit greater wheel toe, good for keeping the tail in check. Abundant suspension travel combined with a rigid structure cook up a Camry ride which is barely upset over the harshest of impacts. Quicker dampers put the kibosh on tendencies towards luxo-barge float of old.

A low effort (read numb) electrically assisted steering rack is quick enough not to get in the way of more frenetic maneuvers at the helm of the Camry.  All-season touring Bridgestone Turanza tires sized 215/55 wrapped around 17" alloy wheels, are more howl-resistant than most under torture. Call it civilized, but modest pedal application to the vented front, solid rear brake rotors with floating calipers generates even more modest feel.

(3)Lettuce, Cheese, Pickles, Onions :

Get situated inside the Camry. One cannot help but glean that some fastidious engineer or designer, honing their skills for an eventual promotion to Lexus,  sat in this very compartment for hours contemplating the optimal placement of virtually every instrument gauge, display, dial, switch, button and stalk. You simply cannot argue with the logical placement of trunk and fuel filler door release levers on the floor to the outboard side of the Camry's driver's seat. Behold the tasteful two-tone leather seats and contrasting dash cover, satin metallic and wood grain embellishments and the electro-luminescent gauges in our Camry XLE. Panels are gap free and fasteners are always discretely hidden. Less elegant to the touch are the redundant steering wheel infotainment thumb controls whose convenience becomes less apparent in darkness. Less Lexus-like was our Camry XLE's  $29,000 as-tested price.

Techno-cool is the center stack 6.1" navigation infotainment touch screen. However, the safety sentinels at Toyota have seen to de-activate many of the touch functions while your Camry is in motion. Without any mouse-type controller on-board there remains the less passenger friendly alternative of shouting voice commands. The Entune software accepts streaming data and app downloads from compatible mobile devices. All the more frustrating was the stubborn rejection of our hard-wired 2nd generation I-pod Nano, despite multiple cable swaps and a confirmation of compatibility in the User's Manual.

Overall, the Camry cabin is a spacious piece. Wider front bucket seats, which are long on cushion comfort and lumbar support if short on side bolstering, can be adjusted in concert with the tilt/ telescoping steering wheel for good command of the road. That wide center console verges on accepting an Airbus coming in for a landing. The rear quarters are a veritable NBA players' lounge. An abbreviated-cushioned, though usable,  middle seat position belies an incredible 39"-inches of  legroom. Rear headroom betters competitors' by a good inch. A trunk which loses points on account of protruding torsion rods, expands with the folding of 60/40  split seat backs, lined with rugged grooved plastic.

(4) All On a Sesame Seed Bun:

Just when we thought the Toyota Camry was becoming curvaceous, as in the previous generation, the new for 2012 XV50 model has become downright wedgy in appearance...not unlike the slightly smaller Prius hybrid. The slippery drag coefficient of 0.28 cd  favors fuel economy. Could it be that Toyota finally found a home for a short-lived design known as the abandoned Lexus HS250 hybrid? It just so happens that the Camry's "special sauce" bears savoring at least as much as thousand island dressing.

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  • Nice to hear that the Camry is going strong and your positive take on the new model. I have been a Camry owner for nearly 20 years. Everyone always comments on how quiet and comfortable the ride is - even admiring the great range of the headlight power. It has been a reliable comfortable car despite other critics dis of the styling. Now... what about the Sienna minivan??

  • In reply to sparky:

    Sparky,

    Glad to see our review of the 2012 Toyota Camry resonated with a loyal fan. If there is something to be said for more reserved styling it's that fewer are offended.

    While you and we [both] are waiting on a Sienna maxi-minvan to review may we suggest our recent reviews of the Nissan Quest:

    http://www.chicagonow.com/drive-he-said/2012/08/2012-nissan-quest-le-family-transit-doubles-as-the-mans-lair/#image/1

    or the Mazda5:

    http://www.chicagonow.com/drive-he-said/2012/09/2012-mazda5-an-antidote-for-the-schoolbus/#image/1

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