Driving Impressions – March 2012

To hybrid or not to hybrid? That is the question.
2012 Toyota Camry LE & Hybrid

By Greg Cavanaugh

Gallup Journey 2012 Toyota CamryToyota’s Camry has been its bread and butter, keystone, and stalwart product for decades.  Ask most anybody about a Camry and even non-car people will say things like, “Those are good cars,” “Those run forever,” and “My mother has a had three and just loves them.”  There’s good reason for those comments, the Camry has been a solid, reliable, well-engineered, mid-size masterpiece.  I have no reason to think the 2012 models, like the one I drove, are going to be any different.

Read almost any car review about a Camry and you’re going to get the same basic story that goes something like this: “The Camry, while immensely competent, represents the pursuit of perfection with the absence of passion.”  Then the reviews will use words like appliance, hairdryer, etc.  I’m not going to try and hide that, for the most part, they’re right.  The Camry has been such a great car and also plain, bland, and boring at the same time. I believe for the 2012 mode, however, that after years of these reviews, Toyota has tried to inject some fun into the Camry . . . well, just a little.

So lets cut to the chase.  The exterior is clearly an evolution of the last Camry.  It looks fully acceptable, marginally better and will offend no one. The Hybrid model gets a blue Toyota badge on the grill, and the SE has some sporty additional bodywork.  The interior is spacious, comfortable, easy to use . . . and forget. The buttons in the center stack, as well as their labeling, are still cartoonishly large, but function well.  The LE has an easy-to-use touchscreen infotainment system.  The gauge cluster uses an RPM-like gauge to show average MPG.  The steering wheel tilts and telescopes making adjustments easy.  The chassis is well sorted and has a nice ride without being overly soft and, after only a few miles of driving, it fades from memory.  The steering is neither precise nor vague.  The 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic in the LE go about their business like perfect little soldiers and always get the job done, providing adequate power, 178 hp/170 lb. ft. and, combined with extensive weight shedding, good gas mileage: 25 city / 35 highway.  The Hybrid adds batteries and electric motors to bring the mileage count to 43 city / 39 highway.  The Hybrid’s electric motor pulls strongly from a stop.

So that’s it.  Sort of.

Firstly, Toyota has changed the Hybrid’s place in the lineup.  No longer a higher end model, it represents a stunning deal, only $2,000 more than the LE.  Interestingly, it’s less than $2,000 dollars more than a base Prius as well and much more spacious.  Pretty cool.

Secondly, the Hybrid uses the adoption of the Prius’s over-promising EV Mode button, which attempts to “lock” the car into electric only mode.  Just as with the Prius, if you manage to go faster than 15 miles per hour, or push the accelerator with anything more than a feathery touch, the engine will kick on and the car will say “excessive speed” or “excessive acceleration.”  Always funny, always ridiculous.  I still can’t figure out its intended use.

Thirdly, both the LE and the Hybrid use Toyota’s Smart Key.  It takes only a couple days of use to realize just how great it is.  Put the key in your pocket, walk to the car, pull on the handle to unlock, get in the car, put your foot on the brake, push “start” to start the car, reverse and do the opposite when done.  It’s great!

Lastly, the LE gets the touch screen infotainment system, the Hybrid soldiers on with the previous gen radio that uses a monochromatic dot matrix display that appears to have come from the 1990’s Camry (or earlier).

This summary is simple: the Camry is a great car.  Is does everything you need it to with aplomb and manages to pull off a few of the things you want it to . . . and nothing more.  Now, which one to buy?

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
BASE PRICE LE: $22,500
LE- DOHC 16-valve 2.5-liter inline-4, 178 hp, 170 lb-ft;
Hybrid- DOHC 16-valve 2.5-liter inline-4, 156 hp, 156 lb-ft + 2 AC electric motors (combined system, 200 hp);
LE- 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode,
Hybrid- continuously variable automatic
Wheelbase: 109.3 in
Length: 189.2 in
Width: 71.7 in Height: 57.9 in
Curb weight: 3200–3450 lb
EPA city/highway driving:
LE- 25/35 mpg
Hybrid- 39/43 mpg

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