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2012 Toyota Camry: Automotive Version of iPhone 3G to 3GS

A few weeks ago I ventured to the middle of no where in Washington to feast on all of the new Camry variants for the 2012 model year.  Did Toyota churn up a revolution or an evolution?  With the Camry tattered and torn during the past few years I was excited to see what Toyota had done to turn the page on the next chapter for the Camry.

Even with the tragedy of the earthquake in Japan, the Camry has hung on to pole position for the sales crown for cars here in the U.S.  Impressive? Yes.  Why?  Well, the Camry is old.  The powertrains are fairly old school.  Technology hasn’t been a strong suit and the design has been fairly bland.  Well, obviously this formula works.  With over 174,000 sold so far in 2011, the Camry has a lot of momentum going behind it.  When you take in to account that it is one of the older vehicles around, including the Malibu and Altima, the Camry sales formula appears to be working.  It may not be the newest or most innovative vehicle around but there are plenty of people out there who don’t care about that.  Even when using words like boring or bland with Toyota executives they brush it off and point to the score board.  Yes, still number one.  Camry was never intended to offend anyone and continues that streak for the 2012 model.

That being said, I never thought that conservative styling would disappear with the 2012 Camry.  With the benchmark being the new Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, the Camry appears to have a lot of work cutout for it.  Wrong.  Camry buyers are looking for that dime-a-dozen car to get from A to B.  They need it to start up every morning and get them to work.  They don’t want to drop major coin on repairs either.  Soft plastics on the instrument panel aren’t necessarily important for this buyer and back seats are particularly useful.

The 2012 Camry is back with four trim levels (L, LE, SE, XLE) and a hybrid.  The I4 and V6 powertrains were carried over from the 2011 model.  The hybrid was graced with a new 2.5L I4 that when combined with the battery pack serves up 200 HP.  Keep in mind that is now right on par with the Hyundai Sonata non-hybrid model.  Fuel economy also improved significantly for the hybrid, now yielding 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.  Impressive.  The hybrid received a few unique badges on the exterior but otherwise it’s pretty difficult to spot the differences for most people with the other 2012 models.  The hybrid costs $22,900 for the LE and $27,400 for the hybrid XLE.

The price has been lowered for the other 2012 model year Camrys.  The LE rings up at $22,500, $23,000 for the SE, and $24,725 for an XLE…and the cost cutting shows in a few areas.  Gone are the LED taillights.  The powertrains are carried over, helping to keep costs down.  The old digital clock stuck around for another run at it and other things are missing, such as the lack of a standard key less entry system with push button start, like the one found on the Nissan Altima.  The instrument panel no longer flows into the door panels – which has historically been an obvious sign of quality and craftsmanship.  The trim on the instrument panel now abruptly stops at the door.  Some rather odd looking plastic is below the radio with faux stitching in it.  It doesn’t look real so why bother?

Will any of this really matter in the long run?  Probably not.  The recipe for Camry success has always been about providing high value and quality.  My personal friends who own a Camry really don’t care about cars.  They just need a car to get them from A to B every morning.  Sure, the Camry fanatics will likely want one of these ASAP but with so many other new choices for buyers, can the Camry remain on top?  Think back to when the iPhone went from the 3G model to the 3GS.  Some experts were predicting big changes for the iPhone 3G but really these were just enough changes to keep people interested and buyers coming in for more.  Cheerios have tasted like Cheerios for as long as I can remember.  Remember what happened with New Coke in 1985?  I’m sure Toyota product planners do, and they know when to not mess with a good thing.  The 1996 Taurus is another good example where someone with an obsession with ovals made it into the design studio, brainwashed Jack Telnack and had him thinking that the 1996 Taurus was an attractive car.  End Result?  51% of the 1996 Taurus sales ended up in rental car lots.  A year later it lost the sales title to the Camry.

So if the Camry is so much of the same thing why are they making a big to-do about it?  Well, the suspension has been revised into a more comfortable and refined ride.  A new electric power steering system was carefully calibrated to appeal to most people, but still too vague and overboosted for my liking.  That means if I don’t like it that most people will probably like it.  The Camry was never meant to be a sedan for people who like to drive or care about style.  What is cool and noteworthy is my favorite new feature: Entune.  I sat down with the head Entune honcho for about an hour learning everything there is to know about Entune.  Why is Entune so much better than Ford’s Sync or GM’s Intellilink?  Well, Entune is the closest thing out there to emulating your smart phone on your vehicle’s touch screen.  So, Entune is basically running a very simple graphical user interface in on the car’s touch screen.  It doesn’t require expensive hardware that can go obsolete and it doesn’t lag.  You download an app to your smart phone and voila!  If you want Pandora in your Camry you have to have it on your smart phone.  If you don’t have an app, like Open Table, you can’t use it with Entune.  Simple!  If it isn’t on your phone you’re not using in with your Camry.  Entune is the first system to come to market that relies on your phone to do everything, unlike Sync which tries to process everything in the vehicle and use your phone for data only.  I’m really impressed by this system.  So far, it might be my favorite smart phone integration.  Entune is a must have.

So, expect to continue to see plenty of these new Camry models around.  They might be hard to spot, even in Cle Elum, WA, current Camry owners didn’t notice us driving around in the latest and greatest Camry.  If you or you know someone looking for a car that has gobs of interior room, innovative smart phone integration, ten standard airbags, and reliability that is hard to beat these days, I’m sure the Camry will be on their list.  With a new Altima, Malibu and Fusion on the way on the next year, the Camry will have to work hard to retain that sales crown but it should be able to hang on.  Quality is no longer optional for any automaker so Toyota’s secret sauce is in jeopardy.  Stay tuned.

2 Comments

  • Don P| February 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm Reply

    Why did Toyota stop using the LED tail lights?

  • alexander| September 14, 2011 at 5:20 am Reply

    On the whole the exterior outlook almost remains unchanged with only few slight changes, while the interior cabin has been made more spacious, which can offer comfortable traveling feel to all the occupants.

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