Toyota Camry may keep best-selling crown

2012 Toyota Camry SEThe Camry has always seemed to be the auto industry’s doormat. It’s the bowl of vanilla ice cream which everyone likes but wishes for the toppings that would make it delightful. Poor Toyota.

Poor, indeed.

The Camry has been the best selling car in the US for more than 10 years, vanilla or not. Toyota has laughed to the bank on it’s profitability and its near bulletproof reputation.

The company isn’t stupid, though. Kia and Hyundai have ushered in midsize sedans that prove families will buy something with style if it’s offered. Toyota has revamped the Camry to compete in a market where style is starting to count.

Don’t get too excited. The 2012 Camry doesn’t go nearly as far as it’s Korean rivals but it does have a dash more style. The overall shape is pleasing but familiar. A nip here and a tuck there make it more aerodynamic and aggressive.

What you will notice is the vast improvements in the interior. Toyota was slipping in its choices of materials and even build quality – something the company bragged on. Where the 2011 was staid, the 2012 is vibrant in comparison, more so because of design and material. It’s nearly minimalist. It’s form and function hand in hand.

The center stack is where most attention was paid. The large, 6.1-inch touch screen houses much of the car’s electronic goodies – and there are many them. More on that later.

The SE version has been tuned to deliver the best balance of sport and comfort. The Camry no longer slogs itself about the road. You can now feel the road and the steering. No, it’s not sports sedan sporty, but this version drives as good as it’s competitors –  which is saying a lot for Camry.

The 3.5-liter V6 has 268 horsepower which doesn’t sound like much but it’s put to good use with the new six-speed transmission. That transmission? Butter. If you want to get frisky you can switch to the paddle shifters and pretend this is a NASCAR Camry. OK, OK, you need a good imagination but you get my meaning. Seriously, this suspension, transmission and engine are great for this car.2012 Camry interior much, much better

Back to those electronic goodies. My test car had the Entune option. That is a suite of smartphone apps that you can control from the car. You need them on your smartphone and they do use your phone’s data package. You can stream Pandora radio, do voice texting, buy movie tickets, check stock prices and more. It also helps that the JBL 10-speaker audio system is a winner. There is iPod connectivity, a CD player, HD radio with  iTunes tagging and XM which is free for 90 days. An optional sunroof and leather seats (which are oooooh soooo comfortable) were also included.

Throw that in with standard stuff like ABS with four-wheel disc brakes, many airbags, power package (mirror, windows, seats, locks) push button start, cruise control and so on and so forth and the Camry was nearly loaded. You could move up to the XLE for a few more standard features but you will miss out on the SE’s driving dynamics.

How much does all this goodness cost? Out the door for $31,135, with a starting price of $26,640. You can go cheaper or even go the competition for a little less. You will not get Entune or the great touchscreen but you may not want either.

I say at least look at the Camry. That many buyers can’t be wrong for 10 years.

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