2012 Toyota Camry SE Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Tell someone that you drive a sports sedan, and they'll likely conjure up a range of different possibilities: A BMW perhaps? An Infiniti? An Audi? A Lexus IS series? What they probably won't imagine is that you mean a Toyota Camry. After all, the Camry is associated with many things - practicality, thrift, reliability, comfort - but it's not usually associated with sport. With the Camry SE, which was introduced as the "sporty" Camry back in 2001, Toyota would like to change that, and to put forward the proposition of the Camry as a sports sedan. The question is, does it really qualify?

The Camry SE, along with the rest of the Camry lineup, was redesigned for the 2012 model year. The seventh-generation XV50 Camry has all-new sheetmetal that sharpens up the styling while still remaining pure Camry, and it features an entirely redesigned, upscale interior that banishes any memories of its forebears' plain, plasticky cabin appointments.

At the front, the SE gets its own grille treatment and front fascia, with a single-bar body-coloured grille insert instead of the split-bar chrome insert used throughout the rest of the range, and a more sophisticated-looking lower fascia that manages to be at once subtler and sportier-looking than the regular Camry. There's also a spoiler at the back, a lower body skirt package, and 18-inch alloys at each corner. Overall these changes add up to a clear advantage in the appearance department: the SE is, to my eye at least, a markedly better-looking car than the LE or XLE.

Under the hood the 2012 Camry SE is available with a choice of two engines, both being improved versions of the same engines used in the previous generation cars: There's a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder that produces 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, or a 3.5-litre V6 that produces 268-horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to 6-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmissions, with paddle shifters added as part of the SE package. While my test car had the inline-4, I also logged a few days behind the wheel of a 6-cylinder XLE, and the 4-cylinder doesn't give up much to its bigger sibling. The smaller engine offers plenty-quick acceleration for everyday driving and goes about its work relatively enthusiastically, even if it doesn't quite generate instant thrust at any revs like the V6 does, or have the V6 engine's pleasant growl when pushed. Where the 4-cylinder does offer a clear advantage over the V6 is in terms of fuel economy, with a city/hwy fuel consumption rating of 8.2 / 5.6 L/100 km, versus 9.7 / 6.4 L/100km for the V6.

Underpinning the Camry SE is a sport-tuned suspension that feels somewhat more refined than the previous-generation SE, offering relatively athletic handling without being overly firm around town. It doesn't exactly beg you to fling it into corners, but it rewards moderately spirited driving with crisp, controlled responses and little fuss. For 2012, the Camry gets variable-assist electrical power steering (previously used only in the Camry Hybrid), which is accurate and reasonably communicative, and offers advantages in terms of weight, complexity and mechanical efficiency.

Inside, the 2012 Camry SE delivers on its promise of a sporty experience with refined style and some premium touches. The 2012 Camry retains Toyota's excellent interior ergonomics and high standards of fit and finish, but most everything else has changed: The seats have been slightly repositioned to provide more rear legroom, there's a new double-stitched, leather-look dashboard, and the materials have been upgraded throughout. Unlike the previous-generation SE, which sacrificed the Camry's standard split-folding rear seats in order to add structural stiffness at the trunk bulkhead, the 2012 Camry SE gets the folding seats because the new body structure was deemed stiff enough without the bulkhead.

Standard features on the Camry include air conditioning, tilt and telescoping steering, an outside temperature gauge, cruise control, power door locks with keyless entry, power windows, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3/WMA compatibility, USB and auxiliary inputs, 6.1-inch display screen and Bluetooth connectivity.

The SE trim adds to this list with a navigation system, satellite radio, a unique three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, sport seats, a built-in garage door opener, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and aluminum scuff plates. My test car was also equipped with the SE-specific Leather and Moonroof package that adds very nice-looking and comfortable two-tone leather-trimmed ultrasuede seating, pushbutton start and a power moonroof (the package is slightly different for the SE V6, as that model already includes the moonroof).

Whatever trim level you choose the Camry comes fully-equipped with all expected safety gear such as ABS brakes, traction control, stability control, and a complete array of airbags.

Starting at a suggested priced of $23,700 (plus $1,565 in delivery charges) for the entry-level LE, the 2012 Toyota Camry certainly represents solid value. At $26,950 ($29,700 for the V6) the SE represents possibly even better value, coming as it does with a wide array of popular options. As equipped with the leather and moonroof package, my test car priced out at $29,390 plus delivery, for a total of $30,955.

While the Camry SE's competent, accurate handling, subtle styling tweaks and sport-oriented interior detailing may not vault it directly into BMW, Infiniti or Lexus IS territory, they do give it extra ammunition to go up against midsize segment rivals such as the Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord and others. As for whether it qualifies as a true sport sedan, well, if the measure of a true sports sedan is how fast it can burn through your wallet, then maybe not. But if the measure of a true sports sedan is the ability to chew up city and highway miles, both along straightways and through corners, while keeping you comfortable and engaged with the road, then you've got to give the Camry SE credit.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Toyota, 2012, Camry, $20,000 - $29,999, Midsize,

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