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2012 Toyota Camry: Vanilla reinvented

Posted by Bill Griffith  August 23, 2011 04:08 PM

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(All photos: Toyota). Click photo for larger version.

Toyota turned a corporate corner this week, introducing what it calls the "reinvented" 2012 Camry at a Paramount Studios back lot in Los Angeles.

Toyota has a lot riding on this launch after the double blows of reliability questions and the earthquake/tsunami disaster that shut down Japan's automotive industry.

This introduction was important enough that CEO Akio Toyoda was at Toyota's Georgetown, K.Y., plant for the event. That plant, which has built 6.7 million Camrys over the past 25 years, is building the new version.

The Camry has been this country's best selling car for 13 of the last 14 years and Toyota constantly touts the fact that 90 percent of the Camrys sold in the last 15 years are still on the road. That's a big ownership base, one the company is hoping will keep Camry atop the midsize segment. The recently launched Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima have been well received, Ford's Fusion is a consistent and roomy rival, and new versions of the Chevrolet Malibu, Accord, and Nissan Maxima are scheduled to hit the market next year.

The new Camry is scheduled to hit showrooms on Oct. 3 with a heavy advertising campaign starting Oct. 17 and running through the Super Bowl. Expect to hear a lot about how the hybrid Camry achieves the magic 40 miles per gallon level.

Toyota is offering the Camry in four trim levels: L, LE, XLE and SE. Starting price is $22,500 for the LE and $24,725 for the XLE. Toyota vice president Bob Carter said the Camry is the first unit in a parade of 12 product launches within a year. The Tacoma pickup truck, Prius V, Yaris, and Scion tC are next to come.

At first glance, the new Camry looks a lot like its predecessor, just a little lower and wider with an aerodynamic skirt in front that wraps around to the sides as accentuated rocker panel treatment. From the front the Camry appears to have a flatter (and flattering) front grille treatment.

2012-Toyota-Camry-rear.jpg

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The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder (178 horsepower) and 3.5-liter V-6 (268 horsepower) have been tweaked. The four is rated at 25 mpg city and 35 highway. What's newest for the Camry wasn't as obvious in the webcast. That would be the redesigned interiors and the hybrid version.

Toyota says that while the Camry's exterior dimensions remain the same, its engineers have squeezed extra space in the interior, which has a new and (sorely needed) upscale look.

2012-Toyota-Camry-interior.jpg

Click photo for larger version.

The 2012 hybrid (available in LE and XLE trims) has a reworked version of Toyota's industry-leading Synergy Drive hybrid system which will have a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 30 percent increase in fuel economy to 43 city and 39 highway. Carter said Toyota has dropped the price for the LE hybrid by $1,150 to $25,900.

Toyota is addressing the issue of connectivity with its Entune multimedia system, which incorporates drivers' smartphones to access navigation, entertainment, and information services while supporting mobile apps such as Bing, OpenTable, and movietickets.com. Toyota also claims its voice-recognition will be "best-in-class."

While Toyota's reputation has been built on safety, reliability, and being the "responsible" choice, it's also been described as plain vanilla. Those seeking a sportier Camry can chose the SE, which features a specially tuned suspension and enhanced seats.

The company also looks to capitalize on its NASCAR racing success over the past five years, including more than 100 victories, three manufacturers titles, and a driver's championship. The new Camry will be the pace car at next February's NASCAR season-opening Daytona 500.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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