Like the new Toyota Camry, the above Super Bowl ad is straightforward, well-built and executed to a fine point. There are few automotive sales brawls meaner than the fight over the family sedan buyer. For a long time, that niche was a feasting ground for the likes of the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, wildly capable if somewhat pedestrian machines that prided themselves on sensible pricing, solid engineering and almost comically long lives. Today, this battle has been joined by the likes of Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and Chevrolet Malibu, which means good news for consumers as the combatants pack a growing number of features into four-door cars that can no longer be called ho-hum.
The latest upgrade to the family-focused fleet comes from Toyota, whose 2012 Camry benefits from a wide array of tech-heavy tweaks and upgrades that, a mere decade back, would have left a Lexus salivating. Let’s start with the car’s looks, since that’s where the least of the changes reside. The new Camry — whose wide range of trim levels sends the price from $22,715 (for the four-cylinder L model) to $30,605 (for a well-stuffed V-6 XLE) — doesn’t break from previous molds, enjoying a simplicity of line that some may find uninspiring, but that Camry lovers will embrace as familiar. But open the door and the picture immediately brightens.In XLE guise, Camry’s interior moves from a pleasant place to wait out traffic snarls to a downright pleasing one, with quality leather upholstery offset by wood-and-matte-black trim touches that are crowned by the center console’s Entune entertainment system. Using your smartphone as a tether to the digital world outside, Entune allows Camry passengers to connect to apps already loaded into the car’s system, including Open Table, Pandora and Bing. You can also access weather, stock and news updates on the 7-inch screen, which also is home to Toyota’s typically intuitive navigation system.
The technology touches continue beneath the sheetmetal. Some of it may raise an eyebrow (that’d be the so-called “Vortex Generators,” small fins on the car’s side-view mirrors and tail lights that ostensibly reduce drag), but much is typically thorough Toyota lab work yielding practical upgrades that weigh heavily on safety. The suspension has been tuned to provide a comfortable ride without compromising road-holding feel, while a full complement of 10 airbags could, if all deployed, cover the interior in a cloud of puffy white fabric. One optional feature is more typical of a luxury car: a blind spot monitoring system built into the side view mirrors.
But the biggest leap for the Camry is found in its popular hybrid variant, priced between $25,900 and $27,400. For 2012, the Camry gets rid of a few symptoms that long plagued the Prius-generated Hybrid Synergy Drive system, namely a somewhat disjointed feeling whenever the car shifts — as it often does — from electric to gas mode. Now that happens with considerably less drama, while its seamless regenerative braking system supplements the electric power that fuels most stop-and-go traffic commutes. The Camry’s light eco footprint offers 25/35 city/highway mpg in four-cylinder form, and 21/30 mpg with the V-6. Predictably, the Hybrid LE tops the Camry mileage chart with 43/39 city/highway. All told, Camry’s new ammo is just what Toyota needs to keep winning in the family car brawl, one that is surely to only get tougher as consumers look to spend their hard-earned pennies with more deliberateness than ever.