It’s not easy being on top, whether it’s getting there or staying there. In the car sales race in North America, the Toyota Camry has managed to maintain the number one spot for thirteen of the past fourteen years.
So with strong competition nipping at its heels like never before, Toyota’s best-selling model gets a complete revamp for the 2012 model year. The outgoing 2011 edition had been around since 2006 (2007 model year), and maintaining its typical five-year life cycle, this latest Camry is right on time.
Lots of things have changed since the sixth-generation car bowed five years ago. We’ve seen fuel prices go to over $4 per gallon twice, and a general trend in the auto buying world that brings cars back to the forefront over trucks. Sensible mid-size sedans are having a new heyday.
Toyota also had a couple of setbacks in those years, beyond just the recession that hit the entire auto industry starting in 2008. Last year the company was busy defending itself against claims of its cars accelerating out of control on their own. In the end, the cars were exonerated, save for a few misplaced floor mats. Then earlier this year, the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan affected production, even at far-away places like Toyota’s factory here in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Right about now, the 2012 Camrys are rolling off the assembly line in Georgetown and heading to dealerships for an on-sale date of October 3. What buyers will find is a freshly restyled car with new features and some lower sticker prices.
At a glitzy reveal on the Paramount Studios backlot, dancers and streamers ushered the new Camry in while a large group of media members looked on. But not one of us was blown away by the styling of the 2012, and that was to be expected. Toyota doesn’t take big chances with this car, which is fine with loyal Camry customers.
Sure, the new model is a little crisper here and there, especially in the front. But most people will recognize it right off the bat as a Camry. The interior got a more complete going-through, with a handsome new dashboard and instrument cluster, and even the latest technology for integration of your communications and music.
Trim levels are about the same, and in a few months there will again be a hybrid version of the car as well. At initial launch, we’ll get the L, LE, XLE and SE models. The L is pretty much a starting point car that’s intended for fleets and for dealers to have a car with an enticing base price to advertise. The mainstream car will be the LE with a few more standard features and options, while the XLE edges right near Lexus territory with all kinds of amenities inside.
For those who want something sporty (well, sporty for a Camry), the SE trim gives you handsome 17” aluminum wheels, a sport suspension and other little touches inside. Look for the SE to pace the Daytona 200 next February as Toyota continues its launch campaign for the car.
Under the hood of all models is a revised 2.5 liter four cylinder engine making 178 horsepower. For XLE and SE models, a 268 horsepower V6 is available. All trim levels also come with a 6-speed automatic transmission standard. In all six previous generations of the Camry a 5-speed manual was standard, but with a dwindling number of takers, it’s more cost-effective for Toyota to just build them all with automatics.
Prices range from $21,955 for the L trim to $29,845 for an XLE with the V6 and leather interior. In most cases, prices are down by several hundred to as much as $2,000 from the 2011 models. (A careful buyer will do comparisons of standard features. Sometimes car companies play with those things to maneuver the sticker price a bit.)
The new Camry is off to a good start, and Toyota would surely love to keep it at the top of the sales charts. But strong competition from other mid-size cars this time around means it’ll have a tougher time than in previous years.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 8 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz