Model: 2012 Toyota Camry SE
Exterior color: Barcelona Red Metallic
Interior: Gray and black
Engine: 2.5 liter, four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 35 highway/25 city
Dealer: Toyota of Cleveland.
Price (as tested): $24,363
When the Toyota Camry, the best-selling car in North America over the last decade, gets a major re-design, it's big news in the automotive world.
The 2012 Camry went on sale in September in area Toyota stores and already is turning heads on Chattanooga area streets. This marks the 30th year of production for the Camry, and most of the domestic supply is assembled up the road in Georgetown, Ky.
Our test car, a Barcelona Red Metallic Camry in SE trim from Toyota of Cleveland, exemplifies Toyota's attempt to add a little pizzazz to its bread-and-butter mid-sized sedan.
The new exterior sheet metal has sharper lines than the last-generation Camry, and the interior has been redesigned with a more upscale dash. In SE trim, classy tri-color seats are added.
Unlike the previous generation Camry, which was a bit more cat-like in appearance, the new sheet-metal is crisp and aggressive. The lack of pronounced lateral lines makes the Camry seem taller. Moreover, the uncluttered body style should wear well for the Camry's typical five-year design cycle.
Our sport-tuned SE also comes with such embellishments as 17-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone all-season tires, fog lights, heated outside mirrors and a leather-clad steering wheel.
Our test car also had Toyota's Display Audio system with navigation. The display deploys the company's new Web-based Entune interface. The touch-screen was easy to use, even for a novice. Brushed aluminum accents add to the interior's sporty feel.
I immediately noticed other drivers checking out the new Camry on a test drive on N.W. 25th St. in Cleveland. Meanwhile, I was busy squeezing the nicely padded steering wheel and surveying a new leather-look dash treatment that is positively Jaguaresque. (Unfortunately, plastics in the doors don't have the same tactile richness.)
Sport seats featuring leather bolsters and textured cloth inlays are big upgrades from the previous model.
The center stack features a display screen that serves as the command center for Entune's radio, CD and navigation functions and eliminates the array of switches and buttons on many new cars. Heat and air controls are oversized and intuitive to use.
Our test car was powered by Toyota's 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, which makes 178 horsepower. A V-6 engine packing 268 horsepower also is available. Cruising down I-75 near exit 20, our four-cylinder test car was quiet and well-composed at the speed limit, exhibiting Toyota's legendary cabin isolation. Still, the SE is the driver's car in the Camry line, and the handling was much crisper and the steering more responsive than the previous generation. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel let you shift gears manually without a clutch if you desire.
It's easy to find a comfortable driving position in the 2012 Camry.
On the safety front, 10 airbags are set to deploy in case of a crash.
When it comes time to close the sale, expect your dealer to point to the new Camry's fuel-sipping nature. Expect 35 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in the city.
The new Camry arrives at a time of intense competition in the mid-size class with the Chattanooga-made Passat and the popular Korean-company sedans, the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, vying for market share. And don't forget the venerable Honda Accord and the sporty new Ford Fusion on the horizon.
Still, the redesigned Camry will generate tons of traffic for Toyota dealerships nationally this year. And, as usual, expect it to be the default choice of hundreds of thousands of American car buyers who value dependability and see in the new Camry an attractive combination of price and spice.