Monday, March 12, 2012

Toyota Camry - All New Again

Toyota's Camry is, along with the Honda Accord, the poster child for midsize family sedan in America. Hundreds of thousands pass through dealers to happy customers every year. Yet, change must come, and another generation of the Camry has arrived once again for 2012.

As the home of the Prius, Toyota has for years now offered a Hybrid version of the Camry, and I had the good fortune to drive one recently. The news is good. Although, for various reasons, the Camry can't touch the Prius for fuel economy, it nevertheless earned an impressive 35.6 miles per gallon during its week with me. I didn't drive it especially gently or carefully either. Seventy on the interstate, zipping through in-town traffic, and that's what I got.

Spending time in a Camry, while never a thrill, has always been pleasant, and the new car notches that up a bit. The trim feels a bit more upscale, and the seats feel more European-style firm. The dash has stitching along its edges--but when it meets the doors, they disappear. At the bottom of the dash center console, two plastic stitch "replicas" visually continue the look. That's what makes a Camry less than a Lexus; inside the latter, the stitching would be real throughout.

I liked the bright blue rings on the gauges--I'm not sure, but they may be part of the Hybrid package. Blue, it turns out, is the way manufacturers like to present "green." Think Mercedes Bluetec, for example.

The Hybrid gauges show where the energy is coming from and give a view into the battery's behavior. At the end of each trip you get graded, too. On my last trip, a commute to work, I earned 43.9 mpg and an "Excellent." Gee, thanks, Camry.

The easiest-to-buy Camry L starts at $22,715. My Hybrid XLE (the upper version) ran $34,617. But it had packages added, included the Leather package with ultrasuede seating (sweet).

Now in it's seventh generation, the Camry remains clean and conservative, but with a subtle, careful restyling and some surprisingly sharp-looking taillights, it keeps up a nearly 30-year tradition.

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