Sold in the United States since 1983, Toyota Camry has earned award after award - year after year - for quality, reliability, and resale value. Just the name Camry alone has elicited emotionally charged thoughts, feelings, and memories for millions of people for almost three decades.
Camry has been the best-selling car in America for 13 of the past 14 years, including a nine year straight run; Camry's been parked in the number one spot every year since 2007.
Camry Hybrid, in its second generation for 2012, offers an EV-only button for improved fuel economy, a superior interior design with materials possessing both the look and feel of higher quality, and long overdue updated technology becoming of a vehicle which enjoys the status of a sales superstar. Camry is now able to successfully and intelligently compete in this highly connected smartphone era.
The 2012 Camry Hybrid is neither designed nor intended to win any fashion awards; you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone at Toyota who would attempt to convince you otherwise. Its elegant and simple modern form emphasizes a wider, lower stance, gaining a bit more sophistication for its second generation, and successfully and smartly shedding some pounds in areas where said weight isn't needed.
The Camry Hybrid takes the previous generation's characteristic lines to a more precise and prominent level. The front end gets sportier from a nip/tuck treatment, gaining some style with a less bulbous nose and gaping lower grille.
Clean side body lines are essentially last generation's, but the addition of new rear-view mirrors and defined rocker panel molding [chrome accented on LE and XLE models] yields a more expressive and dynamic appearance.
LED taillights no longer adorn the rear end; they were standard on the previous generation Camry Hybrid but are no longer offered, a head scratcher since LEDs were touted as consuming less energy, albeit negligible amounts. The fixtures are shaped more uniquely now, adding increased visual interest to the back end.
Toyota states that aerodynamics plays an important role in fuel economy for the 2012 Camry Hybrid, helping it achieve a notable 0.27 drag coefficient.
The Camry Hybrid has been reinvented under the hood for 2012, utilizing a highly revised Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain including a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission, producing a combined 200 horsepower.
A new water-cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system helps to ensure the lowest possible emissions at all vehicle speeds, and increases overall fuel efficiency. By controlled injection of cooled exhaust gas into each cylinder, the need to richen the air-fuel mixture to control cylinder temperature is eliminated. This contributes to the 2012 Camry Hybrid meeting Advanced Technology Partial-credit Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) standards.
The front-wheel drive sedan also gets a 30 percent boost in city fuel economy thanks to the new hybrid powertrain, reduced vehicle weight, and the aforementioned improvement in aerodynamics. EPA ratings for the 2012 Camry Hybrid are at 43 MPG in the city, 39 MPG on the highway, and 41 MPG combined.
The first generation Camry Hybrid felt unbalanced, in need of powertrain integration refinement, and uneasy at highway speeds. The 2012 model addresses those inadequacies, feeling more responsive and quiet, exhibiting a more planted-on-the-road sensation with fewer disturbances from bumps thanks to revised suspension tuning and improved electric steering calibration.
When coasting, we enjoyed a resistance-free flow to a stop sign or light, without the abrupt deceleration typically associated with regenerative braking systems. The Camry Hybrid’s low rolling-resistance Michelin tires likely helped, in conjunction with the phenomenal EV mode, kicking in when the battery was at least half charged and acceleration demand was low.
Speaking of EV mode, during our testing of the vehicle the 2012 Camry Hybrid reached about 25 MPH before it transitioned out of electric-only mode. An EV indicator illuminates in the instrument cluster when the Camry is being propelled solely by the electric motor, decelerating, driving at low speeds, or the EV mode button is pressed. Another telltale sign was the high resistance of the accelerator pedal; not enough so that your 80 year old grandmother couldn’t depress it, but there is a learning curve for adapting to acceleration when driving in pure electric power.
We were thoroughly impressed with the capabilities of the electric motors, considering how much weight had to be moved with two occupants on board. When the accelerator was pushed down half way or more to pass another vehicle, the Camry Hybrid said “YES!” and the engine fired up to work with the motors to deliver the needed power.
The battery lasted approximately two miles in pure EV mode during our commutes within a suburban environment; the climate control was set to automatically bring the cabin temperature up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit on cold mornings and the heated seats on max. If you live in an area where temps drop below 50 degrees, the 2.5L engine will automatically start to warm up during the morning start, regardless of the battery charge level.
We recommend taking the Camry out of Eco mode as well, using the button next to the EV mode in front of the floor-mounted shifter. Over a week of consecutive 40 degree mornings, we experimented with the various modes and settings to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each. When the Camry Hybrid was in Eco mode, warming up the cabin and the heated seats took approximately three times longer than if the vehicle were operated without any fuel conservation restrictions.
In Eco mode, the seats reached lukewarm temps, and the cabin takes a very long time to become temperate thanks to the reduced fan speed and moderated fuel allowed to the engine, which slows warm up times.
But there were a few days we did try Eco Drive mode in the morning and weren’t terribly distraught. As with the previous Camry Hybrid, ECO mode optimizes throttle response and air conditioning output to prioritize maximum fuel economy. So if your goal is greater MPGs, you can do it if you’re willing to be a bit colder and less comfortable in your new $30k hybrid.
As for driving dynamics, the Camry Hybrid felt secure and steering was great for around town driving. At higher speeds, there is a greater feeling of control than the previous generation, but we would like more weight to the steering and better on-center feel.
Braking was phenomenal, as all new Camry models are. Regenerative braking is barely detectable, making for the transition to friction braking all the more linear. Pedal feel is strong, and the amount of travel feels well proportioned to the mass that needs to be stopped.
Inside there’s a new level of space, comfort, and refinement for driver and passengers. Without increasing the size of the car, Toyota engineers created a new dashboard design, modified seat locations, redesigned seats, and made door, pillar, and headliner trim “leaner” , adding both real space as well as the perception of more spaciousness, while enhancing outward visibility.
The first thing we noticed when we got inside was the three-dimensional construction and contrasting-material textures of the new instrument panel. There’s an enhanced sensation of depth, while the shapes themselves contribute to a more spacious cabin and improved forward sightlines. The prominently curved center cluster appears to float over the instrument panel, while soft textures used on the upper instrument panel, upper door trim, door armrests, and center console armrest contributes to greater comfort.
Stitching on the instrument panel’s soft padding and matching stitching-look trim elsewhere creates a sense of luxury, with aluminum-color and chrome trim used sensibly throughout the cabin.
Front seat comfort is vastly improved over the previous generation thanks to redesigned cushions and bolsters, and headrests that aren’t intrusive but supportive. Our XLE Hybrid came with an eight-way power driver seat with power lumbar, and a four-way manual passenger seat. Engineers at Toyota repositioned the driver’s seat and steering wheel, which also aides forward visibility and enhances the driver’s positioning.
Rear seat room is comparable to the last Camry, which in a nutshell consists of a ridiculous amount of room. The reshaped front seatbacks increase rear knee room by 1.8 inches, while the redesigned center console and front edge of the rear-seat cushion, combined with a humpless floor, increases middle seat legroom by 2 inches. The bench is well designed with excellent thigh support, and generous headroom for a six-foot passenger even with the sunroof, and the seat back features a fold down center armrest with cupholders, and is split 60/40 to fold and increase cargo capacity.
Cargo room is reduced 2.3 cubic feet on the hybrid, but the trunk is well shaped and useful for the 13.1 cubic feet that are available. Our only disappointment was the lack of a grab handle. The cabin is quieter than before thanks to additional sound absorbing materials, stronger door seals, and an acoustic windshield. The aerodynamically shaped heated mirrors slice quietly through the wind, providing even greater visibility.
Our 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE featured automatic headlights, keyless entry with push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, power everything, and a tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, which tilts 33% more than the previous Camry.
The exclusive seat fabric comes in ivory or light gray, with leather and suede inserts available on XLE trim. The three-dial LED-backlit gauges with chrome-accented outer rings provide a luxurious appearance, while the multi-information display graphically shows fuel economy in real time along with energy flow, cruising range, average fuel economy, and more.
Camry is one of the first Toyotas to offer the Entune multimedia system. Entune is Toyota’s answer to Buick’s IntelliLink, Ford’s MyFordTouch, and Kia’s UVO media systems, which all utilize the driver’s smartphone to provide a richer in-vehicle experience through downloadable apps.
Toyota Entune debuts with apps such as Bing, OpenTable, and movietickets.com, along with accessing useful travel-related services, such as live weather, traffic, fuel information, stocks, and sports. Toyota Entune brings the largest selection of music options available to a vehicle, including iHeartRadio and Pandora.
An advanced conversational voice recognition system helped us focus on the road by eliminating the need to memorize hundreds of inflexible voice commands or stare at the screen; we simply had to say, for example, “Play Stereo Love on my iPhone.” The system allows for audio read-back and replay capabilities for text messages, with the ability to respond with pre-set “Quick Reply Messages” such as: “I’m driving and will reply later.”
Display Audio is standard on the LE trim level and includes a 6.1-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/CD/MP3, auxiliary input jack, USB port with iPod connectivity and control, vehicle information display in the instrument cluster, Bluetooth calling and music streaming, and all channeled through six speakers. Our Hybrid XLE tester offered the navigation option with HD radio with iTunes tagging so that they can be downloaded once you’re back at your computer.
Most of the Entune system can be controlled via the steering wheel voice and audio controls, which is a huge benefit. Navigation destinations were well understood by voice, but the logic of how the location information was asked, was clumsy and awkward.
The touchscreen displays the energy monitor and fuel consumption data, and functions as the monitor for the available integrated back-up camera.
All 2012 Camrys are equipped with ten airbags, three more than the previous generation. In addition to frontal, side curtain, front seat-mounted, and a driver’s knee airbag, the front passenger now gets a knee airbag, and the rear outboard occupants receive seat-mounted side airbags.
The Camry features Toyota’s Star Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. It also features a brake-override system so that any time the accelerator and brake are depressed at the same time, the throttle is cut off.
The 2012 Camry was given the IIHS Top Safety Pick award for front, side, rear, and rollover crash test performance, and has earned a five-star overall rating by NHTSA.
We didn’t have the opportunity to fully test Toyota’s Entune system due to limitations of the software in our pre-production model, and we would have loved to test the available Blind-Spot Assistance System because of its increasing popularity amongst non-luxury vehicles, but we’re happy to say that Toyota is on the right path with the 2012 Camry Hybrid.
Buyers looking for improved fuel economy, a serene and spacious cabin and trunk, and 2012 technology will not be disappointed. Camry, meaning “crown”, is the best-selling car in North America not just for one, but for many reasons. The 2012 Camry Hybrid XLE Hybrid crowns our list of top picks.