IMPRESSIONS: 2012 Toyota Camry SE

After all of the hype and hoopla, I expected a lot more than I got from the 2012 Toyota Camry SE when I drove it today.
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There's nothing wrong with this new Camry, not really, but I was expecting something more powerful, more elegant and more ... memorable. Something cool.

The SE is supposed to be the car that snags Toyota buyers who are younger than 60. The car "with attitude," as NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin called it today.

But when I took a grey lady test Camry SE onto the streets of Detroit, Dearborn, Melvindale and Taylor, Mich., today, nobody looked at the car. NOBODY. Nobody stared. Nobody asked me anything, even though my windows were down at traffic lights.

There was no head-turning quotient. NOTHING. It was like I was the ugly girl on my first day of school. People looked at the car, but didn't SEE the car. Maybe if I had taken the red sedan they used earlier that day to introduce the car, maybe then someone would have at least given the car a passing glance.

That is not to say the 2012 Camry SE really is ugly. It looks OK. But it's no knockout. It's Plain Jane. As vanilla as they come.

The new Camry has virtues, but beauty isn't among them, not really. It's conservative and understated, at best. Nobody is going to rob a bank or even a 7-Eleven to get the money to buy this car.

To me it was a Fred Flintstone car: Underpowered. On the freeway it didn't roar. It moseyed. That is not to say it is defective. There are going to be people who want to be invisible. But if you pretend to be NASCAR-worthy, you need more oomph than what I drove today.

The trunk space is impressive. A Teamsters enforcer would love it. But most of our lives are more sedate than that.

If you're a businessman who usually takes a lot of luggage on trips or a woman who needs a lot of trunk space for your big family's groceries, this might be an excellent vehicle for you. I like how the spare tire is underneath the change-the-tire tools. (As if somebody with a Camry is changing his or her own tire. C'mon!)

There are some nice things. The steering wheel felt comfortable in my hands, the seats were cushy, the back seat was a nice size and the side mirrors were easy to adjust.

The new Entune system was daunting, but maybe that's because I'm 52 and I'm not a techno freak. But there are bigger concerns.

The SE's acceleration was imprecise today. I couldn't trust the car to thread the needle at expressway speeds. Maybe if I had driven the car for more than a few hours, that comfort zone could be developed. But my first impression is that this Camry does not deliver what I have seen in Camrys from former years. I loved the 2011 Camry.

But the preproduction 2012's brakes were not as responsive as I would have liked. I bunny-hopped at a red traffic light and when slowing down on the freeway instead of stopping immediately.

The instrument panel was confusing. I had trouble at first figuring out how to turn off the radio. I had a passenger figure out how to make the air conditioning work, after the temperature rose past 84.

Don't get me wrong. The Camry is a very nice little car for someone who does not want to be noticed. And at $23,000, MSRP, the 4-cylinder is $965 cheaper than a 2011 model that I like a lot more. If you do get your own 2012 model sometime after it is available in October, prefer the V6 and pay the $26,640 or you will be very disappointed with the lack of power.

You can reach TN's Hawke Fracassa at [email protected] or on Twitter @HawkeFracassa.

Image source: TN's Patrick Rall

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Comments

Come on. You're stopped at a stoplight in Detroit with your windows down and you expect someone to talk to you!?!? About a Japanese auto?!?! That sir, is where you lost credibility.............. Nice looking car, better looking than the Cruze and the Fusion....
YOU ARE ABSOLUTLY RIGHT!!
don't like the new look.
Nobody is going to turn their head and drool at an "Economy" car. Also, please be informed nobody buy these cars to impress their neighbors. I own a Camry and I'm very happy with it because you know what? It gets me super comfortably and reliably where I want to go. I drove a 2011 Camaro around the city, and guess what? Nobody looked at me neither. People get impressed at first, but once they see them more frequently they get tired of it. If you want to impress someone and turn their heads, get a Lamborghini, a Buggatti Veyron, Ferrari or Bentley, not a common car which you see by the thousands on the roads. You think everybody will drool at a Mustang, Ford Focus, Fusion, Chevy Cruze, Charger, Malibu or Mazda 3? I don't think so. I guess a lot of people see you driving your Chrysler Sebring convertible and turn their heads asking themselves who would be ridiculous enough to buy such a bland looking car in convertible.
The reason why no one took notice is because the exterior changes are minor. At a glance, this "reinvented" Camry has the same body style as the previous generation. So for those who are unaware of the fact that the 2012 models are redesigned, the sight of one on the road is a non-event because the changes to this generation's body style from the last are so minor, that this next five years of this car will blend with the last five. In 2007 Toyota finally had an attractive design for the Camry and it worked very well. So well, that they decided not to deviate from it for another five years. This was a huge disappointment for those of us who were waiting to see a noticibly different looking vehicle for 2012. The interior is completely different from the previous genenration. Too bad that approach didn't follow through to the exterior. Now we have to wait until 2017 for a true design.
It looks like they were trying to give it the Acura TL look but came up very short. My 2008 LE looks much more sportier. What a shame.
Wow....you MUST be OLD! I'm 46 and traded in my 09 Black Dodge Charger for a new 2012 Toyota Camry SE. Slick, Nice, and lots of extra's in this car and almost bought it for as much as my Dodge Charger. Yes, my charger was nice...but it got OLD quick. I took the 2012 Camry out and found that if you want some HUMPH when you steep on the gas, switch over to manual transmission, which is what I use if I'm City driving. Lots and lots of extras. I paid 24,200 for mine with NAV, SAT, and all the extras that came with this car. Very happy and well no complaints so far. I do lots of driving and needed something with better gas mileage and now that I'm a family man, I also needed something the woman would be happy driving as well. Very nice car and don't listen to his review. His review SUCKS! Go and check out the 2012 Camry SE for youself and you be the judge.
I drive an 2011 is350 fsport, theres many on the road, but i BREAK necks day and night.
Thank you toyota for taking a nice, elegant looking design from 2011 and making it so ugly.
Dude, your driving a camry.....not a car you buy to turn heads, you describe your experience like you were expecting people to react like you were in a Lambo and you knock it for not living up to that expectation.....it's a Camry.....very comfortable, very efficient, very plain......a Camry. As for the lack of acceleraton, you're driving a mid-size sedan that's really big enough to be considered a full-size sedan with a 4 banger.....no mystery to that one.....I test drove the V6 version and that thing moves surprisingly well, way more than the average Camry buyer will ever need. I've always like the Camry for it's comfort and simplicity......it's kinda like the Crown Vic for the 60 and up crowd that lives by those things. I never understood why really old folks kept buying them but after owning a Camry I can see why....it's just a comfortable, no surprises, get what you expect car. Being 32 and very much into tech, the entune was very impressive and very easy to use.
Should have tried the V6. The Camry SE V6 does 0-60 in 5.8. That should curl your whiskers.
Wow....you MUST be OLD! I'm 46 and traded in my 09 Black Dodge Charger for a new 2012 Toyota Camry SE. Slick, Nice, and lots of extra's in this car and almost bought it for as much as my Dodge Charger. Yes, my charger was nice...but it got OLD quick. I took the 2012 Camry out and found that if you want some HUMPH when you steep on the gas, switch over to manual transmission, which is what I use if I'm City driving. Lots and lots of extras. I paid 24,200 for mine with NAV, SAT, and all the extras that came with this car. Very happy and well no complaints so far. I do lots of driving and needed something with better gas mileage and now that I'm a family man, I also needed something the woman would be happy driving as well. Very nice car and don't listen to his review. His review SUCKS! Go and check out the 2012 Camry SE for youself and you be the judge.
Looks more stupid than anything, the "sharp" curves in the headlight have no purpose, not particularly stylish, no point what so ever. The air intake under the bumper looks like a cheap racer boy add on with the fog light an after thought.
Toyota makes everyone wait months for the "BIG" suprise, promises of a totally redesigned Camry, then finally comes out with it and guess what...it looks like a cheaper version of the previous design! Disappointed Toyota faithful will have to migrate over to Lexus and spend additional money to get a car that's more than just basic, inconspicuous transportation. Toyota was doing a nice job making the Camry bigger and better looking through the 2000's; they just took one giant step backwards with this design. This car should have been introduced as the new Corolla.
I was surprised when I saw this car. Like whoa, don't they know what the competition is doing? Looks like it should have been the previous model. Maybe they had this design laying around and decided to use it, save some money. They obviously had no idea what to do with the tail lights or the fog lights. I think you could do a good version of this car in origami. Sure, it will get you from one place to another, but I get a certain car for more than that one reason. Just like the Prius, driving this Camry says something about you.