My Week With The 2012 Toyota Camry
7 Days With The UAE’s Most Well-Known Car
By Imthishan Giado
We’ve already reviewed the new 2012 Camry at its launch in January. That covered what it was like at the Dubai Autodrome and on the highway – but what is it like to live with over a course of a normal week? Click through to find out.
It’s always good when you get a test car for longer than the usual duration of three days; it’s hard to get a proper feel for how the car drives, or what it’s like to live with the controls on a daily basis. Fortunately, Al Futtaim Motors stepped up with a full week for the new Camry. Here then, are my impressions of the car that everyone loves to hate, a byword for automotive boredom – but is it really?
Just picked it from the Al Futtaim showroom in Festival City. This dark grey car feels like it’ll be easy to lose in car parks.
This isn’t the best colour, really. The new more crisp lines and the more aggressive bodykit are lost, but what is immediately apparent is that even with 17-inch wheels, they’re still too small to fill the wheel wheels. This really needs 18s or 19s to look ‘right’.
At the launch, marketing boss Andy Squires mentioned these particular winglets on the door mirrors – they’re meant to improve the aerodynamics and cut down on wind noise. I drive out of the showroom and head out onto Business Bay Bridge and he’s somewhat proven right. It’s surprisingly quiet inside, but after 120kph, you can detect a bit of wind roar. In my current ’07 Aurion, you can hear everything from tyre to intake noise but the Camry is impressively insulated from the world at large.
First job is to run to the airport in classic taxi fashion. Will the boot be big enough for three people and the luggage?
With more than 15.4 cubic feet of space, sure it is. Coming back home through heavy stop-and-go traffic, there’s certainly no opportunity to evaluate the car dynamically, but what is apparent is that the ‘new’ 2.5-litre four-cylinder and six speed auto make for a good team. The transmission calibration and throttle mapping has been exceptionally well judged for low speed work; the car creeps ahead just fine, but when you need to exploit a gap and dart in, the power is there.
The same can be said for the steering, which by electric steering standards is actually really good. Not the last word in feel and it’s still a bit dead on centre – but compared to the old car, it’s an absolute revelation, the front end responding well to inputs small and large.
A frustrating day. I’m moving house, so naturally I’m having to run all over town to get a million small things done, from tenancy contracts to sorting out water and internet connections. Times like this, what you need is a car that gets out of your way, and lets you get on with your life.
Unfortunately, the Camry doesn’t quite let me do that. It’s still painless to drive and surprisingly frugal but the AV interface with a new colour screen is something of a mess. I’d honestly almost have preferred the old button-knob radio; the screen graphics are as low-res as Pamela’s Anderson assets on a dial-up internet connection and shockingly tricky to use. On the launch, we had top-spec cars on hand and that was merely missing a Lexus logo, so fluid was the experience. Here, it took me nearly 20 minutes to finally figure out where to pair up my telephone. My advice? The full spec navigation version is worth the extra coin.
I’ve complained about the steering wheel before as well. Not the shape of it – that’s fine and perfectly suited to semi-spirited driving. I’m talking about the buttons; what sort of orangutan do you have to be to able to reach the volume up and down toggles with your thumb? Similarly, which button changes stations? You’ll figure it out in time, but it’s not particularly intuitive and never feels particularly comfortable. Even after a week, I wouldn’t get the hang of which button to change stations and all it would take to sort out is a simple label.
On the up side, once you get through the tremendous faff that is pairing up your phone, the quality of the Bluetooth connection is quite good, with crisp audio on both ends. The sound system isn’t the most bass heavy in the world, but it’s sufficient for the needs of most. If anything the mid-range is too strong, tending to overpower the slightly tinny tweeters. A little tweaking in the settings and you can get quite a dramatic improvement – or if it takes your fancy, create a bass heavy farting mess. The choice, as Black Sheep said, is yours.
More highway running today. The Camry is a natural on the highway; at 120kph it cruises nicely at just over 2000rpm, with plenty of overtaking power on tap. Well, I say plenty, but that’s not actually the case. The meaty midrange is where you want to be; at 4000rpm the car’s right in the heart of its torque band, all 170lb ft of it. Rev higher if you must, but there’s precious little more power to be found and you end up feeling like you’re thrashing the car for no good reason.
Drive the car as it’s meant to be driven and you’ll find little to complain – which is scarcely something you could say about the old car. The steering is good, the brakes adequate with good initial bite. Unlike the old car, this Camry feels light on its feet, like a flyweight Sugar Ray eager to change direction at a moment’s notice. Go closer to the limit and understeer waves a flag quite early, although I’m told that oversteer – in a Camry! – is very, er, possible if you somehow manage to work the foot-mounted parkbrake apparently. Ahem.
The tyres are the same cheap Yoko Decibel E70s that have been standard issue for years now. They’re kind of a worst-of-all-worlds compromise: not especially grippy, quiet or cheap to replace. Change them at the first hint of a wear bar to a good set of Michelins, which are only slightly dearer, but deliver much better grip
What you can’t blame the Yokos for is the strangely firm ride. The old car was softer than a baby’s bottom and wallowed like an unhappy walrus on the highway, dips and bends dealing out compression too challenging for the soggy suspension. This car is far superior, holding the road with authority, but the tradeoff is a slight grittiness to the ride on less-than-perfect surfaces. I can live with it and most people would be overjoyed compared to the old car, but it just goes to show you that the Japanese haven’t quite mastered this whole suspension thing on the level of the Germans yet.
Most of us will experience the Camry from the passenger seat, and that’s exactly what I’m doing today, letting my dad chauffeur me around town.
Legroom has been improved considerably, not that the old car was really suffering in that regard. My major complaint about the old car was the lack of under-thigh support which is kinda of an issue the closer you get to six feet in height. The seat doesn’t actually feel higher, just better supported. Claustrophobia isn’t an issue, though; the low beltline helps rear visibility no end. Shame about that armrest; look how it just flops onto the seat in a kinda pathetic fashion, without any kind of stop. Wouldn’t have that in a Golf – but then you really aren’t paying Golf money, are you?
A note about the seats – as usual they’re coated in some sort of mouse fur material. Having said that, I can personally attest that they stand up well to abuse, almost as a good as a leather seat if not quite as wipe-able in the event of a disaster. The driver’s seat is much improved, but still not perfect – after five or six hours at the wheel, you’ll want a stretch. Not so the rear bench, which is remarkably supple. Perhaps slouching helps.
On the Fifth Day, MME rested.
Has it been nearly a week already? Time flies with the Camry.
I can’t say it’s been the most memorable week of my life, but the Camry’s not really supposed to be that sort of car. What it does so very well is disappear so invisibly into the fabric of your life, gently supporting your day-to-day activities yet never calling attention to itself like some petulant exotic.
It’s just so…painless. Drop some 10k synthetic oil under the hood and you won’t even see the service centre that often. Frankly, you won’t be seeing that many petrol stations either. After 500km, there’s still a quarter tank of gas left. For a ‘big-block’ four cylinder motor, this thing sips fuel like an infant.
The improvements Toyota have made have been surprisingly subtle, and mostly to the drive experience; ironically the thing that most Camry drivers might care least about. The exterior I’m not so crazy about. Toyota could and should have done more to differentiate this design from the old car which wasn’t particularly long in the tooth to begin. Those aggressive headlamps and beaky front fascias look great in the right colour, but in grey? Even a week afterwards, I really struggled to pick it out in the mall carpark.
I changed my mind about those wheels actually. Yes 17s are small, but can you imagine how much worse the ride would be if you upsized them even further? On the subject of other things that I flip flopped on; the steering wheel is not perfect, but once you break your knuckles and thumbs, you find the volume unmistakably apparent. Note that I said, ‘unmistakably’ and not ‘unbelievably’ easy.
Is it time to go already?
I’m secretly kind of sad to see the big girl go. The Camry’s never a car you’ll get emotionally attached to, but it is endearing in a faithful kind of way, always there for you to get you where you need to, never complaining. Despite what the marketing might imply, it’s no sportscar in the bends, but it does drive smaller than the size suggests. On the pointless grand sliding scale of midsize handling, I’d now place this just below the Mazda 6, but above the rest of the pack such as the Accord or the Sonata.
The real question is of course, would you buy one? This is now the most competitive end of the market. In the past, if you said you were buying a Camry, I’d automatically have assumed that resale value was the only thing you cared about. The 2012 Camry is however a much better affair, finally deserving the sales success that it’s undoubtedly going to have – and no longer worthy of scorn.
But just remember little Camry, the world’s drawn a big fat target on your back. I reckon you should watch those Germans quite carefully….