Mileage to help Toyota Camry stay on top

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There are three thrifty reasons why the best-selling car in the United States for the past 10 years is likely to stay on top.

The five-passenger 2012 Toyota Camry has a more upscale interior and more engine power than its predecessor. The 2012 model also gets improved gas mileage - a combined 25 mpg.  PAUL SANCYA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
PAUL SANCYA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The five-passenger 2012 Toyota Camry has a more upscale interior and more engine power than its predecessor. The 2012 model also gets improved gas mileage - a combined 25 mpg.

In gasoline-electric hybrid form, the Toyota Camry, revamped for 2012, beats all other mid-size hybrid sedans with a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 43 miles per gallon, according to the federal government. This is up from 33 mpg for the 2011 Camry Hybrid.

The 2012 Camry with V-6 tops all other mid-size, nonhybrid, V-6-powered sedans in fuel economy with a government rating of 21 mpg combined city/highway mileage.

And the 2012 Camry with gasoline-powered, four-cylinder engine gets better mileage than its predecessor – a combined 25 mpg, per the federal government.

This is up from 22 mpg in the 2011 Camry and means that in the gasoline-powered, non-hybrid, mid-size sedan segment, the four-cylinder, 2012 Camry is second only to the lower-powered, smaller, 2012 Hyundai Elantra whose mileage rating is 29 mpg.

That’s not all. The five-passenger, 2012 car has a more upscale interior, new features and more engine power than its predecessor, and earns a top rating of five out of five stars in the U.S. government’s overall crash test results.

The four-door also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which lists its reliability as above average.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $22,715 for a 2012 Camry L with 178-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. A 2012 Camry with 268-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic has a starting retail price of $27,400. Toyota does not offer a manual transmission in the 2012 Camry.

In comparison, the 2012 Ford Fusion sedan has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $20,995 with 175-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. A 2012 Ford Fusion with six-speed automatic starts at $21,990. The 2012 Honda Accord sedan with 177-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission has a starting retail price of $22,150. A 2012 Accord sedan with five-speed automatic starts at $22,950.

Camry wrapped up calendar 2011 with the most U.S. sales of any auto – 308,510. But that was down 6 percent from the previous year’s 327,804 sales.

Toyota sales declines have been attributed to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 that affected company operations and supplier parts. But Toyota also has been hurt by tougher competition and publicity about suddenly accelerating cars, which are making their way into the courts via lawsuits.

The 2012 looks sleeker than its predecessor, even if the test car, a top-of-the-line XLE with V-6, didn’t get a second look from passersby.

The new exterior deceptively masks the roomy interior, where front seat riders have a generous 41.6 inches of legroom and where back seat passengers get a commendable 38.9 inches of legroom. In fact, a 6-foot passenger was comfortable in either front or back seat of the test. The Fusion has more front legroom – 42.6 inches. But the Fusion’s back-seat legroom is less, at 37.1 inches.

The inside of the car looks richer than before, thanks to better materials and a new dashboard design.

The test XLE added a touch of luxury with gray leather seats that had contrast stitching.

Seat heaters came on fast, and the 7-inch display in the center dashboard had large enough letters and numbers that back-seat riders could read it.

The only thing that didn’t quite fit in this $33,000-plus tester was the ceiling material. It had a texture look to it, but was a bit rough to the touch.

The test car rode with an interior quiet and a smoothness that was noticeably fuss-free. This is an easy car to get into and just drive.

There was no harshness when traveling over road bumps, and body motions only became obvious in very aggressive maneuvers and when driving over major potholes.

Steering has a bit more heft in it than in previous versions. But drivers still might prefer less isolation from the road and more feedback. Brakes worked great in the tester, which bounded forward eagerly and merged into traffic smoothly.

The 2.5-liter, twin-cam four-cylinder base engine has peak torque of 170-foot-pounds at 4,100 rpm, while torque peaks at a heartier 248 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm in the uplevel 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6.

SPECS

THE VEHICLE: 2012 Toyota Camry, a front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, midsize sedan

BASE PRICE: $21,955 for L; $22,500 for LE; $23,000 for SE with four cylinder; $24,725 for XLE with four cylinder; $26,640 for SE with V-6; $29,845 for XLE with V-6 (tested)

DESTINATION CHARGE: $760

PRICE AS TESTED: $33,372

ENGINE: 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with Dual VVT-i

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic

EPA MILEAGE: 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

TOP SPEED: 143 mph

LENGTH: 189.2 inches

WHEELBASE: 109.3 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,395 pounds

BUILT IN: Georgetown, Ky.

OPTIONS: Premium navigation with Entune and JBL, $1,550; blind spot monitor, $500; Safety Connect, $450; carpeted floor mats, $130; emergency/assistance kit, $70; wheel locks, $67


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