It has been a rocky road for the Toyota faithful as the company recovers from natural disaster and a rash of very public — and extensive — recalls that threw into question its normally cut-above-the-rest reputation.
So, the question is whether the new seventh-generation Camry and Camry Hybrid will get you down to the dealership to sign on the dotted line.
Honestly, it should, based on a number of key incremental improvements to fuel economy and interior quality in particular.
Despite the best efforts of the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Hyundai Sonata, the Camry has owned the numero uno spot outright for the past decade.
And it has managed this feat by playing it safe with styling, steadily improving its safety and technology features and offering its loyal owners plenty of cabin comfort and refinement.
For 2012, the Camry’s oh-so-subtle physical changes include a pointier front end, chiselled front fenders and an accent crease extending across the doors and fenders.
Compared to a similarly contented 2011 base model, the list price has been reduced by $1,600. You might consider that a return-to-full-strength bonus, however for the conservative Camry, saving money is always in fashion.
Very little has changed beneath the hood of both gasoline-engine Camrys, although Toyota now rates the standard-issue 178-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder at 8.2 l/100 km in the city and 5.6 on the highway, compared to the 2011 model’s 9.0/6.0 numbers. Meanwhile, the carryover 268-horsepower 3.5-litre V-6 achieves a claimed 9.7/6.4 city/highway, compared with 10.6/6.8 before.
The interior is where this Camry makes a definitive statement. The organically-shaped dashboard presents a layered appearance and lacks the former droopy look.
As well, the dash and control panel’s shiny bits added to up-level models are tastefully done. Buyers can now choose from four different upholstery finishes, depending on the model, from woven fabric on base models to leather with faux suede seat covers at the luxury end of the scale.
Easily the most impressive fuel-efficiency gain originates from the new Camry Hybrid. Toyota has installed a 156-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that replaces the 147-horse 2.4-litre. The 2.5 functions in tandem with an electric motor. Most importantly, fuel-economy numbers improve to 4.5 l/100 km in the city and 4.9 highway, versus 5.7 city and highway for the 2011 Hybrid. Additionally, the more compact battery system located behind the rear seat means more trunk space.