2012 Toyota Camry first drive: Driving experience unchanged, but fuel efficiency has improved

2012 Toyota Camry XLE

2012 Toyota Camry XLE

You don’t have to spend a lot of time behind the wheel of the reworked 2012 Toyota Camry to realize that not a lot has changed — and that should come as no surprise.

The Japanese manufacturer hit on a winning formula for family sedans a long time ago, a formula so good that the Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for 13 of the last 14 years.

Think you might want one? Here’s how to tell.

If you want room for four or five adults, respectable fuel mileage and a fair price in a package long known for its practicality and durability, this could be the car for you.

But if you are looking for sporty, sexy and at least a hint of excitement, well, you probably want to be looking elsewhere.

Yes, the Toyota has been upgraded somewhat, with more conservative sheet metal and carryover engines that return better fuel mileage. But the driving experience has not changed in any meaningful way.

The Camry is available in a variety of trim and equipment packages which can be mixed and matched with a choice of three powertrains. Prices will range from the low $20,000s to the low $30,000s.

The base engine, a 2.5-liter, 178-horsepower four-cylinder model, has been the choice of half the Camry buyers and in 2012 will get an EPA-estimated 25 to 35 miles per gallon of fuel. That’s a gain of about three mpg in the city and on the open road..

Looking for a smoother, more powerful ride? You might want to upgrade to the 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V-6 engine, which the Camry shares with its snootier cousin, the Lexus ES 350.

And, if your favorite color is green, you probably want to spend some extra cash for Toyota’s gas/electric hybrid, which has a combined 200 horsepower and is expected to average 43 mpg city/39 mpg highway. That’s a major improvement over the 31/35 averages in the prior model.

All new Camrys are teamed with six-speed automatic transmissions, and that includes the Camry SE, which used to be available with a manual transmission because it is tuned to be a bit sportier than the rest of the lineup.

Anyway, the car chosen for my brief inspection was a well equipped Camry XLE with the four-cylinder gasoline engine.

What can I say?

The XLE did what it was told; it was adequately peppy;  and it got me where I was going with no muss, no fuss, no unexpected bad habits. All in all, the bland driving experience was just the right complement for the apparently well made, tastefully conservative fabric interior, which I recall as being light gray.

Those who are passionate about power and performance tend to write the Camry off as nothing more than a transportation appliance.

What they need to remind themselves about occasionally is that there are millions of people who simply want to get from place to place economically, efficiently and worry-free.

That’s why the Camry is at the top of the sales chart year after year.