2012 Toyota Camry SE 4-cyl. review: They don’t have to know

2012 Toyota Camry SE 4-cyl

2012 Toyota Camry SE 4-cylinder

If we said a four-cylinder Camry was a sports sedan…we’d likely be wrong. But if that Camry is the 2012 Toyota Camry SE, it will corner well enough and the 178 horsepower four has just enough zip to confound the most determined cynic. The Camry SE, bless its appliance soul, may not first choice in the sporty driver’s lust list, but it’s a reasonably sneaky compromise with the domestic keeper of the exchequer’s demands for an economical family sedan or with the accounting department that’s keeping a close eye on the company cars.

The 2012 Toyota Camry marks the introduction of the seventh generation of Toyota’s bland sedan, dating back to the 1983 model year when it replaced the equally bland Corona. As ripe as the Camry is for scorn by enthusiast drivers, there’s no question that Toyota has done enough right to be, as Toyota can brag, ‘America’s best-selling car for nine years running and 13 of the past 14 years.” That’s no mean feat, and it means that with its next generation, Toyota didn’t mess with the formula.

Whether or not Toyota’s strategy is good, a part of it has been building a sporty version of the Camry called the Camry SE. The new generation continues that tradition.

Often, “sporty” means adding a spoiler, fake carbon fiber interior trim and special larger-diameter alloy wheels, and letting it go at that. Image pieces and not much more, and for many buyers, it really doesn’t matter.

Toyota could have done that, perhaps, but not with the 2012 Toyota Camry SE. While the SE gets a new front fascia, for aggressive than other versions of the 2012 Camry, and a small lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the trunk lid (plus functional underbody spoilers for smoother airflow under the car), Toyota made significant changes to the SE’s suspension. The basic arrangement doesn’t change, but Toyota buffs up the SE with model specific springs, shock absorbers and bushings with what Toyota calls “sportier values.” Springing is not only firmer, the springs are shorter as well, lowering the ride height for a lower center of gravity.

2012 Toyota Camry SE

The 2012 Toyota Camry SE with classy two-tone seating.

Toyota also reinforced the chassis with strut tower and trunk-mounted braces to let the revised suspension do its stuff. While other Camry models get 16-inch wheels, model-exclusive 17-inch alloy wheels are also standard on the 2012 Camry SE

Most manufacturers that actually go as far as Toyota did with the suspension would call it quits there, with the one engine available on the sporty model the same as that engine in any other of that model’s trim level. Toyota, however, makes the 2012 Camry SE with a choice of engines, a 2.5-liter four cylinder or a 3.5-liter V-6. The latter engine is rated at an exhilarating 268 horsepower while the four makes 178 horses (or 173 hp for the PZEV emissions version). Note: In the 2011 model year, the 178 hp version of the 2.5-liter was reserved for the SE. It’s now the standard four-cylinder engine in the Camry, regardless of trim level).

The 2012 Camry, whether four or V-6, uses the same six-speed transmission, with even the same gear ratios, but only the Camry SE has paddle shifting on the steering wheel. The SE also has standard leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and special sport seats trimmed in something called “Softex.” In our test 2012 Toyota Camry SE, the seats had French stitching and a distinct and striking two-tone treatment.