2012 Toyota Camry SE road test: Comfortable, well equipped, easy on fuel

2012 Toyota Camry SE

2012 Toyota Camry SE

A friend, asked the reason for his purchase of a relatively inexpensive mid-size sedan, replied simply: “Because it has everything I need.” That very same rationale could be used for the purchase of a 2012 Toyota Camry.

The redesigned and updated Camry does not press any hot buttons, but it is almost certain to be a faithful servant as it piles up the miles for family chores, family shopping, family vacations and any number of other missions.

A history of reliability, reasonable price, surprisingly good fuel mileage, lots of safety features, available electronic amenities, room and comfort for four or five — that’s pretty much all millions of Americans ask of their automobiles and they likely are the top reasons why the Toyota Camry leads the sales lists year after year.

You can’t in good conscience apply the word “exciting” to any member of the Camry family, but if you are looking for one that is more driver-oriented than the others it would be the 2012 Toyota Camry SE.

Toyota Camry SE instrument panel

Toyota Camry SE instrument panel

A tauter body and revised independent suspension improve the driving dynamics of all 2012 Toyota Camrys, but the SE goes a couple of steps further in giving the driver more precise control with model-specific suspension pieces and more aggressive tuning.

Nobody will be entering the 2012 Camry SE in the local hill climb, but many drivers will enjoy the added precision and roll resistance, especially if their daily travels take them along some twisty two-lane back roads. The four-wheel antilock disc brakes are plenty powerful, but the “sport-tuned” electric power steering is not very communicative.

Ride quality in the SE is a bit firmer than it is in the other models, but there shouldn’t be any complaints from the front or back seats.

The Camry SE provided for my road test was powered by a mildly upgraded four-cylinder engine. The 2.5-liter powerplant  generates 178 horsepower (up from169) and 170 pound-feet of torque (up from 167).

The engine is acceptably powerful and will return an EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon of unleaded fuel around town and 35 mpg on the open road. In a week of driving on mostly suburban and rural roads, I averaged 27 mpg.

An optional 3.5-liter V-6 engine is unchanged from 2011 and produces 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The EPA estimates for this engine are 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway.