First drive: Toyota Camry 2012 in the UAE
The 2012 Toyota Camry is indeed the most anticipated midsize sedan to be launched this year. Between this, the Yaris, the Prado and the Land Cruiser, Toyota dominates a huge chunk of the GCC market. Does that make the new Toyota Camry the best family car in the market? Not by a long shot, although if you asked us, we wouldn’t be sure which one among the competition is better in every aspect.
At the media event held in the Dubai Autodrome, we were surprised to learn that there are four trim levels, but no less than three of those will get a sporty body kit with dual exhaust tips and alloy wheels. That should pretty much separate the “S” base-model taxi cabs from the nicer customer cars, namely the “SE”, “SE Plus” and “Sport”, so that’s one good move. We’ve always stated that the Toyota Camry, for decades, has always been a handsome attractively-proportioned front-wheel-drive sedan, and while a rabid bunch will always disagree for the sake of disagreeing, most others have voted with their wallets.
Of course, the main reason enthusiasts love to hate the Camry is because of its sloppy driving dynamics, and Toyota has moved to address that. In fact, the launch event had a handling course set up on the racetrack. After that, we spent a couple of hours on the road, driving towards the deserts of Sharjah before doubling back into Dubai for a free lunch at the Bab Al Shams resort before heading back.
But first, a word on the interior — they claim its bigger, with more rear headroom. We wont disagree, as the cabin was already one of the biggest in its class to begin with. The materials are better for the most part. A stitched-leatherette soft-touch dashboard is standard on all models, while only the body-kitted models get the upholstered door inserts and additional trimmings in fake wood or fake aluminium. Upper door sills are padded up front and hard-plastic in the back, though all armrests are padded. All models get exposed cup-holders, while the higher models get a touchscreen stereo with wheel buttons.
Driving the basic Camry S around a coned course, the first-gear kick from idle caught us by surprise, as it takes off instantly, unhindered by junk such as delayed electronic throttles and lazy dual-clutch gearboxes, as found in other cars. Of course, as soon as we hit the first sharp turn, the front tyres squealed out loudly in protest. The steering is light enough at these lower speeds to turn quickly, and reasonably quick to respond. And while ultimate grip is limited, as it is on all midsize sedans, body roll was kept within controllable levels. We never felt like we were going to lose it at any time.
For another exercise where we had to bomb around more cones in a Camry Sport, we can say it is an easy car to man-handle, but we did notice the brakes were average, and the car’s tail likes to move sideways by a few millimetres under full-on emergency braking in a straight line. The Sport model possibly does appear to have stiffer suspension though, as it had no bouncy issues with the swerving manoeuvres we were made to do.
We then hit the road in a Camry SE model. On a long-winded trip through the UAE’s rural areas, where we dodged camels, navigated villages and even killed a bird, the Camry just reaffirmed that in terms of driving feel, it remains very similar to the old model. The ride feels a bit firmer, likely due to lower-profile tyres, while the electric power steering remains a bit lazy, but has a bit of feel. The steering does firm up at highway speeds though, and while the brake pedal doesn’t do much on partial application, the ABS-assisted brakes stop the car fine when pushed harder.
Wind noise is moderate at 140 kph, and the cabin is fairly quiet at speeds lower than that. The suspension still feels a bit floaty on uneven surfaces, the benefit being that the harshest potholes and speedbumps aren’t really felt. So it still isn’t close to the class leaders in handling, at least in non-Sport form, but the car is more composed than before.
The 2012 Camry should continue to satisfy those who want a car just to commute everywhere. With continuing high resale values, more economical performance and better overall packaging, we expect the Camry to lead the sales charts yet again.