x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

2012 Toyota Camry SE+ is nice, but not exactly as advertised

Road Test Kevin Hackett finds that Toyota's brochure for its new Camry doesn't quite match up to the car itself.

The new Camry: quiet, comfortable and a bit dull. Silvia Razgova / The National
The new Camry: quiet, comfortable and a bit dull. Silvia Razgova / The National

There are certain motoring review sections out there that publish barely disguised press releases. Some journalists write the most glowing reviews because they don't want to upset PR people and certainly don't want to cut off the constant supply of free cars and press events. At The National, we do things differently. We're here to cut through the marketing hyperbole and tell you exactly what a new car is like in the real world.

Take the all-new Toyota Camry as a prime example. If you were to wander into a dealership, pick up the Camry brochure and have a read, you might think this was the most exciting new car to come along in decades. And it isn't. So let's take a look at some of the highlights in this 16-page tome and see whether they represent any form of reality.

"The evolution of an icon" is the first heading you find on page two. As successful as previous Camry's have undoubtedly been, an icon it is not. The original Mini, the E-Type Jag, the Land Rover Defender - icons one and all. They changed everything that came after them and deserve the status, but see a Camry in these parts and you think "taxi". This first paragraph also mentions that the Camry is "appealing to both the head and the heart". I get the head part, because it's well built, reasonably priced and no doubt ultra reliable. But the heart's never going to start palpitating with this car. If it does, you really need to get out more.

Over the page we read that it's "dynamic and exciting on the move" and has "sporty styling". Again, no. Whoever wrote this stuff obviously drove another car because the Camry is quiet and extremely comfortable - not dynamic and exciting. It's so well sprung that you could run over your next-door neighbour and be none-the-wiser. It's surreally silent, even at speed, and if you were to close your eyes (not recommended), you might think you were in a top-of-the-range Lexus.

As for the "sporty styling", judge it for yourself. It does, indeed, possess a deep front spoiler that looks like it could double up as a snow plough, and it has side-skirts that seem to have been purchased from a Satwa bodyshop, but the overall effect is that it looks like an ill-fitting suit. When Hyundai is getting things so right these days, Toyota taking such a backward step in styling from the bland (but inoffensive) previous generation makes no sense at all.

Turn another page and there's lots of technical info about the engine. It's apparently a 2.5L unit putting out 181hp. And it's a good job they detail this because it feels like a 1.6L putting out 80hp less. Stamp on the throttle and it sounds stressed and thrashy without any rapid gaining of speed. But at a more relaxed pace it's quiet and refined. Other markets get a V6 option - maybe that would be more like it.

Unlike previous Camrys, this new one has electric power steering, which feels a bit floaty at speed and needs constant correction to keep it straight. I'm going to ignore the statements about "class-leading sporty driving performance" and "a lively and immediate sense of exhilaration" because I think you get the point: you can't believe everything these marketing teams tell you.

What you can believe, however, is that the Camry's interior is a fine place in which to spend time. The plastics are soft to the touch, there's a lovely sweeping dashboard architecture with real stitching giving a premium look and feel. The major controls are intelligently laid out, there's an optional reversing camera and, as I mentioned earlier, those seats are superbly comfortable. It's just a pity they felt it necessary to blight it with fake wood trim.

Something else that deserves a mention is that this car has a tedious electronic voice that tells you what day it is when you start it up in the morning. This would be a deal-breaker for me because, when I'm about to enter the death-race to work along the E11 in the rush hour, I don't want my car to sound more cheery than I am. Elvis Presley once shot his car because it wouldn't start - I'd do the same if it spoke to me first thing on a Sunday.

The Camry is not a bad car. On the contrary, it's actually very good at doing most things. But it isn't iconic, dynamic or sporty, and it isn't exciting. It is competent, comfy, quiet and pleasant, and you'll soon get to experience it from the back seat when you flag down a taxi with that silly front bumper - if there's anything left of it after encountering the Emirates' rather high kerb stones.

For many years this has been the best-selling car in the USA. Toyota was wise to not tinker with its recipe too much and it will no doubt go on to sell in the millions because it's average and that, it seems, is what most people want. Believe the brochure, though, and the new Camry would dust a Ferrari at the lights.

Price, base / as tested Dh 88,000 / Dh101,000

Engine 2.5L in-line four cylinder

Gearbox Six-speed automatic

Power 181hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque 231Nm @ 4,100rpm

Fuel economy, combined 7.8L/100km