Toyota's Camry: An Unispired Ride With Pricey Technology
The mid-level Display Audio with Navigation and Entune system in Toyota's 2012 Camry Hybrid XLE leaves us conflicted. On one hand, the DA6 configuration offers excellent functionality that includes built-in apps, Internet connectivity, great phone support, and a simple user interface. But the system lacks polish. Although there are some nice features to be had (like the ability to mix and match Sirius and HD Radio presets, and download traffic data using your smartphone connection), Toyota's design is an aesthetic mess. The yellow navigation maps, pedestrian user interface, and low-resolution display leave much to be desired.
A lack of polish makes it hard to swallow the $1700 that Toyota charges for its package, which is nearly twice as expensive as Ford's SYNC with MyFord Touch. It only hurts more that the Ford solution is visually much more appealing, with voice commands that actually work when the vehicle is in motion. Toyota must have missed the memo that proper voice recognition is supposed to minimize driving distractions by keeping you from having to look down to play with your phone. Unfortunately, we had terrible luck with the Camry's voice recognition feature unless the car was at a stop.
Toyota’s Blind Spot Monitor is a fairly convenient feature, though it's price at $500. With plenty of motorcycles and bikes on the road, BSM is good for peace-of-mind. I drive both a Miata and a scooter, and I wish more cars came standard with technologies like this to help make driving around a safer experience for everyone.
Safety Connect is another feel-good feature that most of us can get along without, but some will want for its potential utility in a worst-case situation. Toyota wants $450 for it, not counting the cost of an annual subscription. Naturally, then, this isn't for everyone.
Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive is an interesting powertrain option able to deliver great gas mileage, specifically in a busy city. Although we assumed it'd be neutered, power delivered simultaneously from the engine and electric motors impressed us. You have to pay an extra $2600 over the four-cylinder trim to get the hybrid setup, though. If we use estimated annual fuel costs (from fueleconomy.gov) to calculate the rated mileage difference, you only save about $500 each year driving 15 000 miles. At that rate, it'd take more than five years to recuperate your up-front investment in hybrid technology. If you can't hold onto a car that long, paying up front is a losing proposition.
As for the car itself, Toyota's 2012 Camry Hybrid XLE appeals to the company's target buyer. It's a smooth-riding vehicle that floats on the road, devoid of passion. It gets you from one place to another. And if you take no joy in the ride between your destinations, this thing maintains the status quo. The fit and finish are excellent, though, and Toyota's reputation for quality certainly doesn't go unrecognized.
Speaking as enthusiasts (of PC hardware and automotive technology), though, the 2012 Camry Hybrid XLE is simultaneously dull and scary at times. The suspension is soft, the steering is numb, and there is a ton of body roll, even when you take an onramp at normal speeds. The car is sleep-inducing, and we frankly derived more enjoyment from the VW Routan used in our baseline benchmarks. No two ways about it: that's sad.
Overall, the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE is a good car for anyone who wants a comfortable vehicle able to get you from point A to point B. We do suggest skipping the Display Audio with Navigation and Entune option because it's too expensive and unrefined for the $1700 upgrade price. If you are like us, though, and enjoy the driving experience, the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE isn't a compelling option.