The Ride:

2012 Toyota Camry SE V6

The Review:

Typically when I see “SE” on the rear of a vehicle I expect a wing and a sticker.  Toyota, however, makes the Camry SE a truly enjoyable vehicle through a large helping of upgrades including: 18-inch wheels, a stiffer suspension, custom bodywork with a rear spoiler, steering-wheel paddle shifters, silver trim and a leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls.

The side skirts on the 2012 are less expressive, while the front fascia is more so and the regular Camry’s chrome grille is replaced with a more stealth color matched honeycomb.  The V6 I tested wore stout 18s that looked much better in person than they do in photos.  I don’t love the tall and blocky fender design of the SE, they give the car too much of a stock-car look for my tastes.  Overall, though, I like the look of the 2012 Camry SE as it balances sport and traditional sedan styling in a way that works.

The Camry SE’s interior is greatly improved with higher-quality material, more luxurious styling like the stitching on the dash, and most importantly outstanding seats.  The regular Camry’s buckets have zero lateral support. The SE’s seats, however, are well bolstered adding a lot of comfort to the ride. A power-lumbar adjustment is also standard in the SE.  Other SE exclusives include a three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio and Bluetooth controls, silver trim and paddle shifters.

Standard equipment in the SE includes Toyota’s Entune audio system with a 6.1-inch touch-screen display that can be used to access songs, vehicle data, phone books and text messages. In the V6 models you also get a navigation feature.

Controls are well placed and clearly labeled, and even the more advanced features of the system are intuitive.  Complete smartphone integration required downloading the free Entune app, but pairing to the car is as simple as any other system.  Once set up, you can take advantage of streaming Internet radio, Bing search functions, real-time traffic, sports and stock information, and you can even make restaurant reservations. Unfortunately, these functions can only be accessed when the car is stationary.  Internal storage was plentiful with numerous bins, cupholders and water bottle door pockets. The trunk holds up to 15.4 cubic feet of cargo, and the rear seats fold down (though not flat) for transporting longer items.

Powering the Camry SE is a very sweet 268-horsepower V6. The V6 hasn’t really changed since 2007 but it doesn’t really need to.  The V6 continues to match competitors with its effortless power and easily surpasses them in terms of sound and feel.  Fuel economy for the V6 is 21 MPG city and 30 highway.

The Camry SE is a great driver.  Enthusiasts will enjoy the V6’s readiness to accelerate and the improved handling characteristics that the stiffened front end allows.  The car powers through turns with ease and accelerates in all conditions with plenty of power on tap.  One thing, however, left me confused.  Those paddle shifters.  They’re perhaps the most useless feature on the car.  I highly doubt many drivers would actually use them, and even if they did you quickly find that Toyota doesn’t particularly like their drivers thinking for themselves.  The computer likes to give you the impression you might have some control over the shifting but in reality it still seems to be the one calling the shots.

The Camry SE has suffered from an inability to find its segment and likely it will continue to.  Toyota sells the Camry as a safe, dependable, economical, “worry-free” car.  Given that I drive a 1995 Camry, when I’m not reviewing, and it still looks 99% as good as day 1 and drives the same they’re right on the money.  But, to then turn around and offer a paddle-shifted, Nascar influenced SE is confusing to the consumer and is doubtful to pull over many enthusiasts.

Bragging Rights:

The Toyota Camry SE packs great value and sporty features into a proven driver’s car.

The Price:

The 2012 Toyota Camry SE starts at $26,640 for the V6, after options the final price for my tester was $31,202.

Windup:

Overall, the 2012 Toyota Camry SE is a great car and is a huge improvement over the 2011.  Toyota has addressed the largest issue from 2011, value. The four-cylinder SE starts at $23,000, the V6 at $26,640.  Prices were essentially unchanged from 2011 despite a healthy increase in standard equipment and interior quality.  The segment may not be large, but for those of you looking for a sporty sedan that retains a high level of reliability and worry free driving while safely moving your family about the Camry SE deserves a close look.

The Photos: