Although Toyota made some significant changes to the Camry for 2012, most people would be hard-pressed to pick them out when seeing the car drive down the street. Camry has been a huge sales success for Toyota, and I am not surprised to see the company stick with this winning formula.
But the new Camry does have one feature that shoots for the cutting edge. Entune gives the Camry apps and connectivity, a rare technological innovation from largely conservative Toyota. Entune in the Camry is kind of like if Betty White showed up wearing a nose ring. There is nothing wrong with Betty White trying something different, but her long career makes it unnecessary.
The success of the Camry may be baffling to sports car enthusiasts, who assume everyone loves the adrenaline rush of cornering at the very edge of grip. But the 2012 model makes it easy to see why the Camry has become so popular. This sedan has a spacious cabin easily seating five, and plenty of trunk room.
These attributes make it a perfect multiuse vehicle for the majority of America's driving needs. It will get a parent to work and back five days a week, tote the kids to school, take the whole family to Grandma's house on Saturday, and fit a load of groceries or home improvement items when taken out for Sunday errands.
Of course, Toyota won't want to rest too much on its laurels, which explains the inclusion of Entune, along with some of the other improvements to the Camry. CNET's review car was about the most expensive Camry available, in XLE trim with a V-6 engine. As a high-trim model, it had some luxury interior appointments, such as stitched leather over the dashboard. But Toyota has made an effort to improve interior quality in all Camry trims, which I've seen in lesser SE models.
Aesthetic changes include a less ostentatious nose bump and a lower fascia made busy with more vents. In a practical change, Toyota thinned the A pillars, which I found made it easier to see objects off the front fenders. The seating position also felt high, and no amount of pushing down on the seat control would bring it down to a more comfortable height. My knees seemed uncomfortably close to the dashboard.
A new safety feature I was very happy to see was blind-spot detection, which lights up icons in the side mirrors when other cars are in the Camry's blind spots. I didn't notice any false positives with this system, and the electronic help when maneuvering through heavy traffic was greatly appreciated.
But Entune is the most interesting change, and a big step forward for Toyota into connected cabin technology. Unfortunately, it is not entirely successful. Entune comprises a select set of well-known applications, such as Pandora and OpenTable, available through the car's head unit, with a data connection coming through a connected smartphone. Android phones can connect via Bluetooth to provide the data connection, and iPhones must be plugged into the car's USB port.
Among two Android phones we tried, one connected without issues, while the other kept on getting connection errors. An iPhone 3G S loaded with IOS 5 and cabled to the car's USB port experienced problems connecting to the head unit. Beyond the problem with Entune, the normal iPod integration didn't work, so that we couldn't play music from the iPhone. After some cable jiggling and repeated plug-ins, the iPhone worked for a good chunk of time, letting me test the system's apps. An iPhone 4 plugged into the system worked immediately, with no problems, so it seems the Camry has some backward-compatibility issues.
Once the system was working, I could search for local points of interest in Bing, listen to Pandora or iHeartRadio, buy movie tickets, and make restaurant reservations. Each function involved a bit of wait time, something most people will already have become inured to with their smartphones.
A simple search on the term "hamburger" brought up many nearby hamburger-focused restaurants from Bing, but the results were not arranged by distance, which would be more helpful. A more esoteric search for "vacuum cleaner bags" returned only three results, none of them a nearby hardware store where I could have easily found vacuum cleaner bags.
Pandora and iHeartRadio worked much better, and required much less wait time. The Pandora interface let me choose stations and give songs the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. My only complaint is regarding the interface. Toyota added an Apps tab among the other audio sources, but the resulting screen did not let me choose between Pandora and iHeartRadio. I had to go back through a main apps screen to make that selection.
Entune can also show nearby fuel prices, traffic, and weather, which it does in Toyota's midgrade head unit. In the head unit included with the XLE trim car, this data comes in through the satellite radio connection. This data is very convenient to have available, although the immediacy with which it shows up emphasizes the slower load times of Entune.
Toyota still refuses to include perspective-view maps in its navigation system, but the resolution of the 2D maps is much improved. Street names are very easy to read and the maps show some detail within blocks. Traffic data overlays the map, showing specific incidents and average speeds. The route guidance uses this data to avoid serious problems.