Long since its introduction in 1982, the Toyota Camry has been a popular vehicle among value-conscious Americans. Despite that reputation, a competitor capable of rivaling the Camry reared its head last year — the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, translated into Hyundai’s slick new “fluidic” design language.
As journalists lavished it with praised, consumers flocked to the redesigned car, spurring a refreshed 2012 Toyota Camry, which is exactly what we got.
For the 2012 model year, the Japanese auto giant updated both the volume-selling 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder and higher-powered V6 with more horsepower and better fuel economy. Year-over-year the four-cylinder gained nine horsepower for a total 178 while improving fuel economy to 25/35 mpg city/highway thanks to a new shiftable six-speed automatic as standard equipment.
|Vehicle||2012 Toyota Camry||Advantage||2012 Hyundai Sonata|
|Engine||Gas I4, 2.5L||Camry||Gas I4, 2.4L|
|Horsepower||178 @ 6000 rpm||Sonata||198 @ 6300 rpm|
|Torque||178 @ 6000 rpm||Sonata||184 @ 4250 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||25 MPG city / 35 MPG hwy||Camry||24 MPG city / 35 MPG hwy|
|Head Room (front)||38.8"||Sonata||40.0"|
|Leg Room (front)||41.6"||Sonata||45.5"|
|Shoulder Room (front)||58.0"||Camry||57.9"|
|Head Room (rear)||38.1"||Camry||37.8"|
|Leg Room (rear)||38.9"||Camry||34.6"|
|Shoulder Room (rear)||56.6"||Sonata||56.7"|
|Trunk Space (cu-ft)||15.4||Sonata||16.4|
All new in 2011, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata remains a strong competitor with its 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder that achieves almost-par fuel consumption with 24/35 mpg city/highway while offering 198 horsepower to the Camry’s 178. The higher-horsepower Sonata will also be more fun to drive with a standard six-speed manual while an automatic is optional.
While the Camry is very much a redesigned car, exterior styling changes are minimal. With a similar profile, there are larger changes front and back with an updated front fascia that includes a restyled grille and new fog lamp housing.
Likewise, Hyundai ran with its previous-year design meaning the 2012 model year is indistinguishable from the previous year.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hyundai also redesigned its interior styling last year, which is something the 2012 Sonata maintains. A sleek, technology oriented experience that in 2012 offers Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics service and a higher-resolution touch screen in the optional navigation system. The “Limited” trim level also offers an optional panoramic sunroof.
Meanwhile, Toyota has been hard at work improving the dated and now-cheap interior that plagued last year’s Camry. For 2012, the car (especially at higher trim levels) offers better-quality materials and textures this year. Similar to the Sonata, the Camry gets a higher-resolution optional navigation screen.
The Sonata’s modern interior outshines Toyota at lower and mid trim levels. Its slick presentation distracts you from some of the modest-grade materials. Still, at the top-end XLE and SE trim levels, the Camry’s interior feels noticeably nicer despite the familiar styling carryover.
Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, power locks and windows, air conditioning and cruise control are standard equipment on both cars. Navigation is available on both, but only as an option. The same is true for improved trim features like wood-style trim on the Camry, which is only available on the highest-level XLE, or piano black accents in the top-end “Limited” Sonata.
Both cars some with a long list of standard safety features, though the Camry has 10 standard airbags to the Sonata’s six. Both cars also earned the “Top Safety Pick” in 2012 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Electronic traction control, stability control and anti-lock braking also come in both cars on all levels.
While the Camry doesn’t feel cramped, it loses points to the roomier Sonata, which offers more legroom and a noticeably larger cargo area. Still, taller passengers may prefer the Camry, which offers a little more rear headroom.
Both cars offer several different powertrain options, with the Sonata 2.0T Turbo vs the Camry V6, while the Sonata Hybrid delivers 36/40 mpg versus the Camry Hybrid at 43/39.
Ultimately, the cars are close competitors. The Sonata’s starting price is a little lower at $19,795 over the base Camry for $21,995, although with the Camry’s standard 6-speed automatic, once you add on an auto-box to the Sonata, the prices are much closer. Choosing the Hyundai means more horsepower, comparable mileage and a more dramatic design. Still, there’s much to be said about a vastly improved Camry, that boasts known durability and reliability. There’s a reason it’s the best selling car in America for 10 straight years.