Nostalgia is an interesting word. Not only does it mean pleasant memories, sentiment and warmth, it can also be called regret, grief and qualm. When the word is brought up, it is usually because the past is so beautiful, perfect and gracious that the present seems inadequate and useless. While time more or less breads positive progress, there have been instances where the past is simply better than the present. To be perfectly honest, that very situation occurred just last year and did so in regards to the Toyota Camry. While the 2011 version of the Japanese sedan was reliable, inexpensive and feature loaded, it simply failed to capture the wonder and attention created by previous iterations. Thus, Toyota witnessed a drop in U.S. sales that continued until rather recently. Apparently, someone inside the automaker figured out that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it and infused the all-new 2012 Camry with the bulletproof strength that made the namesake so award-winning to begin with.

Born to the U.S. in 1983, the Camry name has been battling the best of the midsize best for nearly 30 years. In America alone, the Toyota has sold more than 15 million copies and for the most part, has never seen a “low period” in its life. There was however, a time when sales were not what they used to be and that occurred during the car’s sixth generation. Here’s some food for thought: during July 2011, sales of the Camry dropped by 22.9 percent compared to the year prior. Since then, a single generation change has boosted the sedan’s sales figures by 10.7 percent and last month, the Camry was the second best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Clearly, some positive changes have been made.

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In order to find out if the Camry got its groove back, we got behind the wheel of a 2012 SE V6 sedan. The seventh generation comes in three different drivetrains: two gasoline and one gasoline/electric. A variety of trim levels are offered with the SE serving as the entry into the six cylinder kingdom. Base MSRP for our tester is $26,640 which is almost $2,000 more than the top-level four cylinder XLE and $4,645 more than the Camry’s starting MSRP. Included in our SE’s standard features are such items as a sport tuned electric steering, automatic projector headlamps, heated side mirrors, 6.1 inch touchscreen with Entune, satellite radio, power driver’s seat, push button start, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and bluetooth device pairing. To make our tester complete, the $650 JBL navigation, $895 Convenience with backup camera, $1,050 leather interior, $915 power sunroof and $225 floor mat packages were added. In total and with destination charge, our Classic Silver Metallic Camry went for $31,135.

For 2012, the Camry is fairly all-new but instead of confusing and or enticing people, the folks who designed the sedan went for the rather straight and narrow. Looking similar enough compared to last year’s model not upset, the body is slighty more sculpted, chiseled and muscular than before. This is especially the case in our tester’s SE trim which features lower body work, deep fog lights and handsome 18 inch alloy wheels. No where near as bulbous as the 2011 sedan, the 2012 looks long, low, relatively lean and nostalgic. Arguably one of the best designed versions of the Camry was the one that graced the world in 1997 and today, Toyota seems to have finally left off where it once was. As handsome as the SE is, buyers looking for a little less bedazzlement have a wealth of lower styled trims to choice from. In short, there is a once again a Camry out there to please anyone’s eye.

Easily one of the Camry’s strongest aspects has always been its drivetrain and for 2012, the story is just the same. With three variations, all of which are not direct carry-overs, the Toyota can go from efficient and smooth, to powerful and strong and then to innovative and advanced. For out time with the sedan, we received powerful and strong as the 3.5 liter V6 was placed under the hood. Using dual overhead camshafts and port fuel injection, the six pumps out 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. Smooth as glass and quiet as a mouse, out tester never felt slow, underpowered or lacking and torque shows up early enough to make the extra cost engine worth while. New for 2012 is the Camry’s six speed automatic which uses a longer final drive ratio to boost highway fuel economy to the braggadocious 30 mpg mark. With mixed driving averages of 25 mpg, the Toyota is one of the most fuel-efficient upgrade engined midsize sedans out there. With a simplistic design, the 3.5 will also surely serve drivers well for years on end.

Camry faithfuls shouldn’t worry about the 2012 driving like a different car as it turns, stops and hauls just like its predecessors. To help make driving ever-so-modern, all SE trims come with a tuned electric steering pump that offers just a bit more weight compared to other trims. Turn-in is still light and easy to manage and the added tact of the SE’s dampers and lower profile tires mean that driver-to-car communication is more much more apparent. While it isn’t as sharp or sporty compared to other rivals, the Camry still plays it safe by refusing to offend anyone and being one of the easiest cars to drive.

Even though the changes to the powertrain and chassis may not seem that drastic, the changes to the inside add up to a whole new kind of car. The last generation’s biggest downfall was interior quality which seemed a bit rental grade cheap. With high-grade material littered all around, the 2012 literally feels better than before. Our tester’s upgraded leather seats bring a luxury level of support and comfort to the Camry’s portfolio and supply enough grip that occupants don’t flounder around when things get twisty. Outward visibility is excellent and the driving position is adjustable enough that all types of operators can find comfort. The extra cost navigation is clear, easy to read and utilizes “hot-keys” for the touchscreen. New for 2012 is Toyota’s Entune that can basically put smartphones inside the car and offers innovative features such as text read back and Pandora streaming internet radio. As impressive as the new system is to use, what’s more impressive is its asking price which is dirt cheap in comparison to other rivals.

There is a reason why the Toyota Camry has been America’s best-selling passenger car for more than a decade and for 2012, things are looking like they’re not going to change. Last year’s car may have fallen a bit flat but the upgrades to the new sedan are enough to make us forget about the last generation’s lazy shortcomings and remember what made the namesake so good in the beginning. What the 2012 variant does is remind us of the Camry from the 1990s: strong as a oxe and utterly immune to danger. It picks up where the best left off and is so easy to live with that a very important member of our family recently put one in their driveway. With a variety of trim levels and low-cost options, a Camry can be equipped to satisfy the needs of numerous commuters. Sure, it isn’t as raw and or exciting to drive as some other offerings but unlike those racy sedans, the Toyota refuses to upset people. It is the definition of middle ground and placing one in your household will never be considered questionable. For 2012, the Toyota Camry finally got its groove back.

Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir