(AP) —There are three thrifty reasons why the best-selling car in the United States for the past 10 years is likely to stay on top.
In gasoline-electric hybrid form, the Toyota Camry, revamped for 2012, beats all other mid-size hybrid sedans with a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 43 miles per gallon, according to the federal government. This is up from 33 mpg for the 2011 Camry Hybrid.
The 2012 Camry with V-6 tops all other mid-size, non-hybrid, V-6-powered sedans in fuel economy with a government rating of 21 mpg combined city/highway mileage.
And the 2012 Camry with gasoline-powered, four-cylinder engine gets better mileage than its predecessor — a combined 25 mpg, per the federal government.
This is up from 22 mpg in the 2011 Camry and means that in the gasoline-powered, non-hybrid, mid-size sedan segment, the four-cylinder, 2012 Camry is second only to the lower-powered, smaller, 2012 Hyundai Elantra whose mileage rating is 29 mpg.
That's not all. The five-passenger, 2012 Camry has a more upscale interior, new features and more engine power than its predecessor and earns a top rating of five out of five stars in the U.S. government's overall crash test results.
The four-door Camry also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which lists its reliability as above average.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $22,715 for a 2012 Camry L with 178-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. A 2012 Camry with 268-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic has a starting retail price of $27,400. Toyota does not offer a manual transmission in the 2012 Camry.
In comparison, the 2012 Ford Fusion sedan has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $20,995 with 175-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. A 2012 Ford Fusion with six-speed automatic starts at $21,990. Meantime, the 2012 Honda Accord sedan with 177-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission has a starting retail price of $22,150. A 2012 Accord sedan with five-speed automatic starts at $22,950.
Camry wrapped up calendar 2011 with the most U.S. sales of any auto — 308,510. But this down 6 percent from the previous year's 327,804 Camry sales.
Toyota sales declines have been attributed to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 that affected company operations and supplier parts. But Toyota also has been hurt by tougher competition as well as publicity about suddenly accelerating Toyota cars, which are making their way into the courts via lawsuits.
The 2012 Camry looks sleeker than its predecessor, even if the test car, a top-of-the-line XLE with V-6, didn't get a second look from passersby.
The new exterior deceptively masks the roomy interior, where front seat riders have a generous 41.6 inches of legroom and where back seat passengers get a commendable 38.9 inches of legroom. In fact, a 6-foot passenger was comfortable in either front or back seat of the test Camry. Note that the Fusion has more front legroom - 42.6 inches. But the Fusion's back-seat legroom is less, at 37.1 inches.
The inside of the 2012 Camry is freshly redone and looks richer than before, thanks to better materials and a new dashboard design. The top of the dashboard as well as the top plastic ledges near the side windows are soft to the touch, not hard, cheap-feeling plastic.
The test XLE added a touch of luxury with gray leather seats that had contrast stitching that was perfectly aligned. An insert of brown leather in the seats, which tied in with the faux, glossy wood inserts on the dashboard and center console, was an attractive touch.
Seat heaters came on fast, and the 7-inch display in the center dashboard had large enough letters and numbers that back-seat riders could read it.
The only thing that didn't quite fit in this $33,000-plus tester was the ceiling material. It had a texture look to it, but was a bit rough to the touch.
The new Camry test car rode with an interior quiet and a smoothness that was noticeably fuss-free. This is an easy car to get into and just drive. It doesn't need a lot of driver attention.
There was no harshness when traveling over road bumps, and body motions only became obvious in very aggressive maneuvers and when driving over major potholes.
Steering has a bit more heft in it than in previous Camry versions, which is nice. But drivers still might prefer less isolation from the road and more feedback. Brakes worked great in the tester, which bounded forward eagerly and merged into traffic smoothly.
The 2.5-liter, twin-cam four-cylinder base engine for the Camry has peak torque of 170-foot-pounds at 4,100 rpm, while torque peaks at a heartier 248 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm in the uplevel 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6.
With the latter, the test XLE averaged 24.4 mpg when most driving was done on highways. But in mostly city driving, the car averaged just 20.4 mpg.
Ten standard air bags are in every Camry. This includes knee air bags for both driver and front passengers to help them stay properly seated during a frontal crash. Other standard safety items are curtain air bags, traction control, electronic stability control and antilock brakes.
I just wish a backup camera was standard, too, on every model. It's an option on all but the Camry XLEs and above.
Passengers get decent views out front over the low cowl. But everyone sits down onto the Camry seats in typical car fashion, so views can be blocked by trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans that are ahead in traffic.