2012 Toyota Camry HybridEnlarge Photo
Camrys have topped the passenger car sales charts since the dawn of time, but with the 2012 Hyundai Sonata on the market, it's no longer a given that the Camry is the car to go for.
Both provide five seats, four doors and decent gas mileage, both are affordable, and both should provide many miles of trouble-free driving.
But if you can't stretch to the even more efficient hybrid models of each car, what can you expect from the basic four-cylinder automatic variants of each?
There's a line of thought that you might actually prefer to spend a little more on the hybrid Camry and Sonata in the short term, in order to benefit from its long-term economy. This is particularly true if you intend to keep the car for a decent length of time.
In mixed driving over 15,000 miles per year, you'll save $500 in gas in the Sontata Hybrid (37 mpg) and $650 per year in the Camry Hybrid (41 mpg), versus their non-hybrid counterparts - and that's presuming the average $3.75 for gasoline doesn't rise any further. There are financial benefits then, but also environmental ones--which, if you're reading this site, will no doubt be an important factor.
Nevertheless, the regular Camry 2.5-liter four-cylinder gets a combined 28 mpg with its six-speed auto, a figure shared with the 2.4-liter Sonata. Each also gets 35 mpg highway, and the Camry's 25 mpg city figure pips the Sonata by 1 mpg.
Owners on the EPA's fueleconomy.gov site are marginally beating the official figures, and Camry owners are seeing highs of 40 mpg on the highway.
2012 Hyundai SonataSide-by-side
2012 Hyundai SonataEnlarge Photo
Which car's styling do you prefer? That might be down to how extrovert you're feeling, as the swoopy Hyundai is certainly more eye-catching than the Camry.
However, the more subdued Camry is still a well-proportioned vehicle, with solid lines and neat detailing. The interior is a bit more sporty than that of previous Camrys too, with styling and fittings clearly influenced by some of Toyota's more youthful models. Even if the styling has changed, the comfort and space is as good as ever.
The Sonata's interior is as dramatic as its exterior, with a center stack that slashes its way down into the console between the seats. The instruments are clear and everything feels of high quality, and like the Camry there's plenty of space. We found the seats a little firm when we reviewed the car, however.
Performance and handling of each is adequate, though if it's more go you're after then the Sonata's 274-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter is the version to get, and the V-6 Camry is also a rapid device considering its humble origins. Each has tidy ride and handling, though neither could be considered sports sedans.
And pricing? The Hyundai is immediately off to a great start with a base price that comes in at under $20,000. The Camry starts at $22,055.
Can the relative upstart Sonata knock the Camry from its hard-earned perch?
That depends how much you focus on purchase price, we suspect. The Camry's reliability record is second to none which will undoubtedly sway some consumers, and if you do choose to go for the Hybrid version it's greener than the Sonata too--though non-hybrid Camrys and Sonatas are evenly-matched on gas mileage.
$2,000 is quite a saving to make on purchase price though, particularly considering every other aspect of the Sonata has moved well beyond its bargain-basement roots.
In the market for a mid-size sedan? Your options have never been better.