NEW YORK -- In 2011, Toyota touted the newest Camry for its "bold, sophisticated" design. Reviewers responded with labels such as "no stunner" and "quiet, and otherwise unremarkable."
The automaker, fighting to extend the Camry's 12-year reign as the best-selling car in the United States, is again showering its flagship sedan with superlatives as it unwraps a new edition. The model shown at the New York auto show last week reflects significantly more change than is typical for a car that has been spruced up halfway through a five-year cycle.
"We wanted to make this the best Camry we've ever built," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager, at the unveiling.
The freshened Camry is nearly 2 inches longer because of more protruding fascias. A half-inch wider track helps with stability and handling. The electric power steering has been retuned for better on-center feel with less wandering and more precise steering inputs, Toyota claims. The doors have additional spot welds to provide better body rigidity. The automaker said 2,000 new parts were used in the 2015 freshening. The car goes on sale in the fall.
Toyota has taken a decisively bolder approach in shaping the Camry's sheet metal, within the limits of the current platform.
The Camry now shares the yawning front-grille styling also seen on the Corolla sedan and Highlander crossover. The slab-sided doors remain, although all trim levels have a swoopy scalloping extending upward from the rocker panels into the rear doors.
All exterior sheet-metal panels were changed except for the roof.
The nearly flat hood line sports several creases for more character. And the rear deck, fascia and taillights are nearly identical to those of the Lexus ES 350 luxury car -- with which the Camry shares numerous components.
Inside, the 2015 Camry has improved materials and a restyled center-console layout. The instrument panel features a 4-inch information screen. Window and door seals have been improved, and the carpets have 30 percent more insulating material, to keep out road and wind noise.
U.S. sales of the seventh-generation Camry soared 31 percent in 2012, its first full year on the market, as the automaker rebounded from the 2011 earthquake in Japan and the changeover to the redesigned model.
But the Camry's 1 percent sales increase last year, to 408,484 units, trailed the advances of its closest mid-sized rivals -- the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion. This year, Toyota found itself behind the Altima after two months before surging in March to take a first-quarter lead.
They are all fighting in a segment that grew just 1 percent last year while industry sales expanded 8 percent. Through March, sales of mid-sized cars were down 8 percent in an overall market that gained 1 percent.