Pragmatic and efficient, the mid-size mainstream sedan segment isn't one to get hearts racing, but it is what most of us need to get our daily business done, and for that, it's hard to beat either the Toyota Camry or the Hyundai Sonata.
For 2012, the Camry gets a full redesign, though it stays close to its proven principles--so much so that you might not notice the completely new exterior at first. The Sonata was all-new in 2011, but it carries its futuristic look into 2012 well. Crests and curves blend in balance and harmony, producing one of the best-looking sedans in the segment.
Inside, the Camry's design is simple and functional, but a significant upgrade in looks and finish from the last version; a multi-layered dash, stitched-look instrument panel, and chunky multi-function controls are the most noticeable elements. The Sonata's cabin is as adventurous as its exterior, with a dramatically sculpted dash, a large LCD screen, and wood-grain trim. Some might find the Sonata's look a bit "out there," however.
Behind the wheel, both cars are responsive and refined, with very good ride comfort, though the Sonata errs a bit on the firm end of the spectrum. The Camry offers both four-cylinder and V-6 engines, either choice being relatively efficient and quick enough for typical street use. A hybrid option boosts the Camry's gas mileage to 43 mpg city and 39 mpg highway in LE trim, making it a very efficient option. Sonata's powertrains range from fuel-sipper to sporty, with a 274-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged version available. A Sonata Hybrid is also offered, rating 35 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, falling short of the Camry's marks, but still quite good on gas.
Features and specifications can vary widely, from base-spec models with just the minimum of modern conveniences to fully-loaded models packing navigation, infotainment, advanced safety systems and more. Both Camry and Sonata offer a range of upgrade packages and standalone options that will likely satisfy most buyers.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates both the 2012 Hyundai Sonata and the 2012 Toyota Camry as Top Safety Picks, so they're on even footing there. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) scores the Sonata at five stars overall, though just four stars in frontal crash tests. The Camry earns the same ratings--five overall, four in frontal crash tests--but also just four of five stars in rollover resistance, where the Sonata scores five.