The all-new Toyota Camry hybrid has gone on sale with a vast list of improvements and a mission to capture more of the private buyer segment.
Based on the new seventh-generation Toyota Camry, the new hybrid range is now more fuel efficient, faster and has a lower starting price than the model it replaces. Toyota is sticking to its guns with hybrid technology, claiming worldwide sales of over 3.5 million hybrid vehicles (the majority of which have been in Japan and North America), which the Japanese company says has saved the world 6.5 million litres of oil and 18 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
But as we all know, private buyers are far less concerned with their carbon footprint than fleets and governments, so it all comes down to purchase price, fuel efficiency and running costs. On those three points, the new Toyota Camry hybrid is a winner. Starting from $34,990 for the entry-level Camry H (a $2000 or 5.4 per cent reduction compared to the previous entry model hybrid), the new Camry hybrid has a combined average fuel economy of 5.2L/100km (down from 6L/100km) and comes with Toyota’s industry leading fixed price servicing of $130 for the first 75,000km (or four years). It also helps that it’s faster (0-100km/h in eight seconds flat), more powerful (151kW) and lighter (-45kg) than before.
There are two variants, the base model Camry H and the luxury Camry HL. There’s now a wider gap in pricing between the two models, where before the prices started from $36,990 for the base model and finished at $39,990, the range now starts from $34,990 and tops out at $41,490. This works better on two levels, on the one side it makes the base model hybrid variant far more viable to everyday buyers already looking at a petrol Camry and on the other end the slightly more expensive luxury model now offers a lot more kit for the money.
Both variants are powered by the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (118kW of power and 213Nm of torque) which is connected to an electric traction motor (105kW of power and 270Nm of torque). In unison the hybrid system provides 151kW of power. The international standard for torque measurement doesn’t generally favour the way in which hybrid systems deliver their torque (the electric motor provides maximum torque from a near standstill whilst the petrol engine reaches peak torque at 4500rpm) so there is no official torque figure, but given the individual figures for each system, we can confirm that it’s a healthy dose.
From the outside a unique radiator grille and a “hybrid blue” Toyota badge distinguishes the Camry hybrid from a standard model. The headlights also gain blue-accented extensions while the rear-end makes do with a hybrid blue Toyota badge and the high-spec HL gains a bootlid spoiler and chrome garnish. The pearl white colour is also unique to the hybrid range but otherwise it’s not all that different in the looks department.
On the inside the new Camry has been completely reworked. Addressing one of the biggest criticisms of the old model, the interior now sports a fresh, modern and well-contrasted design. It’s by and large the best interior of a Toyota to date, we’d even go as far as to say it’s better the Lexus IS range. The top of the range model also gets some nice gadgets, such as blind spot monitor (which warns of a vehicle in your blind spot by illuminating a warning sign in the corresponding side mirror) and automatic high beam, which is very useful if you frequent country roads.
One of the key focuses for the new Camry has been its improved driving dynamics. Toyota Australia has so much faith in the Camry’s ability to negotiate corners at speed that it brought us to Launceston to drive the vehicle through roads used for the world famous Targa Tasmania rally. This was unique because when we come to Launceston to review cars, they are usually sports cars and never a “white-goods-on-wheels”, which is what many have come to know the Camry for.
But even if the new Toyota Camry hybrid was the absolute best handling car in its class (which it’s not), the stigma of driving a Camry is still ever so present. There is always that sense of “just-another-Camry” whenever you’re behind the wheel. But ultimately the main problem with the Camry hybrid is that it’s such a damn good car overall. Car enthusiasts love to hate the Camry hybrid for being boring and soulless but in all fairness, it does everything that it’s been designed to do extremely well. It accelerates and corners better than most cars in its class, sits on the road confidently, absorbs all the bumps and potholes without complaint, is impressively quiet and refined inside and better yet, it’s ridiculously fuel efficient. No matter how hard we tried to dislike it, its relentless ability to outperform whatever we throw at it eventually won us over.
After nearly two hours of driving around Launceston’s hilly and twisty mountainous roads, we glanced at the average fuel economy figure expecting something along the lines of 14L/100km, the reality? 7.6L/100km. Lets put this into perspective because we were doing our absolute best to wreck the fuel economy figure. The accelerator pedal was getting a work out and our Camry was being treated like a rally car going around the mountain (with complete respect for the road rules, of course). As much as we love diesels, it’s fair to say that no diesel mid-size vehicle we can think of would’ve returned a fuel economy figure that impressive under the same conditions.
Much like the new petrol Toyota Camry, the hybrid’s suspension and power steering were tuned locally for Australia’s unique road conditions. With a bit more weight at the rear (thanks to the nickel metal hydride batteries) the hybrid actually felt more stable around the bends and given the extra torque on tap, acceleration out of corners is more enjoyable. However, we were a little surprised as to the light steering feel. There is a sense of disconnect between steering inputs and what the wheels are doing – it steers well, but you wouldn’t know it by holding the wheel. It feels much lighter than the previous model, a partial consequence of moving the powersteering system to a different location. No doubt the majority of buyers would either never know the difference or in fact appreciate the lighter steering feel for everyday driving, but it still detracts from the “driver’s car” mentality.
Overall the Camry Hybrid’s dual power system works cohesively with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which is unlike a conventional CVT because it has to take inputs from two different power units, via a double set of planetary gears. Even though there is technically only the one forward gear (which adjusts its ratios as required), you wouldn’t know it because power delivery and acceleration is smooth and consistent throughout the rev range.
Despite the additional power and torque, better fuel economy, cheaper entry price and overall performance, there are some negatives to buying a Camry hybrid over a petrol, first of which is towing capability. Where the petrol Camry can handle 1200kg, the hybrid is rated to do no more than 300kg. The limitation is the cooling required to keep the battery and electric motor operational. Then there’s the resale value, currently the hybrid models perform worse than the petrol, but that is likely to change when more and more buyers understand hybrid technology. Lastly, the battery pack is still composed of nickel metal hydride, as oppose to the more advanced lithium ion system we’re expecting to see in the Prius V, which arrives in May.
It’s lazy to fault the new Toyota Camry hybrid for being just another lacklustre Toyota but the company’s decision to sell the model in a limited range of exterior colours, which comprise of different shades of black, white and silver, doesn’t help its cause. Nonetheless, the new hybrid makes a hell of lot of sense if you’re already buying a Camry. It may not be a car for everyone but with outstanding fuel economy, improved performance and Toyota’s low cost servicing guarantee, it’s certainly an accomplished contender in the ever crowded medium car segment.
Toyota’s Camry H and Camry HL Hybrid specifications:
Both model grades have:
151kW overall maximum power
2.5-litre hybrid-specific petrol engine
EV drive mode
ECO driving indicator
seven SRS airbags
seatbelt warnings for all five seats
electric driver’s seat with lumbar support
dual-zone auto climate control air conditioning
smart entry wireless door lock
Hill-start assist control
Optitron instrument cluster with multi-information display
300kg towing capacity
side indicators in the exterior mirrors, and
Camry H has 16-inch alloy wheels with Michelin tyres. A six-speaker display audio system with a 6.1-inch screen.
Camry HL has 17-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone tyres, front fog lamps, rear lip spoiler, chrome door handles and chrome rear garnish. Interior leather accents and premium door trims, driver’s seat memory, power front passenger seat, premium steering wheel and gear-shift knob, electro-chromatic rear vision mirror and rear electric sunshade. JBL premium 10-speaker audio system with a seven-inch display screen, satellite navigation, live traffic updates and digital radio. The reversing camera on HL grade has a back-guide monitor. Rear parking sonar is also standard equipment on the HL model. Technology features on HL grade include blind spot monitor (BSM) and automatic high beam. A moonroof is available as an optional extra on Camry HL.