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The Toyota Camry Hybrid is big news for the Australian market, is it worth the hype?
While it may look the same as any other Camry on the outside, the Toyota Camry Hybrid buddies up with Mother Nature to combat carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Costing tax payers some $35-million, Toyota has gone from importing Camry Hybrids from Thailand to producing them locally at its Altona manufacturing plant.
At its local launch, Toyota also sprung an attack on Australian manufacturers Ford and Holden, claiming the Camry Hybrid would travel up to 400km further on a single tank. Holding itself in such high esteem, I was keen to hit the road in the Camry Hybrid and see if the conjecture and fuss was all worth the tax payer cost and wait.
Possibly the most critical factor backing the Camry Hybrid is the price. The entry level model tested starts from $36,990, with the luxury top-spec model priced at $39,990. To put that into perspective, the Ford Falcon XT starts at $39,690 and the Holden Commodore Omega at $39,990, yet the Camry Hybrid emits over 100g/km less carbon emissions than the Falcon and 80g/km less carbon emissions than the Commodore.
While the carbon emission figures tick the green box, the ADR fuel consumption of 6.0L/100km ticks the money saving box.
The Camry Hybrid uses different design cues with respect to the non-hybrid Camry. The front bumper shares design cues with the third generation Prius. The lower part of the front bumper bar provides additional cooling for the petrol/hybrid engine bay, while the chrome strips under the emblem are used to differentiate the Camry Hybrid from non-hybrid Camry models.
You will also find blue tinted headlamps – a signature trait shared across all of Toyota’s hybrid vehicles. In addition to differentiating the Camry Hybrid styling, Toyota has improved the coefficient of drag by six percent to .27cd, making it Australia’s most aerodynamically efficient vehicle.
The only catch with all the styling and aerodynamic modifications is that none of the work was done in Australia; all of it was headed by the Japanese. In addition to the styling modifications, the Camry Hybrid also features ‘hybrid’ badges on its two wheel arches and along the boot.
Inside the cabin, it’s hard to spot any differences between the non-hybrid Camry and the Camry Hybrid, until you start the car. Changes are limited to an all-new speedometer cluster that displays speed, fuel, engine temperature and – unique to Camry Hybrid – an instantaneous fuel consumption meter.
The fuel consumption meter allows the driver to see when they are driving economically and when the car is regenerating energy with the engine switched off.
The only other differences are the ‘B’ mode on the transmission selector that increases braking to regenerate energy and the cooling duct on the rear parcel shelf that ventilates the nickel metal hydride battery packs.
Rear seat leg and head room is exceptional. You won’t hear any complains with four adults in the Camry, likewise with a full load of five. While the comparisons to the Falcon and Commodore may not be fair when looking at VFACTS segments, the Camry Hybrid certainly stacks up when glancing at interior passenger room.
Boot space is reduced by 71 litres to 389 litres to make room for the nickel metal hydride battery packs.
With proximity sensing key in tow, it’s a simple case of applying the brake and pressing the engine start button to fire the hybrid to life. A beep and illumination of the ‘ready’ symbol indicate the car is ready to go. On almost all occasions when I started the car (regardless of whether the engine had reached operating temperature) the engine started soon after the vehicle was ready to drive.
During cold starts the engine will run at higher revs until it has reached operating temperature and will then switch off if it’s no longer required.
Although Toyota has minimised chassis shake when the engine turns on and off, it can be felt by the driver and passengers as it transitions between its modes. It’s not uncomfortable, but I feel that it could be a little more subtle at times.
Under the bonnet you will find a petrol 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 110kW and 187Nm of torque. In addition to the petrol engine, an electric motor that produces 105kW and 270Nm of torque, which is available from 0rpm, runs in unison with the petrol engine to provide added torque and essentially reduce fuel consumption.
While coasting or under light throttle loads, the Camry Hybrid can run entirely off battery power. Unfortunately, there isn’t a dedicated EV mode, like in the Toyota Prius, so it’s hard to keep it running on battery power without having the petrol engine kick in and help with acceleration.
Instead of the five-speed automatic gearbox that is fitted to non-hybrid Camry models, the Camry Hybrid uses a Continually Variable Transmission (CVT) to deliver torque. The gearbox is an absolute pearler and delivers in spades under high throttle loads and extracts the most from this hybrid package.
The Camry Hybrid uses electric steering, air conditioning and brakes so they can all operate while the engine is switched off. The steering feel and brake feel is much like a non-hybrid Camry. Handling appears to be the only difference, with the Camry Hybrid weighing around 150kg more than the non-hybrid. There is a considerable amount of body roll and the front end feels heavier, but is well countered by the batteries stored in the boot.
For most people, they won’t explore the limits of the Camry Hybrid, but it’s fair to say that it essentially drives much the same as the non-hybrid.
My main gripe with the whole concept behind this technology is the way you need to drive to achieve the claimed fuel consumption figures. During my 1400km, one week tenure with the Camry I spent around 70% of my time behind the wheel traversing highways.
While travelling through the city and lower paced arterials I would always attempt to take off entirely on battery power until the engine would kick in. The problem with doing this is that it annoys the living daylights out of everyone else on the road. The electric motor isn’t powerful enough to move the Camry Hybrid with enough momentum to keep up with traffic.
During times when there was no traffic around me, I would attempt to stay on battery power as long as humanly possible before needing petrol power. At one point I managed to drive almost two kilometres, conserving momentum on downhill stretches and avoiding the petrol engine’s assistance.
The end result of this carefully planned driving was a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.2L/100km. I don’t believe that it’s possible to achieve the ADR fuel consumption figure of 6.0L/100km unless you were absolutely trying your hardest to minimise fuel use.
Therein lays the issue with the Camry Hybrid. While it may perform exceptionally well on paper and when driven like a saint, you are more likely to achieve realistic fuel consumption figures at the helm of a modern diesel. The Mazda6 Diesel returns 5.9L/100km, the Skoda Octavia TDI returns 5.3L/100km and the Volkswagen Jetta 77TDI uses 4.9L/100km and all of them emit around the same or less carbon emissions.
There’s no two ways about it, though. The Camry Hybrid represents absolutely exceptional value for money and consumes significantly less than any other petrol variant within earshot.
Ford and Holden should be shaking in their boots, with 0-100km/h acceleration of 8.9-seconds, the Camry Hybrid never feels like it lacks torque (including for overtaking). Priced below both entry level Falcon and Commodores, it’s hard to imagine any reason you would need or want to buy a Falcon XT or Commodore Omega.
Watch this space closely; Toyota will sell these in droves and so they should, it’s a technically brilliant car. Any doubters should take a test drive as they are bound to be surprised.
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