Toyota Camry Hybrid Review: Thrifty Indulgence

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Hybrids. What are they all about?

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Hybrids are jaded with myths, but still to 7 million aware people across the world, Toyota managed to sell one. In fact, Toyota claims that hybrid vehicles accounted for 14 % of their global vehicle sales. So hybrids don’t fly and they don’t employ rocket science, they just go down the road as a normal car would do , but still, what’s all this hybrid business all about?

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The term most commonly refers to hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), which combine an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors. However, other mechanisms to capture and use energy are included.

The Prius has undoubtedly changed the game worldwide and Toyota has even shifted a handful of units here in India. Now, all that ground-breaking hybrid technology now finds its way under the family loving Camry. In India though, it’s more of a posh car, with CEOs and entrepreneurs warming their backs on those supreme rear seats. Toyota India recently gave us the Camry Hybrid for a review, and we find out what’s it all about.

Style & Build

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The Camry is a big car – no two ways about it. All that visual girth is pleasantly covered up with smart, unassuming styling all around. The Hybrid variant builds from the standard Camry fare, by adding a re-worked grille with blue hues, crisp LED headlamps and a new smarter bumper. If the standard Camry comes across as a little staid, then the Hybrid tries to spruce things up a bit.

>>Next page for what’s new visually & Interiors>>

Visual differences:

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• New grille loses the abundant chrome slats, but continues with a thick chrome lip bearing the Toyota logo highlighted in blue- a visual token portraying its tree-hugging Hybrid power-train.

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• The new front bumper looks more energetic, with a larger air dam and a couple of chrome lacquered, triangular elements on the sides housing the fog lamps.

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• The rear continues mostly unchanged, apart from a few chrome trimmings here and there.

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• The sides don’t have any major defining character lines, and give away the sheer bulk of the car.

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• The Hybrid gets bigger, 17 inch 10 spoke alloy wheels which look the part.

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• Hybrid logo on the flanks and at the rear complete the whole picture.

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• The standard Camry head-lamp nacelle is now crowded with attractive LED illumination, which give the front some much needed character, apart from saving a few dollops of energy.

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  • LED tail-lamps carried over from the regular Camry

Interiors

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The insides of the Toyota Camry Hybrid are a good place to be in, and have that rich, corporate air about them, with generous lashings of leather and genuine wood. The dashboard design is also carried over from the regular Camry and is a matured and well-built affair, with neatly laid out elements finished in quality trim and materials.

Feature laden:

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• The Hybrid offers nice goods for the slightly spoiled. Something called the High Density Dash Silencer, combined with the Acoustic Windshield Glass account for an eerily quiet` car- NVH levels are remarkably good, with just whispers of the outside world seeping their way inside.

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• Wood-trimmed steering with integrated controls for audio and phone feels nice to hold.

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• There’s a three zone climate control system, which allows individual temperature regulation for the driver, front passenger and rear passengers- and it works.

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• The instrumentation gets some Hybrid-specific alterations and now features a Combimeter and Hybrid System Indicator- which keeps you aware of the hybrid system’s rigmarole.

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• The full leather seats are encompassing and inviting, and have a few tricks lined up their sleeve. While the front seats have motorized reclining and sliding options, along with memory functions, the individual rear thrones also get a Power Reclining function which lets the fat cat in you adjust the recline angle the way you desire it to be- pretty Maybach-ish, but it does the job, and makes you feel like a small King.

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• More kingly measures come in the form of the rear arm rest which has integrated controls for the Power Recline Seats, Power Sunshade for Rear Windshield- yeah, there’s one, Audio System and air conditioning. It also includes a small storage space with a 12V power socket.

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• The front seats have an in-built ventilation system to warm/cool your precious backs- it’s subtle, but makes it presence felt when outside temperatures soar. The front passenger seat also get a Collapsible Headrest, while both front seats get Assist Grips, which aid in easy ingress and egress.

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  • Switch-gear and general build quality is top-notch all around- no complaints here!

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  • Right from the accommodating glove-box to the cavernous boot, there’s enough room in the Camry Hybrid to you store your nick-knacks, cups, bottles and luggage. Also, the spare wheel is a alloy rim.

>>Next page for How does it drive, ride and handle?>>

How does it drive, ride and handle?

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The Camry Hybrid uses a combination of the same 2494cc, four-cylinder 2AR FXE DOHC VVT-I petrol engine from the regular Camry, which makes 160PS of max power- 20PS less on the regular petrol, and an electric motor rated at over 140PS. The total system output for the Camry Hybrid stands at a respectable 205PS.

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Let’ get one thing straight here. The Camry Hybrid’s no hoot to drive. It’s more of a gentleman’s machine, built to coast, not rip. The driving experience cannot be called sensory, but the Hybrid Synergy Drive makes it pretty distinctive. Stick it in D, and the leviathan silently takes its first few steps in all-electric mode. It’s pretty brisk in the beginning, with all the instantaneous 270Nm of torque making for a pretty nice shove. Maintain a light foot on the throttle and it will keep running on electric power alone up to about 50kmph or till the battery charge runs out- which takes about 5 minutes. Put your right foot down and the petrol motor cuts in- the transition is pretty seamless and you’d have to be really keen to notice it at all.

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Once speeds build up, the e-CVT gearbox is a deterrent, sapping the engine of its enthusiasm and lacing the drive is the rubber-band effect. At higher coasting speeds, power is garnered solely from the engine. However, if you are heavy footed, both the engine and the electric motor do their bit to hustle around the 2.1 tonne behemoth. She isn’t too glad for spirited drives however, with the engine booming in protest when given the beans, although performance on paper is pretty rampant- with the Hybrid finishing the 0-100 km/hr dash in 9.1 seconds.

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The Camry Hybrid comes with three driving modes: EV for a fully electric drive, Eco for those record breaking efficiency runs, and a normal driving mode for everyday driving. The normal mode offers the best of both the worlds, with both the engine and the electric motor whirring in tandem to give a fuller driving experience- the HSD sensing when to switch between the two power sources. The electric motor almost never comes on the highway. Only when you push the throttle deeper does the electric motor come alive to assist the engine but the car never runs on electricity alone unlike in the city. With the Eco mode, the Camry needs to be driven with a really deft right foot to get the maximum fuel efficiency, by minimizing the contribution of the gasoline engine. Throttle response becomes lazier and the Camry just begs to coast. Even the HVAC output is noticeably reduced. EV mode allows for a full electric drive till juice runs out, but we couldn’t try that feature.

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The dynamics are pretty well sorted out, with the big machine managing its bulk quite nicely. Turn-in is decent, and if driven around sedately, it’s a pleasure to steer around in the city, considering it’s size. However, the car doesn’t like to be pushed hard, and voices its discomfort instantly. The steering is pretty vague, and is remarkably dead off centre, so there’s no point driving it by the scruff of its neck.

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The ride is stellar, with the big Camry simply eating up undulations and bumps. That combined with the good NVH levels make it a pleasure to be inside, with all the leather around you keeping you cocooned inside. Also, wind noise and tire noise are taken care of well, and end up being virtually non-existent.

The Camry Hybrid also has regenerative braking, with the batteries getting recharged from harnessing the energy from the heat generated while braking. Brake feel, however, left a lot to be desired, and is marred by sponginess. For such a big car, the brakes don’t inspire much confidence, although they perform well enough with ABS and EBD. On the safety front, the Camry doesn’t disappoint and comes with Vehicle Stability Control, Hill-start Assist control and a total of four air-bags. However the omission of curtain airbags is a surprising for this segment.

>>Next page for Efficiency, Verdict, Specifications and Image Gallery>>

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During our spirited runs driven mostly in the normal mode, we saw an overall efficiency figure of 9.2 km/l. However if used properly in Eco and EV modes, Toyota claims that the Camry Hybrid would deliver as much as an astounding 19.16 kmpl, under standard test conditions, of course.

Verdict

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The Toyota Camry Hybrid is pretty good at what it is supposed to do- ferry your CEO/CFO/NRI bottom in peace and comfort, while spewing less CO2 in the air at the same time- doing the smoke hazed world a favor. It’s supremely comfortable, utterly refined and quite luxurious actually. Ask it to do other enthusiastic, silly things and you’re in for a disappointment. The Toyota Camry Hybrid costs Rs 29.75 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), and for that kind of money, it actually offers a fair bit. It’s quite luxurious, supremely comfortable-especially those encompassing, sliding rear seats, pleasant to drive and you also have the added benefit of the hybrid technology to boast about at parties. More than that, it’s one step closer to green motoring and deserves a pat on the back solely for that cause.

Toyota Camry Specifications

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