The Toyota Camry Hybrid delivers clever hybrid tech in an everyday model
Driving Toyota's hybrid Camry is an odd experience. Because superficially you are driving an ordinary Camry; smart if slightly dull, with plush ride and handling, a comfy cabin, and absolutely nothing that stands out.
But you are also driving a bit of clever hybrid tech. Switch the trip computer to 'outside temperature' and you can drive it just like any other Camry; as a boring bread-and-butter car. Except that you won't need to stop at the pump too often.
Switch the trip to show the passage of power from engine to wheels though, or wheels charging the battery, or battery powering the wheels; or, almost as good, to range remaining on current tank, and the picture changes. For this Camry is as frugal as a diesel - with the bonus that round town, it issues almost no nasties from the tailpipe, and can run silently. Imagine a whisper-quiet, smoke-free traffic jam...
Toyota says the 2.4-litre petrol engine and the electric motor put out - hmm, 110kW/187Nm from the petrol engine and 105kW/270Nm from the electric motor. Their combined power is sent to the tarmac via an electronically controlled CVT auto with only 'drive' and 'B' - for engine braking - on offer. Performance feels over-relaxed initially, but if you get assertive with the accelerator it will pick up briskly enough; Toyota's figures show a 0-100km/h time of 8.9 seconds, compared to the standard 2.4's 10.6, thanks to that electric motor's punch off the line.
As for the useful bits - it's a Camry. That means both my front and rear passengers were comfy and had ample leg room. The interior's plain, with velour seats and a simple dash layout which delivers a fair bit of adjustability of lights, radio, etc - plus Bluetooth hands-free.
There's the usual spec including six airbags, ABS and stability control, auto air con, a USB and iPod-capable sound system, cruise control, and a reasonable 389-litre boot - 146 litres less than the standard Camry. That's because the batteries take up space. The rear seats do split-fold, and the boot will still carry golf clubs just fine; still, if you something bigger than a Honda Civic or Prius, you may find the boot too small.
But you will like the frugal performance. Toyota claims a 6.0-litre thirst; I couldn't match that. But then this car is at its very best round town - where the petrol engine can stay off for extended periods, as braking and decelerating recharge the battery and the electric motor propels you at speeds of up to 70km/h. It's not too bad on the open highway either, like any car. But I didn't get much round town running into my stint with the car, and very little highway either; I was driving to and fro over the Waitakere ranges, attempting a bit of a fang along the top just to see if it could, and otherwise taking this engine combo a fair way out of its comfort zone. And mine, for no Camry is an incisive handler.
Not surprisingly the result was a thirst higher than Toyota's claim; but at 6.5l/100 you could hardly say it guzzled.
The Camry delivers clever hybrid tech in an everyday model; if Prius is too small, or you don't need to wear your eco-badge on your sleeve, just $500 more will get you this bigger, albeit less stylish car.