Camry hybrid: frugal but boring

Sumant Banerji, Hindustan Times
First Published: 12:25 IST(21/3/2014)
Last Updated: 12:41 IST(21/3/2014)
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Hybrid cars have caught the fancy of consumers worldwide for their environment friendliness. So far, they are also the only alternative available as all electric cars that are cleaner and cheaper to run have not really set the stage on fire. In emerging markets though, where the cost of a vehicle overshadows any other merit, hybrids don’t make for credible business. Or is there? Toyota launched the Prius in 2010 following a phase out of the only other hybrid ever offered in India — Honda’s Civic hybrid. Even Prius has been a laggard but that has not stopped Toyota to launch the hybrid avataar of its luxury saloon Camry, recently. Will it write a new script?

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CHANGES TO CAMRY

Camry itself got a life cycle change last year, so the hybrid does not suffer for archaic styling. But it looks a little too much like a regular Camry. History tells us that the Civic hybrid did not find as many takers because of little differentiation with its regular version. And Prius saw some demand initially for the same. Barring the redesigned grille that is sleeker in the hybrid version and different positioning of the fog lamps beneath the headlights, there is little that differentiates the two cars. The commonalities extends to the interiors as well. Flanked by a big chunky steering wheel, there is a feeling of premiumness. But it lacks the flair of the European sedans like Passat or the new Superb. Space at the rear is more than adequate but the hybrid has a smaller boot as the battery pack of the electric motor beneath the boot. A few notable exceptions in terms of features include a sun roof and a couple of airbags less. Camry and its hybrid has 4 when the industry is 6.

DIFFERENT TO DRIVE?

It is and significantly so. Anybody buying a hybrid has to reconcile to the fact that the car will not be happy if you play sport and let your hair down. This is not meant for that. It is for those who value fuel economy, love cruising for miles and take pride in being generous with the environment. The hybrid Camry uses a 2.5 -litre petrol engine complimented by a 650-volt electric motor that is in turn powered by a 245-volt nickel-metal hydride battery. The car will use the petrol engine only when you accelerate. While cruising at a constant speed, the engine would be put on idle and the electric motor will do its work, increasing the fuel economy. The battery is recharged each time you brake as the motor taps the kinetic energy lost when decelerating. The car’s central computer constantly balances the charge left in the battery to ensure it never runs out of power. The combined power of this set up is a par for the course 205 Ps, which means it is capable of doing decent threedigit speeds. And other essential facets like suspension and chassis are also tuned towards giving you a superior ride quality.

 IS IT FUEL-EFFICIENT?

Yes it is. We kept a light foot on the pedal within the city and the car gave us a fuel economy of 13 kpl. For a 2-tonne saloon and a petrol engine, this is a very good return. When out on the highway we put it on cruise control at 110 kph and got an economy of nearly 17kpl. The car offers an EV-only mode where it is run through the motor. That mode would not use petrol at all and operate like an all electric car. But it has limitations. You cannot do speeds of over 40 kph and the battery needs a charge of over 60% for the mode to kick in.

VERDICT

The best thing about the Camry hybrid is that it is assembled in India, which means it attracts less duty than Prius. That makes it quite affordable at under Rs. 30 lakh (ex-showroom). The problem is that any other diesel sedan in this category would also give you similar bang for your buck at the fuel station. And it will still cost you marginally less. Till the time the government decides to give tax breaks to hybrids, it is difficult to see a long queue at the showrooms.


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