Toyota Camry Hybrid review, test drive

Autocar India
First Published: 09:14 IST(14/8/2013)
Last Updated: 17:06 IST(16/8/2013)
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Toyota is all set to launch its second hybrid car in India. Unlike the Prius however, this one has a lot to offer Indian car buyers. An ideal combination between a hybrid and a spacious entry luxury car, the new Camry Hybrid brings customers the best of  both worlds.
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But what exactly is the Camry hybrid? On the outside, the Camry Hybrid comes with a few exterior changes to distinguish it from the regular Camry. It gets a completely different bumper with a wider air dam and restyled fog lamps with chrome inserts. Lower profile Yokohama dB-series tyres wrapped around larger, 17-inch wheels and there are proliferations of blue badges to help identify it as a hybrid.

The real change, however, is under the skin. Toyota’s 2AR FXE DOHC VVT-I 2.5-litre petrol unit is there (albeit slightly tweaked to accomodate the electric motor), just as on the standard Camry, but assisting it here is Toyota’s electric drive unit that is all but  identical to the one found under the hood of the Prius. The electric motor however, is slightly more powerful. The total output for the hybrid system is 202bhp – 158bhp from the petrol engine and 44bhp from the electric motor. The hybrid system’s battery is nickel metal hydride and not lithium-ion, while the battery’s capacity stands at 6.5amp/hr. The battery pack itself sits behind the back seat.

There are changes to the cabin too, as Toyota smartly has focused on providing plenty of features to rear seat occupants. You get three-zone climate control (driver, front passenger, and rear passengers), cooled front seats, cruise control, and powered rear seats that recline by up to eight degrees. The rear armrest houses the controls for the recline functions and climate control for the rear. There’s a sunblind for the rear windscreen that is powered as well. And you get manual side blinds too.

A nifty feature that Toyota has incorporated is the ability to flip the front passenger seat’s headrest forward to give rear passengers a better view of the road ahead. As with the regular Camry, there’s also a button on the side of the electrically adjustable front passenger seat, allowing you to push it forward from the rear seat.

So what’s it like to drive? Well, there are three driving modes to choose from – EV, Eco and Normal. In EV mode, you drive on the electric motor alone, and you’re restricted to 40kph. Throttle responses are smooth in this mode and it’s best for driving in traffic.

Then there’s Eco mode. Here, the electric motor works well with the petrol engine and there’s enough power and torque on offer to make driving effortless, especially at the bottom end. The new hybrid system integrates smoothly and feels evolved, improved and more refined. This is especially true when transitioning between various modes. The performance is quite nippy, but the moment you accelerate harder, the car takes a bit of time to get going. This is due to the e-CVT (electronic continuously variable transmission) unit it is mated to, which takes a bit of time to catch up and waits for the revs to build up. That said, the rubber-band effect usually associated with this kind of gearbox isn’t as pronounced as with other CVTs.

The third mode, Normal, essentially deactivates Eco mode. The car is a lot more fun to drive in this mode as performance improves dramatically. Toyota’s petrol motor has always been torquey and quick to get off the mark. Here, with the electric motor assisting it, it’s even better. Hit the gas pedal, or in this case a combination of throttle butterfly and an electric switch, and you are instantly greeted with a lot of enthusiasm. You get an instant shove in the back, that keeps getting stronger for a few seconds and the Camry moves forward with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. Remember,  we are talking about a car that is being pushed  forward by a combined drive power of 200 plus bhp. In fact, the Camry gathers pace so fast, you can easily touch 180kph without  the motor breaking into a  sweat.

Also impressive is the ride quality on the Camry Hybrid, and that’s despite the extra weight it is carrying. It is comfortable and pliant, soaking up road undulations reasonably well and because the heavy batteries sit behind the rear passenger seat, there isn’t too much bobbing or pitching either. The impact of deeper bumps is felt though and the suspension does thud over larger obstacles.

Unlike the Prius, this car also enjoys being driven in a spirited manner. The steering is impressively direct and the Camry Hybrid holds on gamely in corners, even as you pile on the power. Brake feel isn’t the best, though. Under hard braking, you can sense the regenerative brakes working away and the brakes feel a bit spongy. But the brake feel has been improved over the years in hybrid Toyotas, and in the Camry, it’s definitely a step up over the Prius.

That said, the long wheelbase and ground clearance (identical to the normal Camry at 160mm) could be an issue on bigger bumps if the car is full, since the suspension setup is on the soft side.

In terms of efficiency, Toyota claims that the Camry Hybrid’s ARAI-certified rating is somewhere in the region of 19kpl, which is quite impressive for a car of this size. We expect real-world efficiency to be in the region of 12-13kpl.

So, does the new Camry Hybrid deserve a closer look? Absolutely. While hybrids haven’t done well in India so far, this new Toyota has the potential to change all that. The Toyota Camry Hybrid will be relatively affordable to begin with, costing only 3.5 to 4.5 lakhs more compared to the standard car because it is assembled here. A luxurious hybrid saloon that’s comfortable, well equipped, really nice to drive, the new Camry Hybrid could actually be the start of something big.

Fact File
Price Range (in lakhs)*
Ex-showroom price  Rs. 27.5 - 28 lakh (est)
Engine
Fuel               Gasoline/electric
Power           158bhp/44bhp
Torque          22kgm/28kgm
Transmission
Gearbox          e-CVT
Dimensions
Length            4825mm
Width             1825mm
Height             1480mm
Wheel base     2775mm
Ground clearance 160mm
Chassis & Body
Tyres              215/55 R17 (Tubeless)
Suspension
Front               MacPherson Strut with stabilise bar
Rear               Dual link with stabiliser bar
Brakes
Front              Ventilated discs
Rear               Solid discs


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