Toyota was one of the first automakers to develop a proper hybrid car with the introduction of the Prius in the 90s. When the Camry Hybrid was first introduced for 2007, it created quite a stir being the first mainstream family sedan being offered with a hybrid powertrain for only a small sum of money tacked onto the price of a base one. I would know, I bought one. In 2007, it was priced at $32,000. Along with the government’s eco-rebates, I received cheques for $3,500, putting the price of my loaded Hybrid (after all incentives) at roughly $2500 over that of a base LE. I decided to spend a week and see if the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid was just as good as my old friend.
Toyota’s strategy was very simple. Value for money. At $31,800, my tester XLE Hybrid came equipped with pretty much everything you might want in a loaded midsizer. It had Bluetooth, navigation, a power moonroof, a Smart Key, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The one thing I did notice it’s lacking was heated seats. It’s a minor gripe, but in Canadian winters, heated seats are a must in a commuter vehicle.
Driving the Camry Hybrid has never been fun. It’s a little less sporty than the Camry SE I drove a couple months ago, but it’s not meant to be athletic in the slightest. It’s meant to commute to and from work, haul a couple kids to soccer practice, or take your significant other on a road trip while getting phenomenal fuel mileage at a competitive price. With that goal, the car excels. Toyota recommends that there is a certain ‘style’ to driving a hybrid car. You’re supposed to feather the accelerator, predict and pre-plan for stops, and overall drive more conservatively. I did just the opposite and drove it exactly as I would any other car, and somehow managed to get a combined 5.0L/100km out of the Camry. The mileage is just phenomenal.
At 200 horsepower combined out of the 2.5L 4-cylinder and the small electric motor, the Camry isn’t exactly a slouch. It can definitely pick up and hold its own on the highway, but it’s not going to win any races. The CVT transmission that I throw a hissy fit over every single time I drive a conventional-engined car with is actually not bad in this hybrid application. To be honest, it was the previous generation of this very car nearly five years ago that led to my hatred for this transmission, but for its purpose, it actually does the job quite well. Stepping on the gas pedal at highway speeds to pass makes it hesitate and then groans not unlike a teenager being awoken for school.
I realized something while driving the Camry Hybrid over the course of a week. As a mid-twenties car enthusiast who has a passion for manual transmissions, rear-wheel-drive, and gizmos, this car isn’t meant to appeal to me at all. It’s the perfect car for our parents’ generation; the generation that’s grown up driving gas guzzlers and large American land yachts. What they want to do is drive back and forth in smooth, serene comfort without having to worry about repair bills, and that’s exactly what the Toyota Camry Hybrid excels at. Since the Camry was introduced 30 years ago, it has had the exact same driving experience (that has actually led to its reputation for being one of the most boring cars on the road).Competitors have come and gone, technology has gotten better and better, but the Camry has stayed exactly the same.
There are some things to keep in mind however, in terms of long-term ownership of a hybrid vehicle. Toyota warrants the hybrid powertrain to 8 years or 160,000km, whichever comes first. However, the cost to replace a hybrid battery out of warranty is just over $9,000. That’s just one of the long-term costs. Also, it’s no secret that there has been controversy regarding the environmental impacts of disposing of the components after the car has reached the end of the line. For those who lease the car however, or those who choose to take on depreciation and sell the car after 3-4 years, it’s a very viable option. Incredible fuel savings, a worry-free car, and a reasonable price. What’s not to like?