It's smart that Toyota has undercut Honda on the price of the new Camry hybrid. You can pick one up for about $2,500 less than you'd pay for the a new Accord hybrid.
This makes up for the Mileage Deficit between the two.
The EPA says the hybrid Camry LE is capable of 43 city and 39 highway (best case; the higher trim XLE's rating dips to 40 city, 38 highway - probably because it has a larger wheel/tire package that adds drag).
These are very good numbers for a mid-sized/family sedan.
But the Accord's numbers are even better:
50 city and 45 on the highway - and that goes for all trims.
That's as much as a 10 MPG difference in the city - and seven on the highway.
The Ford Fusion hybrid is strong contender, too. It rates 44 city and 41 on the highway.
And it costs less than either the Honda or the Toyota.
What the Camry hybrid's got in its corner, though, is that it's a Camry - for ages, the best selling family sedan on the market. It's the go-to/safe-bet choice for literally hundreds of thousands of loyal Toyota buyers. And it's still a good car, worth considering.
But it definitely has serious competition.
And not just from its obvious rivals.
The hybrid Camry is the gas-electric version of the popular mid-sized Camry sedan.
Like its main rivals - the Honda Accord hybrid and the Ford Fusion hybrid - it offers much better low-speed/stop-and-go/city-driving mileage than the gas-engined versions of those cars - and a decent MPG uptick on the highway as well (especially relative to the V6 gas engined versions of those cars).
It's also a quicker than the four-cylinder/non-hybrid Camry.
Be aware, though, that with gas prices at pretty reasonable levels, it's become harder to make a strong economic case for spending the extra money on any hybrid vs. the conventional/gas-engined version of the car in question.
The Camry hybrid, for example, starts at $26,790 - vs. $22,970 for the same basic car (LE trim) in non-hybrid form.
So, about $3,820 more up front.
You could also cross-shop a diesel-powered car like the current VW Jetta TDI or the diesel version of the Chevy Cruze. Their real-world mileage is extremely competitive - and they're less expensive.
More on this below.
All Camrys get a updated bodywork, including a front clip that's more Lexus-like (and less Mrs. Doubtfire-esque).
The hybrid's powertrain carries over unchanged but Toyota has sharpened up the car's handling to go with the no-longer post-menopausal visuals.
The hybrid is sold in the same LE (base) SE (sporty) and XLE (luxury) trims as the non-hybrid Camry but being hybrids, they all come with a different instrument cluster and hybrid-specific readouts, including real-time monitoring of the efficiency of the hybrid powertrain.
Familiarity. The safe bet. The Camry hybrid may not get the absolute best mileage or be the least expensive to buy hybrid - but it's got a bulletproof reputation, including an established track record of high resale values.
Quicker acceleration than non-hybrid/four-cylinder Camry - and much better mileage, too.
More second row headroom than Accord hybrid - and a lot less expensive.
More than a second quicker to 60 than Ford Fusion hybrid (which is - by far - the slowest of the bunch).
Accord hybrid's mileage is much higher.
Hybrid Fusion's price is lower (and its mileage is higher, too).
There are diesel-powered alternatives out there that match or exceed all these hybrids' mileage - and cost less to buy, too.
The hybrid Camry's drivetrain consist of a 2.5 liter gas engine supplemented by an electric motor and battery pack - the battery pack getting its charge from a combination of the engine (which acts as an onboard generator) and the "free" electricity captured during deceleration via regenerative braking. Basically, the brakes act as generators, too - only they are powered by the car's forward momentum.
The combo produces a total peak output of 200 hp - which is 22 hp more than the non-hybrid, four-cylinder Camry LE (178 hp).
So, you get a bit of a performance boost - zero to 60 in about 7.5 seconds vs. 8.3 for the non-hybrid/four-cylinder Camry - and a significant uptick in fuel economy. The regular four-cylinder Camry rates 25 city, 35 highway - far lower than the Camry hybrid's best-case 43 city, 39 highway.
With a slight caveat.
The Camry hybrid's numbers are lower (40 city, 38 highway) if you go with the higher trims, which come with a larger 17-inch wheel/tire package vs. the 16-inch steel wheels that are fitted to the base LE trim.
Still, the numbers are very good relative to the gas-engined/non-hybrid Camry LE. Whether they're good enough to justify the $3,800 or so price bump is something you'll have to decide - based on how many miles you drive and also on how you drive.
If your driving is mostly at lower speeds (stop and go, commuting) then the hybrid can and probably will earn its keep. But if you do a lot of highway driving - at today's real-world (if not necessarily legal) highway speeds (75-80 MPH) then your mileage may be disappointing in the context of what you paid - vs. what you might have paid for the non-hybrid Camry.
I have found that hybrids - not just the Camry, but generally - average in the low-mid 30s on the highway at speeds in the 75-80 range. Many current gas-engined cars can do nearly as well as that - and a couple of diesel cars I'll tell you about in a minute can do better.
The Accord hybrid is slightly quicker than the Camry hybrid - and (as mentioned) gets significantly better mileage, without any MPG penalty for going with a higher trim.
It does, however, cost more to buy the thing.
The Fusion hybrid is a lot less quick than either (zero to 60 in a bout 8.6 seconds) but it is without question the deal of three. You can pick one up for $1,115 less than a hybrid Camry LE (and $3,630 less than an Accord hybrid) and its mileage is slightly better than the Toyota's and not too far behind the Honda's.
Ford and Honda also sell plug-in versions of their hybrids - while Toyota does not offer that feature with the Camry hybrid. The advantage of being able to plug the car in to an external power source is that it's not necessary to run the engine (and burn gas) to charge up the battery pack. Your household current does that job instead.
This increases your mileage significantly.
Also, the plug-ins have more powerful batteries - and (typically) can operate at higher speeds (and for longer) on just the batteries, without assitance from the gas engine. This makes it possible for some drivers - depending on the length of their trip - to use no gasoline at all.
Or less, at any rate.
The downside is the cost to buy in.
The plug-in Accord's base price is $39,780. A plug-in Fusion "energi" starts at $33,900.
They have not sold well.
Which is probably whey Toyota decided not to sell a plug-in version of the Camry hybrid.
The main quality that sets the hybrid Camry (and Accord and Fusion hybrid) apart from hybrids like the Prius is their hybridness is more in the background. These cars look like normal cars and - mostly - drive like them, too.
There are some obvious clues - the big one being that when you push the ignition button, there's usually no sign of life whatsoever. It's like turning the key to "accessory" in a conventional car except that in addition to being able to listen to the radio, you can also drive the car.
It moves - but silently.
The gas engine may kick on at "start up" if the battery's charge is below a certain threshold or it's cold outside (and you need heat, which is provided by a warm - and necessarily, running - engine). But assuming it's warm outside and the battery is fully charged, you'll be able to creep down the road on the batteries and electric motor for about a mile or so - and up to about 30 MPH - before the gas engine does kick in.
Which it will do unobtrusively.
There's no tachometer in the Camry hybrid, so your main clue that gas is being burned is the LCD display that shows the power split (which part of the hybrid powertrain is working at any given moment).
The gas engine is nearly silent - even when it's running.
The standard continuously variable (CVT) automatic works conventionally and has a conventional, center console-mounted gear selector that feels like it's connected to something, unlike the dashboard-mounted toggle thing in the Prius.
Acceleration is quite good.
In fact, if you cross-compare the numbers, the hybrid Camry is only about 1.2 seconds less quick to 60 than the V6 powered Camry, which is capable of a 6.1 second run.
But the V6 Camry doesn't get 43 (or even 40) MPG.
Not unless it's being pulled by the hybrid Camry.
The downside, though, is that the hybrid Camry sounds as though it's struggling at times.
Chiefly, it's because of the operating characteristics of the standard continuously variable (CVT) automatic. Which is the type of transmission you'll find in all current hybrids, because CVTs are more efficient. And that's what hybrids are all about.
Or at least, mostly all about.
The thing with CVTs is they're thrashy. When you tromp on the accelerator, the CVT's gearless/shiftless (basically there's just one speed - forward) design causes the engine to spin right up to (or very near to) redline; it then stays there - if you keep your foot down - because there's no next gear to shift up (or down) to. The effect is of an engine (plus batteries and electric motor) given' er all she's got cap'n. You can almost hear Scotty's voice coming through the speaker.
I dinnah know how long she'll hold together!
Now, to be fair to the Camry - and hybrids, generally - this issue only (or mostly) arises when you are demanding maximum effort thrust. If you're not, the CVT is quiet and - by its nature - smooth as a young Billy Dee Williams. Remember, no shifts - so even when you've got it floored, there are no transitions in between gear changes.
Because the CVT has no gears to change.
And in stop and go traffic, the Camry's hybrid powertrain transitions from electric to gas to some of both gracefully, snoothly - and quietly. In fact the Camry hybrid is a proverbial cotillon queen in this respect - compared with the obnoxious "auto-stop/start" feature being fitted (like it or not) to more and more gas-engined cars. They shudder and shake, some of them - and keep in mind that when their gas engines are turned off, so is pretty much everything else, including the car's AC. In a hybrid. pretty much all the accessories are driven electrically and powered by the battery pack. So even with the gas engine off, those things are still all on.
Last item: Toyota has butched-up the Camry's handling (regular models and the hybrid) to go with the butched-up looks. That does not mean it's Bruce Jenner, circa 1976.
But it's also not Caitlyn, circa 2015.
It is somewhere in (you knew this was coming) transition. Not quite as athletic as the Accord, which is the decathlete of the three. But closer than it used to be. And as or more engaging to drive than the slow-motion Fusion.
This will hopefully (if you're Toyota) not antagonize the traditional buyers - most of whom are older and have little, if any, need for speed - while also not disappointing the younger crowd, drawn in by the more vigorous looking bodywork.
So, notwithstanding its main mission - to save on gas - Toyota offers the same sport-themed SE package that's available with the regular Camry. It includes a larger (17 inch) wheel and tire package (55 series Michelin Primacy MX4Vs), firmer suspension calibrations, a trunk spoiler, blackout trim for the headlights, sport seats and SE-specific interior accents.
Just be aware - per the above - that going with the larger wheel/tire package will cost you a couple or three MPGs.
Toyota knows that it cannot rest forever on the laurels of its Blue Chip aura. Because the competition also offers excellent build quality, reliability, value - and good looks.
People want more than just a very good appliance.
Hence the new good looks - or at least, more distinctive (and less doughty) looks. The '15 Camry - hybrid and standard-issue - get the "sweeper" front end treatment that debuted with Lexus and has filtered down the line to Toyotas - even including the Corolla.
The interior has been Lexus-upped in both form and materials, too. The dashpad's cantilevered shape is similar to what you'd find in a Lexus IS. Add the available LED headlights and you're almost there.
The Camry is now a member of the club, properly inducted.
Some small but very clap-worthy changes include relocation of the USB charge port to the cubby ahead of the shift lever - where you can easily see (and reach it) as opposed to its previous location in the center console, where you could not see (much less reach it).
Right next to the USB port is the Qi wireless cell phone charger. It's optional, but worth the money.
Standard in every Camry are large buttons and knobs for most of the major secondary functions. They are twice the size of the typical button/knob and so much easier to touch (or turn) accurately with the vehicle moving.
The hybrid's gauge cluster has a large analog Power/Charge/Eco readout in place of the standard Camry's tachometer, with an also hybrid-specific Energy Monitor LCD display that tells you how much gas you're using at the moment as well as how much gas you've used - on average - over a given period of time (days, several days, a week - etc.).
According to the computer, I averaged 32.6 MPG during my weeklong test drive - with a daily best of 41.2 MPG.
This brings up another issue - a lateral, as they say in football.
If you can handle a slightly smaller car - with a bit less back seat room - you may want to at least go take a look at the VW Jetta TDI (review of the '14 version here) and maybe also the Chevy Cruze diesel.
The VW averages 38.5 MPG (31 city, 46 highway) and - trust me - the highway number is lowball. It'll do better than what the EPA says it'll do.
Same with regard to the Cruze diesel (which averages slightly less, 36.5 MPG).
Both cost less, too - in the case of the Jetta TDI, thousands less. You can pick one up for $21,640 - which works out to an "up front" savings of $5,150 vs. the base Camry hybrid. Given that the VW diesel's real-world/everyday mileage is as good or even better than the hybrid's mileage, that's money in your pocket that will stay in your pocket.
The Cruze costs more ($25,660) but Chevy sells it loaded with equipment and options and it compares very favorably with the higher trim SE and XLE versions of the Camry hybrid.
So, again, you may want to give it a gander.
I have often wondered why Toyota - and the other car companies - have not explored the possibility of a diesel hybrid. It seems like a no-brainer. Diesels make lots of low-RPM power (torque) which would be ideal - so it would seem - both for acceleration and powering/charging up a battery pack. Most serious building generators are powered by diesels - not gas.
Imagine the mileage potential of combining a 45-50 MPG-capable diesel with a hybrid electric motor/battery pack… in lieu of a 21-28 MPG-capable gas engine.
It's still a contender - but there is definitely competition for the title.
And not only from other hybrids like the Accord and Fusion.
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