The Toyota Camry Hybrid manages to break every myth going around about hybrid vehicles
A relatively unknown technology, the dogma that goes around with hybrid vehicles for being powerless and very expensive has been a huge deterrent for the segment to grow in the country. Even though Toyota has retailed around 6 million hybrids globally over the past 17 years, the Indian market is still opening up to the idea of living with a hybrid in contrast to having petrol or a diesel powered vehicle. Nonetheless, the Indian market is not a lost cause yet and Toyota did introduce the Camry Hybrid last year that manages to break every myth possible that you would relate to a hybrid vehicle. Having completed its first year of sales in the country, we spent some time with the 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid looking out for a completely new experience.
To begin with, the first thing you do notice about the Toyota Camry Hybrid is the resemblance to its conventionally powered counterpart. Unlike other hybrids (including the Prius), the Camry Hybrid manages to look like a regular executive D-segment sedan that has been engulfed in luxury and a powerful engine under the hood. However, Toyota has made minor changes to differentiate the model from its regular version. You get a redesigned front bumper with single air intake and integrated fog lamps at the sides, a new front grille with thick chrome slat, while the headlight cluster gets dual projector headlamps. The rear on the other hand gets less intrusive styling with a redesigned bumper and stubby and wide tail lights.
Distinguishing the Camry Hybrid further are the ‘Hybrid’ and ‘Hybrid Synergy Drive’ badges around the car that speak of the owner’s go green initiative. The Toyota badge gets shaded in blue for further differentiation. Visually, the Hybrid sedan appears luxurious with a certain poise to the design that comes forward as less radical and clutter free. While it may not carry a lot of curves unlike the cars in this segment, the Camry hybrid holds massive road presence measuring 4825 mm in length, 1825 mm in width and 1480 mm in height. The overhangs are quite protruding though that shows up in the handling department.
Step inside the cabin and you are greeted with a well appointed interior and overwhelming space. With a wheelbase longer than the Skoda Superb measuring at 2775 mm, the Camry Hybrid scores brownie points especially for the extensive amount of headroom and legroom on offer. The dashboard gets done up in a dual-tone black and beige colour scheme, while the wood inserts boost the appeal even further. The seats are upholstered in soft leather and come with a rather snug fit for the passengers at the front and rear.
Coming to the front, the Camry Hybrid comes technologically enriched. The electrically adjustable seats come with ventilation that provides cooling to the driver and passenger, while the 3-Zone automatic climate control system ensures individual cooling preferences for the driver side, passenger side and the rear bench. Coming to the dashboard, the design seems rather simple and is easy to operate with the touchscreen system equipped with majority of the controls, which also doubles as a screen for the rear view camera. Illuminated in blue, the instrument cluster is divided into 3 large dials that comes with 3 digital displays located inside the dial. The hybrid system replaces the tachometer on the extreme left, while the centre digital display reveals information on the battery. The start-stop button behind the multi-function steering wheel is hard to miss.
Designed for rear seat comfort, the superlative levels of quality leaves you with very little to complain about. The rear seats come with a reclining feature which allow the seats to be pushed back by up to 8-degrees. While that doesn’t seem much on paper, it does make a huge difference in reality and taking a nap from home to the airport should not be a problem. In addition, the centre arm rest gives you command over all the major controls including the music system, seat recliner as well as the motororized sun shade for the rear windscreen. You also get sun shades for the side windows and assist grips for ease of ingress and egress. The collapsible headrest along with recline and slide controls mounted on the shoulder of the front passenger seat provide ease of adjustment for the rear passengers. The ashtray on the rear door is a lovely addition. The rear misses out on the ventilated seats, which would have been appreciated.
While the interiors are more about luxury rather than green efficiency, it is the powertrain that sets the Toyota Camry Hybrid miles apart from any other vehicle at the same price point. Powering the model is the full sized 2.5-litre petrol engine from the regular Camry that has been detuned to produce 160 PS of power and 213 Nm of torque. The engine however is paired to an electric motor that produces 45 PS of power taking the combined power output to 205 PS and 451 Nm of torque, paired to an electronically controlled CVT gearbox that sends all that power to the front wheels. The batteries are charged by regenerative braking and does not need an external power source. The hybrid comes with three driving modes namely regular mode that unleashes all the horses, while the ECO mode is aimed to offer maximum fuel efficiency. The EV mode in particular only uses the batteries that can be driven for around 4-5 km at an average speed of 50 km/hr.
However, inside the cabin, very little is actually known about the technology that is powering the Camry Hybrid. The engine is inaudible inside the cabin, especially in the EV mode but does churn out a mild grunt if you floor the throttle. What does comes out beautifully is the transfer of power that is extremely seamless and seldom would you realize that the motor is a hybrid and not a conventional petrol unit. With power being sent through an E-CVT, you do get a sort of rubber band effect, but is not too much of an intrusion when it comes to driving. The power delivery is extremely linear with the speedometer climbing up in a very relaxed manner. You do tend to miss out on a certain top-end punch from the engine, but there is ample amount of performance across the rev range, making sure that overtaking is extremely easy. Unlike the myth, the Camry Hybrid is no slouch and does 0-100 km/hr sprint in 8 seconds and can easily sustain high speeds and short overtakes.
Riding on Mc Pherson struts at the front and a dual-link suspension at the rear, the ride quality is extremely pliant on the Camry Hybrid with very little of the bumps and thuds actually transferring into the cabin. With a ground clearance of 160 mm, tackling bad roads isn’t much of a hassle either. In terms of driving dynamics, the Camry Hybrid is not even close to your idea of a boring car. The hybrid sedan corners rather efficiently well with the predictable feedback from the electric power steering that weighs up well as it gathers speed. While the handling isn’t as sharp as one would hope for around the corners, the hybrid does not disappoint either and also manages to overcome the marginal body roll.
Another strong point favouring the Toyota Camry Hybrid is the high speed stability that is undeterred irrespective of the road conditions. In terms of braking though, the brake did feel a little bit spongy but that comes in due to the regenerative braking doing its duty. In most cases, the larger dimensions of the Camry Hybrid do not intimidate you, unless you are tackling over crowded roads. However, the large windows account for excellent visibility all over. In terms of fuel efficiency, the Camry Hybrid did a sufficient job. We got 8.8 km/l after driving it with a really heavy foot, while the more efficient drive resulted in around 15.1 km/l. Toyota claims a fuel efficiency of 19.16 km/l on the Camry Hybrid and the number does seem achievable in a chauffeur driven environment.
Verdict – The Toyota Camry Hybrid manages to deflect every myth that comes its way regarding a hybrid. With India being a market where price is directly proportional to size, the Camry Hybrid does emerge as a potent package that offers not only lesser CO2 emissions but also captivates the buyer with the extensive amount of luxury on offer. What works in particular for the car is that nothing changes apart from the powertrain, which just makes it as regular as driving any other vehicle on road. Furthermore, Toyota says that the overall cost of ownership is on par with the regular Camry, which ensures it isn’t too much of a hassle either on the pocket. What does seem unpleasant though is a huge price tag of Rs. 36.38 lakhs (on-road, Mumbai) that can be a party spoiler for a lot of potential buyers.
* Technologically rich
* Extremely Spacious
* Rear seat comfort
What’s Not So Cool
* High Pricing