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Road Test: 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Road Test: 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain ?„?s latest generation of the highly successful Camry sedan is not only the best looking Camry ever, but it???‚¬?„?s also available as a hybrid in addition to the usual 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder models. Along with the Honda Accord, the Camry has dominated the mid-size sedan market for a number of years, with other manufacturers popping in and out as number 2 or 3 on the sales charts for any given year. My last hybrid Road Test was a Ford Escape and apart from the silence of the electric motor, it wasn???‚¬?„?t that different from the traditional gasoline version.

Toyota has two hybrid SUV???‚¬?„?s (Highlander/Lexus RX400h), and three sedans (Camry/Lexus GS450h ?„?s). Because the Escape is an SUV, the electric motor sat beneath the cargo area in the rear ???‚¬??? a simple and logical solution. However, employing a hybrid engine in a 4-door sedan requires a little more ingenuity to house the motor in an inconspicuous place that won???‚¬?„?t interfere with day to day living. Will it take up valuable passenger space, or will it completely eliminate an otherwise large trunk area? What if any compromises do you give up by purchasing a hybrid? Let???‚¬?„?s find out???‚¬?¦

First Impressions

The keyless entry on the Camry is one of my favorites and exactly the same as the one used on the Lexus IS250 I tested several months ago. You don???‚¬?„?t actually need to use the fob to lock or unlock the door, or even use the key to start the engine. With little black rubberized buttons on the door handle, you just press those to lock/unlock the car while the key fob is in your pocket. Starting the car is just a matter of putting your foot on the brake and pressing the big button marked start/stop. Opening the door and sitting inside, I had to remind myself this was a Toyota - not a Lexus. The appearance is very classy, with rich-feeling buttons and dials. Looking at the seats, they aren???‚¬?„?t particularly contoured or comfortable in appearance, but looks can be deceiving! The Camry seats are about the best seats I???‚¬?„?ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in for extended journeys. It took mere seconds to adjust the large leather 8-way power seats in to the sweet spot and I rarely had to do minor tweaks to the seat over the next week and 1901 miles [3,041 kms]. Both front seats are very comfortable and fully recline, with the driver???‚¬?„?s side offering a power lumbar adjustment.

The leather wrapped steering wheel is a very comfortable size, although my wife felt it was too big. It both tilts and telescopes and has the stereo, telephone, cruise and climate controls on it with nice big legible buttons. The instrument panel has a large round speedometer in the middle, with a large ???‚¬?“fuel economy???‚¬ dial the sweeps the entire length of the left-hand side of the speedometer, giving you instant feed back that you???‚¬?„?re not being responsible with the gas pedal. Every time you gave the go-pedal a bit of welly, the needle would sweep up to its limit as the engine revved to confirm the dial, then it would settle down as the transmission shifted. Personally I thought it was redundant and a tachometer would have been a better and more useful dial to include. If you want to keep and eye on how well your gas mileage is, there???‚¬?„?s a digital readout within the speedometer that gives you an update and re-calculates every 30 minutes ???‚¬??? that???‚¬?„?s a useful item. The speedometer was my only complaint and that was simply because the large numbers were in kilometres and the tiny (and I mean tiny) mph numbers disappeared when wearing sunglasses. Because our trip was to the Road America race track in Wisconsin, we were driving in the U.S., and we kinda needed to know what speed we were doing in mph.

Other than the fuel economy dial and three hybrid badges, there???‚¬?„?s no way to tell that this Camry is any different from a regular one. I was a little surprised by how many people took a second glance at the car - even though it was boring silver, it still drew more than a few stares over the course of the week ???‚¬??? obviously Toyota have a winner here in the looks department. The only other tell-tale sign that this is a different Camry is when you look in the trunk. The rear seat folds 60/40, but in truth it should be considered 40/0. The passenger side (the 40 part), folds forward to reveal a very small opening that would accommodate perhaps two or three sets of skis to pass through ???‚¬??? nothing else. The other side folds forward, but offers no access to the trunk area. The only thing I could surmise is that it would be useful for putting a bulky or dirty item in the back without fear of damaging the leather seats. That being said, the trunk itself is 17.8 cu/ft. (the regular Camry???‚¬?„?s is 14.5 cu/ft. No, I can???‚¬?„?t figure that one out either) and is still extremely useful. If you didn???‚¬?„?t know it was the hybrid battery that was eating up a little bit of space back there, you???‚¬?„?d think it was a very normal large trunk. We stuffed the trunk with our camera gear, six medium and large soft-sided cases, two backpacks and a case of beer, along with two garment bags - and we still had a bit of space left over.

Driving a hybrid is no different than driving any other car. It???‚¬?„?s obviously a little different, but not a lot. When you ???‚¬??start???‚¬?„? the car ???‚¬??? nothing happens. If there were a wind-up clock in the car, you???‚¬?„?d hear it ticking ???‚¬??? that???‚¬?„?s how quiet this vehicle is. You hear the odd clicking or whirring, but that???‚¬?„?s it. Because there is no tachometer and it???‚¬?„?s running on the battery upon start up, you have no idea if you can drive off or not. A couple of times I pushed the start button only to switch the car off. Once I got used to the silence, I knew it was okay to drive away because I could see the speedometer (the dash is black when everything is shut off). Stepping on the gas pedal to get the hybrid moving was uneventful ???‚¬??? just like a regular car, only it was silent, and perhaps a little slower. Once the speed picks up you hear the 4-cylinder engine kick in to assist the electric motor. Toyota claim the HSD powertrain is ???‚¬?“an impressive V6-equivelant performance of 192 hp???‚¬ (the 2.4 litre 4-cylinder is 147 hp, then add in the electric), yet I would have spent a month guessing that it was anything more than 125 hp total. Like the Ford engineers (or is it the marketing people), that claim the Escape hybrid was a 4-cylinder with the power of a V-6 ???‚¬??? I???‚¬?„?d hate to drive one of the 6-cylinders they compare the hybrids to. Just like the Escape, the Camry hybrid feels like you???‚¬?„?re only driving a 4-cylinder with the same kind of power.

The Camry Hybrid is very quiet ???‚¬??? no matter whether you???‚¬?„?re traveling at 40 mph or 90 mph ???‚¬??? it???‚¬?„?s almost Lexus-quiet. The travel of the gas pedal is a little different than a traditional pedal where you push and hear the car gear down to pick up speed. The Camry???‚¬?„?s CVT transmission is very smooth, but also somewhat lethargic if you want to giddy up and move. It wasn???‚¬?„?t apparent to me how lethargic it was until I went from the Camry to another vehicle and felt like I was trying to real-in a race horse. I wouldn???‚¬?„?t put this down as a big negative, because lets face it, you???‚¬?„?re not buying one of these hybrids to run around a race track are you? Acceleration isn???‚¬?„?t on the brisk side, but it???‚¬?„?s certainly adequate for every day driving. Once up to freeway speeds, the hybrid can run with everything on the road ???‚¬??? there???‚¬?„?s no fear you???‚¬?„?re going to be stuck in the right lane with the transport trucks ???‚¬??? you can easily run with the Mustang???‚¬?„?s and Vette???‚¬?„?s.

As previously mentioned, most of our driving was done in the U.S. on our trip to the Champ Car race at Road America. I especially requested the Camry hybrid for this trip/Road Test because I wanted to see if the added cost of a hybrid car would be off-set by better fuel economy ???‚¬??? especially on a longer road trip. Toyota almost made this test redundant when I considered just one thing ???‚¬??? the price. The Camry hybrid is a damn good price ???‚¬??? I was expecting it to cost a LOT more than the suggested list price of $26,520 [$31,900 Cdn]. I was expecting closer to $32,000 [$40,000 Cdn]. Even though this luxurious car already seemed to be a real bargain, we still wanted to tackle the fuel economy question - would it even come close to the EPA numbers, or would real-world driving make it just another novelty for the tree-huggers among us? In truth, it was superb! This is a large car with plenty of interior space for its occupants and luggage space to boot. According to the onboard computer we did an average of 36.7 mpg [6.7 L/100 kms] for the entire trip. Traveling at speeds around 70 mph for hours at a time and sitting through stop and go traffic in Chicago, the average fuel never varied more than 1 mpg.

The steering and suspension on the Camry hybrid was very good, soaking up all of the road imperfections and construction variations along the way with ease. As expected of the Camry ???‚¬??? it???‚¬?„?s not a sports sedan - so don???‚¬?„?t expect it to drive and ride like a BMW M5. Through the bendy bits it tended to lean a little, but you???‚¬?„?d never think you were driving a luxo-boat like a Cadillac. It is an extremely comfortable long distance cruiser and more than holds it???‚¬?„?s own in and around town.

The dashboard layout of the Camry is very luxurious and classy in appearance. The HVAC/Audio system looks very retro with its pale green backlight, and the unit is called a ???‚¬?“Plasmacluster???‚¬ ionizer, which is integrated into the climate control system, reducing harmful airborne substances, such as microbes, fungi, odours and germs that may linger inside the passenger cabin. The Plasmacluster ionizer eliminates these substances by artificially creating positive and negative ions that will seek out and surround these airborne particles. The climate control was less user-friendly than I prefer, but still very easy to use. My usual pet-peeve regarding the designer choosing where the air blows was abundantly represented here, as was the problem with the little, hard-to-see-without-taking-your-eyes-off-the-road, fan speed button. Give me a dial please! Aesthetically the unit is one of the nicest I???‚¬?„?ve ever seen, but it still could have easily incorporated a nice big dial for the fan speed, while maintaining its unique look. On the plus side, it was a dual-zone system - and that is always a good thing! As another point, and perhaps an added selling feature (but something I didn???‚¬?„?t bother with) the hybrid also comes with an Econo A/C that helps reduce the power that the electric motor would use to cool the cabin. Strangely, the button was down by my left knee, so it wasn???‚¬?„?t exactly convenient or easy to remember it actually existed and might be worth trying out. The large locking glove box was a size as you???‚¬?„?d expect of a vehicle this size, but that we don???‚¬?„?t always get. At night we used the glove box light to follow the maps instead of the very bright interior map lights.

Below the HVAC is a very large storage compartment with a door, which held and auxiliary power point and the jack for an MP3 player that can be used through the audio system. It was perfect for storing and hiding the MP3 player too. There are two little storage areas on either side of the center consol that my wife aptly dubbed ???‚¬?“gum holders???‚¬. They are just big enough to hold a couple of packs of gum each. Alternately, they can be used for an MP3 player as there???‚¬?„?s a little covered plug that you can remove to run the wire through to the auxiliary jack inside the adjacent covered compartment (though it???‚¬?„?s a little tricky to run those wires in the limited space). Between the seats are the cup holders, power outlet and a very large storage area/arm rest that holds a ton of CD???‚¬?„?s.

Another stand-out in the Camry hybrid was the audio system by JBL. The 6-disc in-dash AM/FM stereo with MP3/WMA player with 8-speakers was simply unbelievable. The sound quality was crystal clear and you can crank it up till your ears bleed! The buttons on the unit and on the steering wheel are easy to use and very logical. Plugging in my MP3 player was a difficult job because the auxiliary plug was so far back in the compartment ???‚¬??? you couldn???‚¬?„?t see it once your hand was in there, so you have to feel around to get to the jack. However, once that was accomplished, it worked flawlessly and I loved having the door there that could be closed, so I didn???‚¬?„?t have to worry about prying eyes looking at my MP3 player while I was away from the car - I could leave it sitting there all the time.

Rear seat accommodation is very generous. With a flat floor, there???‚¬?„?s plenty of room for three pairs of feet, and the outboard passengers have an abundance of foot space regardless of how far back the front seats are. Knee, hip, head and elbow room is equally as generous, although naturally with a third person it gets a little tighter. There are two cup holders back there, but they???‚¬?„?re located in the drop down arm rest, so if three are in the back, knees become cup holders.

Standard equipment on the Camry hybrid includes: smart entry system, 8-way power adjustable driver???‚¬?„?s seat, reclining rear seats, dual climate control, electronic rear view mirror with digital compass, 6-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3/WMA compatibility and a convenient mini-jack, Optitron gauges, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power windows and door locks, cruise control, keyless entry and engine immobilizer. The Plasmacluster ionizer and 16???‚¬ 8-Spoke aluminum alloy wheels round out this hybrid???‚¬?„?s features.

The test vehicle had the optional ???‚¬?“B???‚¬ Package [$3,680 Cdn] that includes leather seats, a 4-way power adjustable passenger seat, moonroof, illuminated vanity mirrors and reading lamps. In the U.S. those options are: Moonroof -$940 and Leather seats - $1,300 (that also includes the Convenience Package ($470) heated mirrors, driver ?„?s knee air bag, Engine Immobilizer, Traction Control, VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management), ABS with EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution), BA (Brake Assist) and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The Conclusion

As a 4-door sedan ???‚¬??? at any price-point - this is one very tough car to beat. It???‚¬?„?s large and comfortable and you don???‚¬?„?t sacrifice anything to the regular Camry. Its price and fuel mileage are superb. Its suspension is compliant but not so softly sprung you???‚¬?„?d regret your purchase for the sake of fuel economy. There are no downsides to the Camry hybrid other than it takes a while to go from 0-60 mph (but not so bad you???‚¬?„?d be better off getting out and pushing it). The price of gas is continually going to rise and the hybrid will help pay for itself in a short time if you???‚¬?„?re doing a lot of driving.

Hybrid Rebates:

With various levels of governments offering incentives on the purchase of hybrid vehicles, significant tax refunds could be involved. For example the Ontario government gives $2,000 back, and the U.S. government gives you up to $2,500 back on you income tax (subject to change any time) when you make the commitment to drive green. These incentives lower the cost of the Camry Hybrid to within a very close margin of several non-hybrid cars on the market at this time.

Warranty:

Bumper to bumper 3-year/36,000-mile [60,000 kms] warranty and 5-years/100,000 mile [160,000 kms] powertrain warranty. You also get roadside assistance for 3 years.

Pricing for the 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid

As tested: $29,230 [$35,580 Cdn]

Base price for the Camry Hybrid starts at: $26,520 [$31,900 Cdn]

The equivalent optioned V-6 Camry is approximately $28,880 [$37,425 Cdn]

Fuel Consumption: [Regular/Electric]

The hybrid is rated at 42.7 mpg City [5.7 L/100 kms] and 42.7 mpg Highway [5.7 L/100 kms]

I averaged 36.3 mpg [6.7 L/100km] in combined driving, and 36.3 mpg [6.7 L/100km] in 100% Highway driving

+ PLUSES:

Extremely quiet at all speeds

Very comfortable seats

Outstanding fuel economy

- MINUSES:

Won???‚¬?„?t win any drag races

Would I Spend My Money On It?:

If I wanted a 4-door sedan ???‚¬??? absolutely, unequivocally YES! This is a no-brainer purchase.

Back Seat Driver Test: 9.5 out of 10

The back seat drew lots of praise???‚¬?¦. ???‚¬?“Wow! It???‚¬?„?s huge back here!.???‚¬ ???‚¬?“Loads of room back here! Look at the leg room - I can hardly touch the front seat???‚¬

Immediate Competition (Hybrid):

Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Toyota Highlander, Saturn Vue Green Line, Lexus GS450h, Lexus LS 600h, Lexus RX 400h.

By The Numbers???‚¬?¦

Interior

10 - Quality

10 - Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)

10 - Cargo Area/Trunk Space

9 - Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

Ergonomics

10 - Ease of Entry/Exit

10 - Front Roominess

10 - Rear Roominess

10 - Driving Position/Controls

Exterior

9 - Drool Factor

10 - Fit & Finish

Performance

9 - Engine

7 - Transmission

9 - Ride & Handling

Ownership Value

10 - Bang for the $$

10 - Fuel Economy

143 Total / 150

Copyright ?‚?© 2006 by Iain Shankland - ishankland@gmail.com

This review may not be used in whole or in part in any way whatsoever without the written consent of the author.

PaddockTalk





Road Test: 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Japanese Import Car, New & Used Car, 2007