The Toyota Camry is already the top-selling family sedan in America, and now the Camry Hybrid is emerging as the king of electric/gasoline-powered family sedans. Toyota ( TM ) has sold 27,336 hybrid Camrys in the seven months that the model has been on the market, including 3,100 in November. By contrast, archrival Honda ( HMC ) sold a paltry 311 Accord Hybrids in November, and sales are down 67.5%, to just 5,235, in the first 11 months of this year.
It's not hard to understand the Camry Hybrid's popularity once you've driven one. I can't find many bad things to say about the car. It has the classic styling and roomy, beautifully made interior of the regular Camry, which was redesigned and made slightly bigger for the '07 model year. Not surprisingly, the Camry hybrid also gets excellent mileage. It's rated at 40 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway, versus 24 city/33 highway for a Camry XLE with a conventional four-cylinder engine.
My test Camry Hybrid even had a drop-dead-gorgeous paint joba pale metallic green called "Jasper Pearl," so nice-looking that the clerk at the local Shell station, who monitors my frequent car changes with keen interest, remarked on how pretty the car was. So did a customer at another gas pump.
The price isn't bad either. The Camry Hybrid's base price is just $26,820which is still considerably higher than the non-hybrid base Camry CE's MSRP of $18,270and the car comes loaded with standard equipment, including antilock brakes with braking assist, traction control, stability control, halogen headlights, a tire pressure monitoring system, cruise control, a telescoping and tilting steering wheel, eight-way adjustable front seats, air conditioning with an air filtration system, and a JBL sound system with Bluetooth capability. It also has just about every kind of airbag that exists, including front, side, and side curtain bags, plus one to protect the driver's knees.
Adding optional equipment to the Camry Hybrid is relatively inexpensive. Leather upholstery costs $1,300, a navigation system $1,200, a sunroof $940, a remote starting system $595, and heated mirrors just $30. Not that I'm recommending them, but you can also get a rear spoiler for $295 and a sport shifter knob for $65.
The Camry Hybrid has both a 45-horsepower electric engine and a 2.4 liter, 147 horsepower four cylinder gasoline engine. (The Honda Accord hybrid has a more powerful 253-horsepower V6 engine, but it's only rated to get 28 mpg and 35 on the highway.) The Camry Hybrid is known as a "full hybrid," which means it can operate only on gasoline, only on the electric engine, or bothdepending on what's most efficient. The transition between the two engines is seamless.
Despite what you might expect for vehicles with such pioneering technology, hybrid buyers tend to be older and more financially conservative than the norm. The average age of a Camry Hybrid buyer is 51, according to the Power Information Network, and 84.1% of the model's buyers are over 35.
A mere 6.2% of Camry Hybrids are leased, while 53.2% are purchased with cash, and 40.6% are financed, according to the Power Information Network. (J.D. Power is a division of The McGraw-Hill Cos. ( MHP ), as is BusinessWeek.com.)