By Twain Mein
- Great fuel economy. Rated at 40 hwy/38 city. Under my lead-footedness (constantly flooring it), got 33 MPG. Impressive; nearly 100% better than the Audi!
- Beautiful interior
- Lots of room front/rear
- Disappointing handling
- Small trunk with useless pass-through (can’t fit a bike)
- Trailer hitch (for a bike rack) can’t be mounted
My 2000 Audi A6 4.2 is 7 years old and has 115k miles. Plus we have 2 kids. I also bike a lot and need to put the bike in the trunk on occasion. I commute about 60 miles to work each day and average about 18 miles per gallon. So I am starting to think about a more fuel efficient (yet spacious and luxurious) sedan to replace the Audi. We have a Toyota Highlander Hybrid and love it. So maybe the new Camry Hybrid would be the perfect replacement?
Toyota does a good job with making the “hybrid experience” different from normal cars. The Prius and the Camry Hybrid have a key fob that just needs to be “in the car” for a push button start. The Highlander has a regular key that you twist. All three have the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that adjusts gear ratios depending on speed and acceleration. The CVT is sort of eerie; you floor it and wait for the upshift, but it never comes—it just adjusts its ratios. All three also offer a detailed on-screen menu that shows how much propulsion comes from electric vs. gas. The display keeps you aware of how the car is achieving its mileage efficiency. Good gimmicks to keep you engaged on the whole energy-saving proposition.
Getting in to the Camry while parked is the apex of the Toyota experience. Leather interior smells good and is of high quality. Subdued interior is luxurious and feels high quality. Doors have a good heft. Paint is shiny—though, on our Highlander, has proved to be very thin and prone to chips.
Interior comfort and ergonomics: Lots of room up front and good room in the back. “Toe” room for back seat passengers is impressive. You could easily get a child in to the baby seat in back. Controls are logical and easy to use. Multifunction radio/GPS/ride info device is well done; the faceplate does an elaborate “extend and rotate” routine to place CDs in to the disc changer. Best of all, unlike the Prius and Highlander, the Camry has a jack to attach an auxiliary device, such as an iPod to the stereo system.
Unlike the Highlander, which has a strong gas engine coupled with 2 electric motors, the Camry has just one electric motor and a somewhat anemic 4cylinder gas engine. Acceleration from 0-30 is sluggish; you need to floor it to keep up with fast moving traffic. Once at speed, though, the torque from the electric motor is abundant and passes from 60-80 are done with aplomb. This is a great car to travel long distances at relatively high speeds; if you commute on freeways, it’s fantastic. And it returned an incredible 33 mpg during our heavy-footed test drive.
Handling was a HUGE disappointment. This car is softly sprung and has a lot of body roll. Coupled with hard compound tires, anti-lock and anti-skid, this car is not fun to hustle through the twisties. This being said, the steering feel/feedback is excellent, and there is great communication back to the driver about where/what the car is doing. Too bad the limits are so low and the capabilities so muted. It would be great to have a “handling package” that stiffened up the suspension and made it more entertaining to drive hard. It’s unclear if Toyota offers the “sport package” with the hybrid option.
The interior is beautiful. Rich leather, great ergonomics and enough gizmos to remind you it’s a hybrid. The exterior is a bit non-descript and chunkier than last year’s model. The look is derivative of the “Bangle-butt” BMWs of today.
Conclusion / Who should buy it?
For $31,000 fully loaded with leather, hybrid engine, sun roof, and integrated GPS, you get a lot of content for the money. Coupled with claimed 40/38 miles per gallon (MPG), it’s a very tempting choice. It’s the ideal commuter car for freeway driving. With gas at $3.50/gallon and averaging the claimed 38 MPG, if you drive 15,000 miles a year, you’ll save $1,500 in gas costs versus a car that gets 18 MPG. But if you need something that is more practical and/or more fun to drive, look elsewhere.
Editor’s Note: We are greatly appreciative of Stevens Creek Toyota, located in Santa Clara, who provided the demo cars and trusted us with the keys to any car chosen for road testing. Geoff Yeager (General Sales Manager) and his team were very helpful with choosing the right cars and getting them cleaned up for the photography sessions.