The new renaissance car
A 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid, except for the badging, is nearly indistinguishable from any other 2012 Camry, on the outside. It is this lack of distinction that both helps and hinders Hybrid Camry sales. Mind you, arch rivals Honda with the Accord Hybrid and Ford with the Fusion Hybrid have chosen the same design path. Perhaps Toyota feels that those looking for a distinctive hybrid will move to the Toyota Prius.
For 2012, the new Toyota Camry is slightly different on the outside and unless you park it right beside the previous generation, you will be hard pressed to pick up on the slight changes to the body. They've done subtle things to the base of the windscreen, front fascia and to the rear fascia.
You are really going to notice the differences inside. In this new model, Toyota has upped their game with new materials on the seats, new dash, door panels and roof liner. If you didn't know you were in a Toyota Camry, you might mistake the interior for a junior Lexus.
A 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE starts off with cloth seats and no seat heaters. A quick check of the options list shows that seat heaters are part of the Leather and Premium Audio package, which as you have probably guessed features leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and a navigation system as well as a couple of other things such as a moonroof, power adjustable passenger seat and a backup camera. By the way, this is one of two optional packages for the Hybrid. The other is a Moonroof package whose contents is included in the Leather package.
Now that the interior is fully decked out, we can turn our attention to the powertrain. The Toyota Camry Hybrid uses a 2.5L, Atkinson cycle, DOHC, 16-valve inline-4 that puts out 156 horsepower. To that you add an electric motor's output for a total of 187. Torque is rated at 156 lb-ft for the gas engine and 199 lb-ft for the electric motor.
The torque totals are a bit misleading because electric motors are measured at 0 rpm under full load, which many of us find a bit difficult to get our heads around. Let me put it like this: if you put your foot to the floor when the light goes green, you had best be hanging on because you are going to take off in a very un-Camry like fashion!
If you can keep your foot off the floor and the grin on your face to a reasonable size, the Camry Hybrid goes back to being a sedate grocery-getter and the CVT transmission seamlessly gets you from place to place. New software in the Hybrid Synergy Drive controller does put you into EV mode more often, and at speeds significantly higher than the previous 40 km/h.
I'm not sure what the new limit is, but when I drove the Hybrid, I was able to get it to go electric at 70 km/h. The battery doesn't last long at that speed, but every bit helps as witnessed by the new fuel economy rating of 4.7L/100km in the city and 5.1 on the highway. The base Camry Hybrid LE fares even better with ratings of 4.5 and 4.9L/100km city/highway.
To help you keep track of what is going on and improve fuel economy even more, Toyota has modified the instrument panel slightly by deleting the tach and putting in what is basically a fuel economy gauge. There is also an ECO mode that will do its best to alter shift points, hold gears longer than usual and use the battery as often as possible.
ECO mode, according to Transport Canada rules, cannot be used for calculating fuel economy figures, so anything you get from this beside the published numbers.
Driving and handling
This is what makes a Toyota Camry Hybrid such a great "sleeper," as cars like this used to be called. Sleepers look like one thing and act like another. If you are into a stoplight grand prix and pound the pedal, it is going to take a pretty decent muscle car to get through the intersection before you do and it will be done well above the speed limit.
Take a 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid around a corner and you are going to surprise yourself at how fast it will go and how little the nose comes out until well above the posted cornering limit. The tires are a bit noisy because they are supposed to be low rolling resistance, but they do stick well.
Toyota Camry Hybrids don't have a performance problem. They have an image problem! A hybrid Camry may well be the new renaissance car: it has comfort, performance, fuel economy and space. All you have to do is try it.
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