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Car reviews - Toyota - Camry - Hybrid sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Excellent fuel economy, competent handling, comfortable ride, quiet cabin
Room for improvement
High purchase price, reduced boot capacity, design too close to standard Camry

Toyota logo8 Feb 2010

By JAMES STANFORD

TOYOTA'S 'Hybrid Camry' is a convincing demonstration of greener driving that can actually be fun to drive, but there are question marks when it comes to economy.

Not fuel economy, as this hybrid doesn’t use much petrol - considerably less than its rivals in most conditions, in fact.

The economy we're talking about is purely financial. Bat away the spin and the hybrid model is $7000 more than the cheapest petrol-only Camry.

This is a problem for a car that's promoted as helping Australian families save money. It is also $4500 more than the Ateva it’s based on.

Toyota claims it has $2500 worth of extras compared to that car, which is steep for a handful of bits including a rear-view camera, keyless entry/start, bright blue instruments and Hybrid scuff plates.

The reality is that the customer doesn’t get the choice and has to pay $36,990 to get into Australia’s first locally made hybrid.

That is still cheaper than the official list price of a Holden Commodore, but it's also $1000 more than the current drive-away offer price on the fully loaded Commodore International.

Toyota claims customers who step out of a Holden Commodore and into a Camry Hybrid and travel 20,000km a year will get 15,000km of travel for free. It sounds like a late-night TV bonus, like a set of steak knives you get for ordering within 15 minutes.

It adds that a sales rep covering a massive 50,000km a year would stand to save $38 a week running a Camry Hybrid versus the big Holden.

A more relevant number it mentioned was the estimated $14 a week saving for drivers clocking up 20,000km a year if petrol cost $1.30. That works out to a yearly $780 saving over the Commodore.

That is handy, but it doesn’t come for free given you paid $4500 more than the closest petrol-only Camry variant would have cost.

Toyota didn’t mention it, but running a Camry Hybrid as opposed to a regular petrol Camry also saves the driver $572 a year.

So it would take a Camry Hybrid customer 7.8 years to make back the $4500 premium over the mid-spec Ateva and 12.2 years to make the $7000 premium over the base model Camry, which admittedly doesn’t have as much standard equipment.

So, if you want to save money, buy a standard petrol Camry.

Doing it for the environment is a different matter. Using the same base data, the Camry Hybrid uses 440 litres less fuel than a petrol Camry and 540 litres less than the Commodore.

On the launch, 'our' cars used an average of 5.7 litres per 100km on one section and 6.2L/100km on another, which seemed to be around 2L/100km less than what a standard petrol vehicle would use.

The Camry Hybrid also happens to be a very good car.

Anyone who has driven a regular Camry should test one before dismissing it, because the Camry Hybrid is quieter, handles better, has a more stable ride and has slightly better acceleration than the standard petrol model.

The chassis boffins have done such a good job setting up the suspension and steering for the Australian car that the settings will be used in some overseas markets.

They did the best with what they were given - a car two years away from being replaced - and worked wonders.

The Camry Hybrid has a comfortable ride with the suspension set-up on the softer side, but it doesn’t pitch or wallow. It allows for excellent body control and the car feels settled over bumpy surfaces.

It’s no sportscar and pushing through tight corners fast will see it give in and push on (understeer) fairly early, which is unlikely to concern many Camry Hybrid customers.

The electric steering has a solid feel and feels much better than the lighter steering of the standard car, and although its brakes can be a little touchy and feel different to other brakes, they work perfectly well and you get used to them after about an hour of driving.

The acceleration is good enough, but even with the assistance of an electric motor, it feels slower than both the Commodore and Falcon.

Still, there is enough performance for daily transport requirements and the Camry Hybrid has the advantage of being able to run very short distances on the electric motor alone. The petrol motor only really shuts off at idle and very low speeds or when the car is coasting.

A full suite of sound padding and a thicker windscreen as well as a unique engine tune means the Camry Hybrid petrol engine is impressively quiet, which is important given the engine often turns on and off.

You do hear some whirring from the electric motor, especially when slowing for traffic lights when it is regaining energy. It's a sound that's eerily similar to the high-pitched whine of a high-mileage taxi as it decelerates, but is not as intrusive.

The seamless continuously variable transmission works well though. The sound of this type of transmission can be off-putting, with a slipping clutch noise, but the extra padding and insulation means you hardly notice it.

Like all Camrys, the Hybrid is practical with good cabin space. There is ample leg and head room for rear adult passengers, and also a reasonable amount of space in the boot - although Toyota’s claim that it can hold four sets of golf clubs seems creative, to say the least.

You could still fit a good-sized suitcase or lots of shopping in there, but it looks like about a third of the useable space has been taken up by the battery pack. That said, you can fit long items in, thanks to a split/folding rear seatback and a port-hole above the battery.

The interior has an upmarket feel with bright blue instruments usually reserved for Lexus models, which is a nice touch. Its reversing camera is also very handy.

But we can't say what the standard interior is like because GoAuto was only given access to Luxury models loaded with the $4500 option pack. Of course they leave a lasting upmarket impression, as they should given the list price is $44,490.

Only a car nut will be able to pick the Hybrid from a standard Camry, although the new nose gives it a more modern style. Still, it looks like a Camry and that might put off some customers who want other road users to notice they paid extra for a ‘green’ vehicle.

After all, the unique shape of the Prius and the fact it is a stand-alone model have contributed to its success.

Fleets would no doubt also prefer more overtly green styling, but are still likely to be won over by the combination of medium sedan practicality and small car economy.

Private customers are also likely to be impressed by the Camry Hybrid - as long as they can justify the extra cost.

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