Sliding into the cockpit of the new Toyota Hybrid Camry, one immediately feels comfortably at home in the confines of the spacious interior. Manoeuvring the firm electric seat into position with a quick fiddle of the controls, I aligned the amply sized electric side mirrors and, lastly, manually adjusted the rear-view mirror. Now, settled into my preferred driving position, I was ready to breathe life into the vehicle with a firm push of the luminous ‘Start’ button.
Not having driven a car with an electric motor before, I didn’t quite know what to expect upon ignition. With the dashboard lighting up, what was instantly missing was the familiar rhythmic idling rumble of a petrol-powered car. Greeted with silence, and in unfamiliar territory, I checked with the friendly CMI Toyota staff to check if the car was indeed ‘switched on’. Getting a smile and a thumbs-up, I engaged reverse, eased out of the space with parking sensors chirping, then selected ‘D’ and headed for the open road.
This newly released Camry, built in Toyota’s Altona factory in Victoria, employs a 2.4 litre 4-cylinder engine that drives power to the front wheels by way of an Electronic Constantly Variable Transmission (or e-CVT). In the back, the electric motor delivers 25kw of extra power when working in conjunction with the petrol engine to deliver a total of 140kw. Intelligent computer systems decide when the car should run on electric power only, or when the engine and motor should run in concert, meaning no intervention is required from the driver.
As I pulled out of the car park at a walking pace, I felt a slight vibration under acceleration as the systems switched over from electric-only to the petrol/electric combination. I wondered if this would prove annoying over the course of the drive; however, after about 20 minutes of stop-start in the city, the switch became barely noticeable. Besides, I was too busy checking out the abundance of bells-and-whistles that Toyota had liberally applied to the cabin.
Instantly drawn to the glowing dash, one notices that there isn’t a typical RPM counter. Toyota have instead cleverly installed what they call an ‘Optitron combimeter’, which details your driving performance and fuel economy. Sink your foot into the pedal a little off the lights and watch the needle soar to 30 Litres per 100km. Ease off and settle to normal cruising speeds and the needle dips back down to a much more efficient 6 Litres per 100km with incredibly low Co2 emissions. Not distracting in any way, I soon found myself paying regular attention to the meter, welcoming the input so as to adjust my driving style to maximise fuel economy.
With all of the dials, buttons and widgets within easy reach, it is highly evident Toyota designed this car to really enhance the driving experience. The sound from the 6-speaker stereo is excellent, with rich bass and crisp highs. The system includes standard radio functions, as well the ability to hook up devices via Bluetooth and USB. Very easy to use, with only a quick read of the manual needed to set up the Bluetooth connectivity, I had my iPhone wirelessly playing music and making calls within mere minutes.
Athletically styled, I found the Camry’s steering to be weighty and responsive and the chassis, for a reasonably long wheelbase, well balanced. The suspension smoothed out the bumps effortlessly, and the e-CVT really came into its own during freeway driving, delivering seamless power when accelerating and overtaking.
With prices starting at $36,000 for the standard model and $39,000 (before on-road costs) for the luxury model, the new Camry Hybrid would be the perfect choice for road warriors and fleet managers, or for a family who is looking for the right mix of power, fuel efficiency and comfort.