2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE HD Video Review

Cars are all about numbers. Horsepower, torque, interior dimensions, weight, braking distances, ect. But fuel economy figures are the digits car buyers are looking at hardest these days.  It seems the days of people rushing back to Sequoias and Suburbans when gas drops below $3.50 a gallon is over.  We’ve finally learned.

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The Toyota Camry Hybrid is new for 2012 and though the sheetmetal is conservative and familiar, the MPG numbers are very attractive. On the base model LE the city figure is 43 miles per gallon according to the EPA, the highway rating is 39. That drops to 40 city, 38 highway for the top line XLE I’m testing.

Generally, automakers are pretty happy when they can raise fuel economy by 10 percent so a 30 percent improvement in the city cycle is impressive.  But before the Toyota engineers celebrate too hard, rumor has it the 2013 Ford Fusion hybrid has the same, if not better figures.  And who knows how far the upcoming Honda Accord hybrid will go on a gallon of gas?

The Basics

Like all Toyota hybrids, Camry’s nickel-metal hydride battery is charged when coasting and braking, the gas engine shuts down at stops. It generally pulls away on electric power alone with the gas engine smoothly firing up once you get going.  There’s a graphic between the blue gauges that shows the driver what’s happening with the power flow and another with better graphics in the LCD display.

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An “eco mode” noticeably reduces the throttle response and air-conditioning power. With a fully charged battery, EV mode can power the Camry electrically for up to a mile and a half when the pace is under 25 mph (really, closer to 20).  I’m not sure why you’d want to do this but hey, it’s there.

Under the hood is the dynamic duo of a 156 horsepower four-cylinder and a 141-horse electric drive motor that results in a total of 200 horsepower (and no I haven’t done my math wrong).  The transmission is a continuously variable unit, the battery pack is in the trunk.

A Quick Hybrid?

Remember, electric motors provide a lot of torque off the line and Camry Hybrid’s 0-60 time is a satisfying seven and half seconds. That of course will not get you maximum fuel economy Speed Racer.  Driving carefully I’ve found I can come close to the EPA numbers but motoring like a normal person gets me just over 33 MPG.  Heck, most compact cars don’t get that in city driving, and Camry is on the large side of midsized.

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I like what Toyota has done to the Camry’s suspension.  It’s crisper than the previous generation.  It’s not a sport sedan and not meant to be one.  Camry’s mission is comfort, tuned for long road trips, and fairly quiet at cruising speed. When it comes to stopping, the regenerative brake pedal feel is pretty seamless for a hybrid.

Much Improved Inside

Inside, the look is what I can only describe as formal, quite different from competitors that mostly lean toward a sporty attitude.  There are stitched instrument panel seams with soft touch materials.  While I find the cabin as a whole to be bit busy with details like insert stripes on the seats, Toyota has dramatically improved the look and feel from the last generation.

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Materials are pleasing overall though the center stack and door armrests are clearly faux aluminum trim. One trim piece near the shift lever gets molded stitching that stands out against the real stuff.  Dual-zone climate, push button start, Bluetooth, and iPod integration are standard on all Camry hybrids.

The XLE I’m driving is loaded with options. The energy efficient JBL Green Edge premium audio system sounds decent.  There’s also navigation, back up camera, heated seats with suede panels and a blind spot warning system.  A spot for phones complete with power port is near the cup holder.

Gripes? The transmission lever operation is coarse and there’s a large controller on the steering wheel that looks like a piece of military gear.  It might look okay in a sportier Accord but it sticks out in a Camry.

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Toyota has a new telematics system called Entune that connects to your smart phone.  It uses your data plan to run apps like Open Table, MovieTickets.com, and Bing search. Pandora streaming music can easily chew through gigs of data, keep an eye on it if you don’t have an unlimited data plan.  Pandora’s sound quality is odd, like a combination of AM and XM.  Entune is a free service for three years and Toyota is not really sure if they’ll start charging for it.

Passengers and Cargo

The back seat is very comfortable with generous leg, knee and foot room.  Both seatbacks get pockets, there’s a folding armrest with cupholders, and air vents allow passengers to direct flow. There’s even side torso airbags for folks in back.  No power port to charge electronics though, you’ll have to run a cable from up front.

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Hybrid batteries are pretty big, about the only place you can put them is in the cargo area.  Camry’s is mounted up against the seat back, reducing the folding operation to a small pass through. That eliminates a handy function. Huzzah! There’s a real spare tire.  Not all cars get those these days.  Midsized sedans normally hold seven bundles of Kirkland brand bath tissue, Camry hybrid maxes out at six. If you look at the video some might think I could get another pack in.  Not really.  Stuff any more in and the hinge arms will scrunch your stuff.

Back To The Future

Lets move onto design. Camry is America’s best selling sedan and Toyota is not about to mess with the formula.  Others, like Fusion, Malibu, Optima, Sonata, and the upcoming Mazda6 get sleek designer sheetmetal. Camry stays conservative. It works for them.  In some ways this car looks like a crisper version of the model two generations back.  There are hybrid badges on the tail and front fenders, plus blue hued Toyota logos.  All in all it’s pretty discreet.

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Price is an important number.  Camry Hybrid LE starts at $26,750 with destination. My loaded XLE tester is $34,580, a price premium of some $3,000 over a standard four-cylinder Camry.

That always raises the discussion of whether it’s a good financial move to buy the hybrid or not.  The standard Camry is EPA rated at 35 MPG highway, so if the bulk of your driving is cruising the interstate, the investment might not be worth an additional 4-5 MPGs (or you might want to look at a diesel such as VW Passat).   The difference in city driving between hybrid and gas models is 15 to 18 MPG, so urban sloggers will make up the difference quicker.

So, as always, it’s important took at your driving habits, check out the competition and do the numbers. Those three aspects are the best ways to find the one for you.

FULL GALLERY BELLOW.  ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY TOYOTA.

5 Comments

  1. Shabanger says:

    I’m glad to hear a reviewer stress how important it is to research before you buy. I’m not ready to make the plunge and pick up a hybrid. I’ll stick with the tried and true gasoline engines. I heard somewhere that most people who bought a hybrid traded up for a non-hybrid vehicle.

  2. augaug says:

    Oh no! I think it’s gimmicky too. But we’re car guys, not necessarily hybrid guys. My dad has the hybrid, and in the past when he had a hybrid without EV mode he used to think it was ridiculous that he could back his car out of the garage completely on electric power, but just as he would be about to stop, the gasoline engine would start, and then he’d turn it off within seconds as he had finished getting it out of his way in the garage, and parked it in his driveway. The car is capable of moving at very slow speeds on EV power alone, so allowing the user to control that function has some benefits to a typical hybrid user. People that I know with the Toyota hybrids are pecking that button all the time as they enter parking lots, or move the car at slow speeds, such as through a drive through. It just holds the electric power a bit longer, in certain situations, than it would do if the car was left to think for itself.

    Also, regarding the price difference, the hybrid people that I know, view the hybrid set up as an added feature. They don’t spend time doing the math and worrying about how many kilometer’s (miles, sorry) that they’ll have to drive to save the difference. Just like people used to pay more for the bigger more powerful engine, hybrid people see that system as a great system that pays benefits in more ways than just the gas pump. I even know a guy who was ready to buy a Rio loaded, but saw the Prius C and decided on it instead. As he put it, “I liked the way the system operated, I decided that I’d rather pay more for the hybrid system, instead of paying more for a sunroof and fancy wheels.

    I kind of understand that reasoning. The system is pretty impressive in its operation, and if you tend to drive casually instead of sporty all the time, the hybrid is perfect. But I’m a little weird. I also have never had a person get into my car and touch the dash to see if it’s soft or hard, but it’s hard to find a car review online that doesn’t mention that. Not trying to pick on you, I absolutely love your reviews, but I do think that today’s hybrid buyers have much different tastes when compared to today’s car reviewers.

    Great reviews! Your site has been bookmarked on my computers and I watch and read every one! Keep up the great work!

    • TV says:

      Yes, believe me, I’ve talked to hundreds of hybrid owners and know why they love there cars. And I too understand their rational. I just need to be brief and so I choose the financial aspect because I hear lots of people say “oh, gas is expensive, I have to buy a hybrid”. And while it can be very good, it’s not always the best decision financially.

      As for the “soft touch” critique. Yes, it can be over rated. As long as the interior looks good, I’m good with that since I don’t tend to paw my dash. I do report on it though because it is a big deal for some buyers.

      Thanks for your post, very in-depth.

  3. augaug says:

    Not sure when you’d use the EV mode? From experience, I’ve found that mode is great parking structures and places like those big box store parking lots which seem to be designed for people to drive from store to store. (dumb if you ask me!) It’s actually a nice feature for the target market. Hybrid buyers like to save gas, and the air, whenever possible. Being able to run on purely electric is a nice feature in a variety of situations.

    • TV says:

      Okay, you have a bit of a point there. Then again, may I suggest a concept called walking? It’s something we Americans have yet to embrace.

      I’m cynical because my experience has been iffy with EV mode. I’ve seldom been able to get more than a few blocks in a Toyota hybrid before the gas engine just switches on. Even with the battery 3/4 charged. Your experience is different?