Toyota’s electrification tech has been around for 24 years, but the Camry Hybrid shows how it’s more relevant now than ever
SINGAPORE — Among the CarBuyer crew, our fearless captain Derryn was only ever going to send the Toyota Camry Hybrid my way. That’s because my colleagues consider me a Toyota man; years ago a Camry 2.4 was my carriage, and now a Prius is how I get around.
Given that the Camry Hybrid is pretty much what would happen if Toyota’s mid-size executive champ had a baby with its petrol-electric icon, it’s no surprise that Derryn would drop the key in my lap.
Not that I tried to fight it off. Years of Toyota ownership have taught me that there’s something to admire about a car that runs like a Swiss watch, and since driving the Prius (let alone owning one) I’ve been wowed by how well the company’s hybrid system works in Singapore.
By now (Toyota hybrids have been around for 24 years) the basic recipe should be familiar, but if you want the finer details, the Camry has a 175 horsepower 2.5-litre petrol engine paired with a 118hp electric motor. They peak at different revs, so the system’s maximum combined output is 207hp.
There’s a nickel metal hydride battery (just ahead of the rear axle) that both feeds the motor and is fed by it; slow down or brake and the Toyota captures energy to put in the battery. Sometimes the engine feeds a bit of juice into it, too. But either way, you never charge it externally.
If you’re wondering why the battery isn’t a lithium-ion unit, I can only guess that Toyota is more familiar (and comfortable) with the older chemistry, having used it since 1997.
I’ve been to the Panasonic factory in Japan that makes the cells for Toyota’s nickel battery packs, and the quality control is insane. I asked an engineer about the last time they discovered a defective cell and he had to think seriously hard to come up with an answer, because it had been years.
The hybrid tech actually makes this a quicker Camry than before. It reaches 100km/h in 8.5 seconds (the Camry 2.5 took 9.1 seconds), but the main point here is not how quickly the Camry Hybrid goes. What counts is how slowly it sips from its tank.
4.4L/100km is the claimed fuel efficiency figure, and my experience with Prius ownership says Toyota’s figures are doable, so in theory you should be able to cover 1,136km before sputtering to a halt. In practice? 1,000km, easy.
What was the petrol Camry 2.5 like? Pretty good, actually…
If you’ve never driven a full hybrid before, the Camry is a good place to start. On the one hand, it’s easy, because operating it is the same as driving a regular car: press the start button, slip the transmission into D, and you’re off.
On the other hand, it can be disorienting. At carpark speeds the engine is usually off so you waft around in silence. Out on the road the petrol engine comes alive and shuts down at seemingly random moments, depending on the car’s power needs.
Yet, after a while, it becomes pretty apparent that the Camry Hybrid is a supremely refined car much of the time. It glides up to speed smoothly and quietly, and even if you can usually hear the engine when it’s working, you don’t feel a jolt when it fires up.
The hybrid tech works seamlessly, and even though there are Sport and Eco modes — plus an EV Mode button to force it to use battery power only, in case you need to sneak into the driveway silently — the car feels like it’s tuned to tranquilise the driver, whatever setting you choose.
The way it feels at the wheel is similarly relaxing. The handling is nicely-sorted, with the Camry’s sense of roadholding matching its slow-slung stance, and there are no surprises if you chuck it into a corner a bit more quickly than is wise. In terms of steering weight, it feels pretty much spot-on, neither too light nor overly ponderous.
But the Camry is ultimately the kind of car that you look forward to sliding into after a gruelling day at work. The cabin is darn spacious and the seats are comfy, plus the air-con puts out arctic-level gusts of cold air. And if that still isn’t enough, it has ventilated front seats, which are a godsend in our climate.
It’s a practical car too, because not only is the seating in the back generous with legroom…
… the 524-litre boot is mighty big.
If the Camry has a weak point, it’s entertainment system, which is a rudimentary unit made by Clarion for Toyota.
At 7 inches its screen is on the small side, and though it works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto you have to connect your phone by plugging the cable into the head unit itself, which is pretty unsightly.
The reverse camera is low-res and puts out a distorted, fisheye image, and the system’s sound quality is pretty so-so. Toyota can and should do better, because buyers expect more these days.
If there’s a bit of extra effort, it’s in the racy red upholstery and the sporty bodykit, both of which come with the Elegance version of the Camry Hybrid.
Even in Standard trim, the current Camry is a pretty enough machine to begin with, being longer and lower than its predecessor, with an aggressive stance and the face of something that means business, which is appropriate enough since it’s pretty much a car for businessmen.
But the Elegance trim does add a nice touch of aggressiveness, with a sporty front bumper design and a more wing-like front grille, along with a small boot spoiler and twin tailpipes. You also get 18-inch wheels in a dark finish, which look good but don’t ruin the car’s ride over bumps.
I’m not sure what to make of the huge, fake air scoops on the front bumper, given that they look nice but serve no purpose other than to draw the eye. Everyone is doing it these days though (I’m looking at you, Audi), so why shouldn’t Toyota?
Springing for the Elegance version will cost you S$16,000, so it’s just as well you also get a few more features inside, such as powered front seats, leather everything (instead of synthetic materials), an auto-dimming rearview mirror and power adjustment for the steering column.
I reckon the Standard model is the sweeter deal of the two, unless you really fancy the sporty looks of the Elegance, especially since both versions come with the same safety equipment, consisting of Toyota’s Safety Sense driver aids to help prevent crashes, and seven airbags if you manage to get into a collision anyway.
Either way, the hybrid tech is now default because there is no other Camry on the local price list. That’s because it’s clean enough to win the buyer a S$15,000 tax break, which is why it’s priced more competitively than ever.
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Despite paying less, you get a more refined car that’s quicker and less thirsty, so I’d call that a win.
But you also get a car that feels more futuristic than a plain petrol Camry, and feeling the hybrid drivetrain do its thing is pretty fascinating if you’re an engineering geek (or a motoring writer, which is a similar kind of geek, only less learned).
Even if you don’t care about what’s under a car’s bonnet, the Camry Hybrid does feel like a sleek and comfortable car that’s been made better by electrification. Having owned a Camry before and driving a Prius now, you can take it from me.
Toyota Camry Hybrid Elegance
Engine 2,487cc, 16v, inline 4
Power 175hp at 5700rpm
Torque 221Nm from 3600-5200rpm
Electric Motor 118hp
Battery Nickel metal-hydride
System Power 207hp
Top Speed 180km/h
0-100km/h 8.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 4.4L/100km
VES Band A2 / -S$15,000
Price S$148,888 with COE and VES rebate
Verdict Hybrid tech adds refinement and smoothness to an already comfy car, while lowering fuel consumption and upfront taxes. That’s a win in our book.
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