The first-generation hybrid cars were very much like today’s electronic driving aids — inconsistent performers with occasional glitches. They also felt compromised compared to their less expensive gasoline-powered siblings, which tainted their cost benefit ratio for buyers.
The 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid proves that with time, almost every technology improves. Seven days in the redesigned Camry Hybrid demonstrated it has improved a lot.
Day one is a retreat home from Augusta with the Camry showing a level of “feel” completely foreign to earlier examples. The eighth generation Camry rides on an all-new TNGA — Toyota New Global Architecture — chassis that employs a more expensive (and more refined) multilink rear suspension that provides an uncommon ride and handling balance. Mixing in with swift commuter traffic, the Camry glides along without hesitation — its 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine working efficiently with the 1.6-kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and electric motor to create a peak 208 hp.
Day two finds the Camry hybrid doing commuter duty and urban errands. Electric energy can power the car up to about 15 mph, yet the extra torque of the battery/electric team helps the Camry leap into traffic when necessary, or stealthily flow into parking lots silently. Using a CVT automatic, the Toyota does offer a manual mode shifting option, as well as two additional driving modes in case you don’t want full-time ECO mode, however it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is a powerful-feeling car.
Early Saturday the Camry is loaded up to pound the highway again for family events in Portland and Pownal. Wearing a different fascia from conventional Camry sedans, the hybrid has a certain upscale appearance (inside and out) that lends not only sophistication, but refinement to what is America’s top-selling car 15 years in a row. While the styling is “fresh,” traditional Camry buyers should feel right at home.
Arriving with Toyota’s premium Entune audio system, our hybrid XLE lacked satellite radio, a CD slot, as well as Apple and Android compatibility and navigation. Plugging in a portable Sirius radio saved this 340-mile day from the vulgarities of non-terrestrial radio, while the heated leather-clad power seats provided support and all-day comfort. Laser-guided cruise kept the elevated pace safely, and the cabin remained relatively calm and quiet; however, the Lane Departure Alert with steering assist was quickly switched off. The trip computer reported a so-so 38 mpg, a number reinforced by the actual refueling calculation of 37.1 mpg, which is significantly below the EPA estimates (44/47/46 mpg) as well as much less than last week’s Kia Niro Hybrid.
With a rising supermoon filling the homebound windshield, and subtle interior lighting providing convenient back-lighting for control and storage panel access, the latest Camry continues to be a solid road warrior as well as a freshened four-door that you won’t mind spending long days traveling with.
After a day of rest, three straight days of more urban/secondary road travel ensued, with the Camry Hybrid again demonstrating that this new chassis is the real deal. Pushing across the empty Black Woods Road or thrumming up and down Route 1A to Bangor and back, the Camry was a model driving citizen and actually fun. This is a hybrid?
Familiar Camry fans will notice that the traditional Toyota cruise control stalk is missing — replaced by thumb buttons on the steering wheel — while more conventional knobs and buttons still exist for climate and audio functions despite the 7-inch touchscreen and its various apps.
Perhaps due to the car’s low miles, or the appealing power under my right foot, the Camry’s real-world fuel economy still hovered in the high 30-mpg range despite slower speeds. Sixty miles one day, 88 miles another, and 40-plus mpg proved to be elusive.
After seven days, several thoughts dominate impressions. Toyota has done a wonderful job with the new chassis; steering feel, ride composure and handling grace are vastly better than what drivers have come to expect from sedans, let alone Camrys. The hybrid powertrain is smooth, quick to respond and creates the illusion of being more powerful and faster than it really is. If unmentioned, most people would never know that this car has an electric motor providing assistance — and that’s why hybrids will certainly be the bridge powertrain technology before the inevitable (?) EV tsunami.
With a base Camry sedan starting at $24,390, our XLE Hybrid’s $34,507 sticker price seems slightly overwrought. Consumers can select an LE Hybrid that uses a lighter lithium-ion battery pack that cost less and returns 51/53/52 mpg on the EPA cycle. You will give up some features, but I would trade the XLE’s lighted threshold monikers for satellite radio anyway.