Hybrid Synergy Drive gives mid-sized sedan a fuel economy boost

2012, Toyota, Camry Hybrid

Toyota’s seventh-generation Camry model line-up includes an all-new hybrid sedan. The technology is the same as what Toyota uses in the Prius, but the Camry has more net horsepower. A new Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motors give the new sedan a zero-to-sixty acceleration time of 7.6 seconds. Engineers shaved weight off the chassis, to make the make the new Camry hybrid more fuel efficient than the outgoing model. EPA estimated average fuel economy is 40 miles-per-gallon for combined city and highway driving. During my 100-mile drive test, my average was 38.5 miles-per-gallon.

That said, the new Camry hybrid can’t hold a candle to the Prius, at least as far as fuel economy is concerned. EPA estimated fuel economy for the current Prius is 48 miles-per-gallon on average. In my test drives, I typically exceed the EPA estimate by at least a couple miles-per-gallon.

One reason is that the Prius is significantly lighter. Curb weight is about 400 pounds less than the upscale Camry hybrid XLE sedan tested. The Prius also comes with a smaller engine. As a result zero-to-sixty acceleration is about two seconds slower. Base price for the test car is $27,400, excluding the $760 destination charge. Options include a rear backup camera with HomeLink transceiver ($500), Safety Connect stolen vehicle locator ($695), leather upholstery ($1160), navigation with Entune and audio upgrade ($2600), power sunroof ($915) and wheel locks ($67), bringing the price as tested to $34,547.

Test drive in Phoenix

During my week behind the wheel, I drove the Camry hybrid around downtown and suburban Phoenix surface streets, highways and a stretch of rural road on the Gila River Indian reservation south of town. While the Camry is a well-balanced, attractive sedan, I have to wonder if the new extended Prius family might eventually make the hybrid sedan an extraneous addition to Toyota’s model lineup. One reason is its price. When optioned out, the Camry hybrid approaches entry luxury territory. Buyers with the means to afford a $34,000 car might prefer Lexus’ compact CT 200h, with pricing for the base model starting under $30,000.

While the new 2.5-cylinder engine gives the Camry hybrid better acceleration off the line, other aspects of its performance are frankly not as good as the Prius. Response from the electric power steering system is not particularly good. There were several instances in which steering felt disconnected from the wheels, especially at higher speeds. The sedan also had the tendency to push in the corners, despite stabilizer bars on both axles.

The driver can choose between two performance modes: the regular setting I used for the test drive or an ECO setting which maximizes fuel economy. An EV only mode keeps the car running solely on the electric motors at low speeds for short distances. Displays in the gauge cluster indicate which performance mode the driver has selected. A gauge shows the driver if he is optimizing fuel economy or power, while a second display indicates real-time fuel economy. There is a digital indicator which gives average fuel economy for a given trip.

Visibility around the vehicle is good. Options on the test car add the rearview camera, which displays a wide-angle view to the back of the vehicle when the driver shifts into reverse. Lines superimposed over the image show the vehicle’s trajectory according to steering input. A blind spot monitoring system on the test car illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. It’s an invaluable feature for drivers who regularly commute through heavy traffic.

Because electric motors develop peak torque at very low speeds, the Camry hybrid leads the pack on highway entrance ramps, when drivers typically accelerate between twenty and fifty miles-per-hour. I had no problems passing slower vehicles on the highway, thanks to the 2.5-liter engine’s additional horsepower.

A four-wheel independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and dual multi-links in the rear, with stabilizer bars on both axles. With the exception of the cornering problem, the suspension produced a compliant, responsive ride.

Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion. Regenerative braking recharges the electric motors on the go.

Upscale interior seats up to five passengers

The Camry’s interior can seat up to five adult passengers. Because the sedan does not have a rear floor tunnel, there’s a reasonable amount of legroom in the second-row center position. The XLE grade adds rear air vents, to keep second-row passengers comfortable in temperature extremes. The upscale model also includes an eight-way power driver’s seat and leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio and Bluetooth controls. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag.

Both rows of passengers have ample access to cup and bottle holders. Two 12-volt power points recharge portable electronic devices on the go.

Because the battery is located between the trunk and passenger compartment, the trunk is not as large as for the Camry with a conventional gasoline powertrain. And unlike other Camry models, the rear seats don’t fold flat to extend the cargo floor. While the Prius liftback’s cargo area is bicycle friendly, the Camry hybrid trunk is not.

Standard safety

As with other Camry models, the hybrid has an exceptionally high level of standard safety features, including ten standard airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, daytime running lamps, active front head restraints and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Toyota builds the Camry hybrid at its Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant.

Likes: The hybrid version of Toyota’s best-selling midsized sedans combines excellent fuel economy with segment-leading standard safety features.

Dislike: Poor steering feedback, which is especially noticeable when cornering.

Quick facts:

Make: Toyota Model: Camry Hybrid XLE sedan Year: 2012 Base price: $27,400 As tested: $34,547 Horsepower: 156 @ 5700 rpm. System net horsepower is 200. Torque: 156 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 rpm Zero-to-sixty: 7.6 seconds Antilock brakes: Standard Side curtain airbags: Standard First aid kit: N/A Bicycle friendly: No Off-road: No Towing: No Fuel economy: 40/38 mpg city/highway

By Nina Russin

More Toyota car reviews?

Images of the 2012, Toyota Camry Hybrid

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Spacious Interior
Spacious Interior
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid Side View
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid Side View
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid Rear View
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid Rear View