The No Brainer Gets a Remake
For decades the midsize family sedan commanded the largest share of the U.S. car market. For the past 14 years, the Toyota Camry has ruled the midsize roost, a position it continues to hold through the first six months of 2016. Included in the Camry’s yearly sales number since 2006 is the Camry Hybrid like the 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid.
But the midsize car dominance began waning last summer, with sales declining two percent in 2015. The family hauler replacement choice is the compact crossover sport utility. This year the little SUVs will likely nudge the midsize sedans off the top spot and become the best-selling vehicle segment.
This trend is also evidenced when looking at hybrid vehicles. The 2016 Toyota RAV 4 Hybrid small crossover has leapfrogged over the Camry Hybrid to become the second-best selling hybrid vehicle in 2016 behind the company’s Prius. Through the first half of the year, the RAV Hybrid has outsold the Camry Hybrid two to one.
The children of baby boomers are driving this surge, but that doesn’t mean the midsize sedan is an abandoned child—more than 2.3 million were sold last year. But if you’re one who is going to stay the course and are considering a 2016 midsizer, then why not invest a few extra dollars for the Camry with a gasoline-electric drive system?
A hybrid-powered Camry offers a sparkling EPA combined city/highway rating of either 41 or 40 mpg, and gives you 650-plus miles between visits to the gas station. In an era when one storm—meteorological or political—could send gas prices toward $4 per gallon again, the hybrid option on the Camry seems to me a common sense choice.
Yes, the gasoline pump price currently hovers just over two bucks a gallon, but what if…?
Last year Toyota gave the Camry gas and hybrid models more than a usual “mid-cycle” refresh. The updates included a 1.8-inch longer body, a new exterior appearance, upgraded cabin appointments and engineering tweaks to sharpen driving dynamics. The 2016 editions are carbon copies.
The 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid is available in three trim levels: Base LE starts at $26,790 plus $835 destination charges; the sporty SE has a sticker price of $27,795; and the top XLE is priced starting at $30,140. LE editions have an EPA fuel economy rating of 43-mpg city/38-mpg highway/41-mpg combined. The SE and XLE are rated at 40-mpg city/38 highway/40 combined.
Styling: Is This Really A Camry?
Past Camrys were not unattractive, but words like bold or expressive were never used to describe their styling. The impressions were Palm Springs-retirees as the target customer. Not anymore.
Tightly drawn and crisply rendered, the 2016 Camry Hybrid has an in-your-face large trapezoidal grille complemented by slim headlights that sweep into the fenders. Vertical LED turn signals set into the outer edges of the front facia are almost menacing in appearance.
The sportier XLE Hybrid is distinguished by a mesh grille and front fascia treatment—a statement that economy and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive.
Slab formed body sides are out, replaced with a sharp body crease that begins at the muscular front fenders and sweeps across the doors and rear quarter panels. Slightly flared doorsills suggest a road-hugging stance. Around back, large two-tone taillights are connected by a chrome garnish.
Attention to detail lets the 2016 Hybrid slip through the air with a 0.27 coefficient of drag, and that saves fuel and reduces noise.
With all the benefits of the design and only a few exterior badges to call attention to its gas-electric powertrain, the Camry Hybrid is a fine way to go green without broadcasting it.
What About The Cabin?
Open the doors and one might think Toyota borrowed a couple of interior designers from the company’s Lexus premium division. The cabin exudes the kind of quality and refinement that buyers
of luxury cars are used to.
The feeling and look inside is upscale with the integration of rich-looking plastics, soft-touch surfaces and upholstery, including a mix of leather and Ultrasuede. There are carefully chosen upscale cues, such as genuine cloth stitching on the dashboard.
Headroom is ample, and five-footers can easily see over the hood. Thanks to a height adjustment on the driver’s seat and a tilt/telescoping steering column, nearly everyone should be able to find a good driving position. The left dead pedal is just where it should be.
Controls are large, easy-to-reach, easy-to-understand at a glance and are glove-friendly. Nestled between the three-dimensional Optitron gauges in the instrument panel is a new 4.2-inch color screen on the SE and XLE models. It displays a range of vehicle functions and coordinates with the multimedia system to display audio, navigation, warnings and communications.
The screen can also illustrate the flow of electric and gas power and can be adjusted to detail fuel-consumption data. But it does without the growing-leaves animation and other visual diversions used by some hybrids to coach efficient driving.
Four adults fit comfortably and, as with virtually every car in this class, three across in the rear seat means sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. If little ones are part of your family, front- and rear-facing child seats will fit in the back with ease.
Since this is a hybrid, the nickel-metal hydride battery pack has to be packaged somewhere; in the Camry it’s in the trunk. Cargo space is a respectable 13.1 cubic feet, 2.3 cubes less than the non-hybrid models. For additional space, the rear seatback folds down.
No Lack of Tech
The 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid offers a standard convenience feature list and options that include virtually every infotainment and connectivity item buyers expect. Even the base LE is equipped with keyless ignition and entry, automatic headlights, heated exterior mirrors, full power accessories, cruise control, an eight-way power driver’s seat and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Infotainment, including the intuitive Entune system, provides smartphone-based access to the Bing search engine and popular mobile applications such as iheartradio and Pandora Internet radio. It enables casual-speech voice command of audio and navigation functions and can convert incoming text messages to speech, answering with programmable responses.
Dual 12-volt power outlets coupled with USB and Aux inputs gives the cabin lots of connection points.
High-tech safety options include Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, lane-departure and blind-spot systems with cross-traffic alert, and a pre-collision system.
The 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid is a Top Safety Pick for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and enjoys a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 5-star safety rating overall.
Proven, Reliable Hybrid Powertrain
Toyota’s mid-cycle refresh of the Camry Hybrid was extensive, but in the engine room the Prius-derived Hybrid Synergy Drive is the one thing the engineers left alone. The hybrid system has no black magic, but it is one of the most sophisticated and refined of its kind. Plus, it’is a proven, reliable powertrain.
Like the Toyota Avalon Hybrid and Lexus ES 300h, the Camry’s gasoline engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder dual overhead cam engine that runs on the more efficient Atkinson cycle. Output is 156 horsepower and 156 pounds-feet of torque.
The engine is joined by a 105-kW permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor that produces 199 pounds-feet of torque. Combined with the 141 equivalent horsepower that the electric motor later puts out, the combined output is rated at 200 horsepower overall, a confusing rating given the numbers involved.
Power is routed through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with three drive modes – hybrid, ECO, and EV for low-speed, short-range electric propulsion. The Hybrid’s onboard sensors automatically determine what blend of gas and electric propulsion best balances power and fuel economy.
Completing the system is a 6.5 amp-hour sealed nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Regenerative braking converts the electric motor to a generator that captures kinetic energy when coasting or the brake is applied, storing it in the hybrid battery pack.
This isn’t a decaf version of standard gasoline Camry. The Hybrid’s 0 to 60 mph sprint of 7.2 seconds is actually quicker than the regular four-cylinder car by a half second. That’s not pokey, and means it’s an admirable highway car with good passing power and on-ramp acceleration.
Driving the Camry Hybrid
Our week-long test drive car was a SE model; the version Toyota says dials up some “eco fun.” Added to the $27,995 sticker price was an Entune premium audio and navigation package, a moonroof, special paint color, VIP security system and the QI wireless phone charger, which was not compatible with my iPhone. With destination charges, the total price ended up at $32,099.
We gave the SE Hybrid a shakedown in a variety of driving environments from back road to highway, to Interstate stop-and-go, to in-town.
In the world of daily driving where the Camry Hybrid will live most of the time, I found it to be supple and as smooth as well-oiled ball bearings. The suspension soaked up the bumps of city streets with only distant notice of their passage.
Western Washington is a land of hills and mountains, and I appreciated the hill-start assist. It prevented the car from rolling backward when starting off on an incline when the brake pedal is released—a common occurrence in these parts.
The transition from all-electric to gasoline engine is exceptionally smooth. While I know that CVT’s are the fuel economy way to go, I still dislike the engine revs held at a high level during rapid acceleration. But, it is something I can almost get used to.
Driving on two-lane highways and freeways, the interior was as quiet as anything sold under Toyota’s upscale Lexus brand. That can be attributed to beefed-up window and door seals, outside mirrors reshaped to reduce wind turbulence and carpeting with 30 percent more insulating material.
I really liked the confident grip of the thick leather-trimmed steering wheel. Steering felt predictable, and the SE Hybrid accepted quick steering transitions with ease. The car felt just as composed taking curves as it did in a straight line, Body roll was well controlled, and the extra chassis rigidity and the SE’s specific suspension tuning gave the car the ability to tackle a twisting road with some zest.
I’m not saying the 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE is a sports sedan, but I give Toyota engineers a big nod for an impressive job of turning the Hybrid into a rather engaging car to drive.
At the end of our week the trip meter registered 548 miles. Even with 62 miles of some entertaining driving, the instrument panel readout was 43.9 mpg. That’s a number that exceeds the EPA estimate, mainly because I was more judicious in managing fuel economy than the EPA’s protocols, and the EPA does not factor the Eco and EV modes in their fuel economy estimates.
The Midsize Hybrid Car For You?
The 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid’s fuel economy and new personality are difficult to ignore, but it’s not the only kid on the block. Ford’s Fusion Hybrid has been nipping the Camry Hybrid’s heels for some time. It has sharp styling and its 44 mph highway trumps the Camry.
If you want fuel economy and function, the Honda Accord Hybrid has my attention with mpg numbers of 50 city and 45 highway. Then there’s the reengineered Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that equals the Fusion Hybrid’s fuel economy with mature styling and the automaker’s flair for tons of standard equipment.
New hybrid car buyers with no attachment to a specific brand will have to spend some time to determine which of the above is the best choice for them. It’s a no brainer for Toyota devotees, however. The Camry Hybrid’s new exterior and interior styling, lots of features, plenty of power along with the fuel economy makes it an easy choice. Select the SE model and you can add eco-driving fun.
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Road Test: 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Road Test: 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid
Road Test: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Road Test: 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid
Road Test: 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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