Review: Toyota’s 2016 Camry Hybrid is an underappreciated way to ride

NOT YOUR AVERAGE CAMRY: The blue-toned Toyota logo and hybrid badging tell you that this is a Camry that will give you 40 miles per gallon.NOT YOUR AVERAGE CAMRY: The blue-toned Toyota logo and hybrid badging tell you that this is a Camry that will give you 40 miles per gallon.

 

We’ve all had the experience of taking someone or something for granted. Eventually, we come to the realization that they’re something special, and we haven’t properly appreciated their capabilities.

So it is with today’s test car, the 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE.

Toyota recently made headlines with the announcement that it has sold more than 9 million hybrids worldwide.

It’s a remarkable achievement as Toyota not only blazed the hybrid highway but also made the Prius synonymous with hybrid and continues to advance the market segment.

For 2016, Toyota has seven hybrid vehicles in its lineup, all with variations of the same tried-and-true technology. There’s the Prius and its Prius C and Prius V models. Besides the Camry, there are hybrid versions of the Avalon large sedan, RAV4 compact SUV, and Highland midsize SUV.

The talk of “sure, the Prius is inexpensive to drive but what will happen when the battery wears out?” has died out with reasonably priced replacement services available and the realization that many owners drive the original equipment for 200,000 miles.

After driving the Camry Hybrid SE for a few days, we had no complaints. It was smooth. It was quiet. It handled well. There was plenty of room in both front and back seats. We were getting 41.1 miles per gallon.

Then Mrs. G asked, “What do you like about this car?”

I thought a moment. “You know, I really like the controls. Camrys always have had intuitive buttons and dials, but this one, even though it’s a hybrid, seems especially easy to figure out. Controls are minimal.

“Oh, and I like the way they’ve upgraded the dashboard with contrasting stitching and made the cabin so quiet and roomy.”

Then the realization set in.

All those other qualities we’d been taking for granted were strengths.

THE INSIDE STORY: Toyota has found a way to organize audio, telephone, climate, and navigation with a minimalist look.
THE INSIDE STORY: Toyota has found a way to organize audio, telephone, climate, and navigation with a minimalist look.

Performance? The hybrid powertrain produces 200 horsepower from the 156-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and ancillary electric motor.

That power goes to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The system seamlessly transfers from all-electric operation to any combination of gas-electric operation, and there always seems to be plenty of power available.

It’s rated at 40 miles per gallon in city operation and 38 mpg on the highway. Combined, it’s rated at 40 mpg. We drove the hybrid in a variety of conditions and at the end of the day, the onboard computer always seemed to say we’d achieved 40.2 mpg.

Braking took some getting used to. It may have been that the system “learned” the driving habits of previous test drivers or this test driver needed to adapt to the feel of the regenerative (energy recapturing to recharge the battery pack) system. Bottom line: After a day or two we were used to the feel and the brakes work just fine.

Handling? Our Camry SE hybrid has larger, 17-inch wheels and sportier suspension tuning than the base LE. Is it a sports sedan? Not really. But the combined powertrains give it plenty of oomph and the suspension gives it capable handling and a good feel for the road.

Space? It’s one of the few times I’ve seen Mrs. G volunteer to “ride in back,” and later, instead of complaining that it was snug and not really comfortable, say, “There’s a lot of room back there and the ride feels really good.”

The Camry hybrid comes in three trim levels, base LE, sportier SE, and luxurious XLE.

All are well-equipped with keyless ignition and entry, rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power driver’s seat (with power lumbar), cruise control, a color driver information display. Bluetooth connectivity, voice controls, and a 6.1-inch touch screen also are standard.

Our SE adds 17-inch wheels, the sport-tuned suspension, a rear spoiler, sport fabric seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Options include a sunroof, navigation, smartphone app integration, and a Qi wireless cellphone charger.

Unfortunately, one has to step up to the XLE to get some comfort and safety features. Standard are heated seats, leather upholstery, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and LED running lights.

The top level of safety features are optional on the XLE.

That includes a pair of packages. The Technology package includes automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. A Safety Connect package adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, emergency assistance button, stolen-vehicle notification, and automatic collision notification.

It makes for a strange juxtaposition. Toyota is one of the many manufacturers working on autonomous (self-driving) vehicles and advanced safety systems to prevent accidents in the present time.

However, the economic realities of having to compete on price and features still are keeping these state-of-the-art systems out of the mainstream.

If normal marketplace advances take place, these features will spread across more trim levels, but it’s discouraging for consumers to have to make tough choices between price and safety until that day arrives.

As it is, our Camry Hybrid SE is pricey enough.

The base number is $28,830 (including destination). An upgraded connectivity system ($1,300) adds navigation and an app suite, 7-inch high resolution touch screen, hands-free access, and Bluetooth music streaming. A special color, Blizzard Pearl, adds both a nice hue and $395 to the sticker.

The moonroof ($915), Qi wireless charging ($95), upgraded security system ($359), and preferred carpet, trunk mat, rear bumper applique, and hideaway cargo net ($343) brought the bottom line to $32,217.

Toyota’s competitors also produce quality hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Volkswagen Jetta.

But the folks at Toyota, the ones who got the ball rolling, still are on top of their game.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $28,830/$32,217. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 40 city/38 highway/40 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 40.2. Drivetrain: 2.5-liter gas engine with separate high-torque electric motor, continuously variable transmission (CVT), front-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passenger sedan.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 200 (combined). Torque: 199 lb.-ft. (combined). Overall length: 190.9 in. Wheelbase: 109.3 in. Height: 57.9 in. Width: 71.7 in. Curb weight: 3,565 lbs.

THE GOOD

Toyota reliability and hybrid system track record, spacious cabin, fuel economy, handling, powertrain performance.

THE BAD

Top tier safety features only available on top-of-the-line trim level, lack of a real “personality.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

Toyota no longer has the hybrid market to itself, but it continues to rule the segment.

Source: http://www.boston.com/cars/news-and-reviews/2016/06/04/review-toyota-camry-hybrid-underappreciated-way-ride/hGSYYsL3Xv0pIag169oMzI/story.html

Jun 6th, 2016