2009 Toyota Camry HybridPosted on August 4th, 2008
Hybrid drivetrain gives Toyota’s best-selling sedan exceptional fuel economy.
By Nina Russin
Every time engineers introduce a new generation Camry, they’re faced with the challenge of making Toyota’s best-selling sedan even better. When Toyota unveiled the sixth-generation two years ago, the answer seemed to be greater diversity among trim levels, including a hybrid.
The Camry hybrid uses the same technology as the Prius. Average fuel economy is 34 miles per gallon, versus about 25 mpg for the gas-powered Camrys.
Love means never having to say “it’s empty.”
Hybrids save time as well as money. The Camry Hybrid has the same seventeen-gallon tank as the gas models, but the fuel inside goes a lot further. Seventeen gallons takes the hybrid 578 miles, versus 425 for the other models.
My husband and I had the perfect opportunity to test the hybrid’s fuel economy: on one of our trips to Ohio to see my family. Living in Phoenix, we prefer to fly the hometown budget carrier. Unfortunately, that airline flies into Columbus. The family’s in Cincinnati. In the Camry Hybrid, the trip south takes just under a quarter tank of gas.
Anyone who has driven with me can attest to the fact that I’m not good at conserving fuel. I like to drive fast. As my friend, Denise McCluggage once said: “You can buy more gas but you can’t buy more time.”
Despite my lead foot, the Camry’s average fuel economy was over 35 miles-per-gallon on the highway: better than the EPA estimates. In the city fuel economy was slightly poorer, though it’s hard to complain about 33 miles-per-gallon in stop-and-go traffic. The engine shuts off at idle to conserve gas.
At the end of our trip, we had used just over half a tank of gas: covering over two hundred highway miles, and three days of stop-and-go driving in Cincinnati.
Engineers had the foresight to install an electronic air conditioning compressor, so the car stays cool when stopped at a traffic light.
Technology that’s invisible to the driver
The best thing about hybrids is that they require no special infrastructure, maintenance or driving techniques. Unlike electric cars that have a limited range, hybrids can go at least as far as gas models on a tank of gas.
The nickel-metal-hydride battery pack is located behind the second-row seats, where it is protected from frontal and rear impacts. The batteries recharge on the go using regenerative brake power.
The gauge cluster contains an analogue gauge that gives the driver instant fuel economy information. There is also a digital display that gives average fuel economy.
The Camry Hybrid comes with Toyota’s keyless ignition as standard equipment. The driver can open the doors and start the car without removing the key fob from his pocket.
A start button turns on the electric motors, and, if power needs are high, the gas engine as well. Pressing the button a second time turns the ignition off.
Driving the Camry Hybrid is no different than the gas models. Unlike some Toyota hybrids, the Camry doesn’t feel nose-heavy on downhills. Drivers may notice better low-end power from the hybrid, since the electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds.
The Camry Hybrid has the same ride and handling characteristics that have made the gasoline models so popular stateside: a quiet, vibration-free interior, precise steering, firm linear brakes, and a compliant suspension.
Visibility is quite good all the way around the car. The test car does not have a backup warning system: a technology that I would like to see on all new cars. It protects the driver against accidents involving children or small objects below the rear site line.
The Camry’s spacious interior has all of the creature comforts most buyers want: dual-zone climate control with a standard pollen filter, keyless entry and start, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with redundant audio controls, power front seats with lumbar support, and intermittent wipers.
A comfort and convenience package ($470) adds front seat heaters ad heated power outside mirrors. Other options include leather trim ($1300), a power moonroof ($940), and a premium package that upgrades the standard audio system to include XM satellite radio and Bluetooth compatibility, and the standard steel wheels with wheel covers to alloy rims ($1,150).
A separate satellite radio kit adds the XM hardware ($449). Toyota offers an optional first aid kit on the Camry ($29), and also charges for floor mats ($199).
There is plenty of room inside the car for five passengers, since the front-wheel drive configuration eliminates the tunnel through the second row. I was impressed by how wide the rear doors open, making it easier for my mother to enter and exit the car.
Second-row passengers also get ceiling vents to improve airflow: there are also vents in back of the center console bin.
The gate shifter on the floor console includes a “B” setting in lieu of low gears to enhance directional control on steep downhill grades.
The test car didn’t have optional navigation, but a compass in the rearview mirror comes with the premium upgrade package. Both front passengers get reading lamps, located in the overhead console, together with a sunglass holder.
All four doors have map pockets. There are two cupholders in the center console: both big enough for water bottles.
Controls for the front seat heaters are on the floor console, as well as a 12-volt power point. The center console bin is quite deep: a small removable shelf inside holds portable electronic devices.
There are several more small bins: to the right of the center stack, and in front of the center console bin. The glovebox is large enough to stash a purse or small pack.
Limited cargo space
The trunk is always the Achilles heal of hybrid sedans, since the battery pack impinges on cargo space. My husband and I were able to fit two suitcases in the trunk, with little room to spare.
The battery pack location means that there is no pass-through to extend the cargo floor for longer items. A cargo net keeps grocery bags from sliding around in back.
The Camry Hybrid received five-star federal crash test ratings for frontal and side impacts. Standard safety features include front, side and side curtain airbags, a driver’s knee airbag, antilock brakes, traction control and electronic stability program.
An eight year/100,000 mile warranty covers all hybrid components.
Toyota builds the Camry hybrid at its Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant.
Likes: A spacious, comfortable sedan with seating for five and exceptional fuel economy.
Dislike: Battery pack severely limits trunk room.
Model: Camry Hybrid
Base price: $25,350
As tested: $30,906
Horsepower: 147 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 138 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Optional
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 33/34 mpg city/highway
Comments: A mid-year price increase raises the hybrid’s base price to $26,150, not including a $720 destination charge.
Horsepower and torque listed are for the four-cylinder gas engine only. The hybrid’s net horsepower is 187.
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