2012 TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID REVIEW
Segment: Mid-size sedan
Power: 118kW petrol engine | 105kW electric motor
Combined system output: 151kW
Torque: 213Nm petrol engine (plus variable torque from the electric motor)
Maximum torque electric motor: 270Nm
Fuel efficiency: 5.2 l/100km
Fuel efficiency on test: 6.2 l/100 km (normal driving)
Price: H: $34,990 | HL: $41,990 (plus on-roads)
If there is to be a car that can finally and permanently place hybrid technology into the mainstream of car buyers, this is it: Toyota's new 2012 Camry Hybrid.
Beyond anything else, at its price - for finish, for verve at the wheel, for refinement and comfort - it is a superior car. Then there is its fuel economy, then its capped-price servicing, then its 'you-can't-kill-it-with-an-axe' Toyota reliability.
We drove both the entry-level Camry Hybrid H and the leather-trimmed (and feature-loaded) Camry Hybrid HL at its Australian launch in Tasmania.
Each is priced lower than the model they replace, each carries many more standard features, and each is vastly improved dynamically over the previous models.
Taking in some of the winding forest sections of the Targa Tasmania route, and a mix of secondary roads and highway, Toyota's new mainstream hybrid showed a balance, on-road poise and a fleetness-of-foot totally unexpected.
More, for overtaking, it leaps from 80kmh to licence-busting speeds in bare seconds. It's genuinely brisk.
With this new model, Toyota Australia has hatched something more than a little special for the mid-size family category. It impresses on nearly every measure that matters.
Oh yes, and it's a hybrid. But aside from its ability to bypass a petrol pump, you'd never know about the battery in the boot - it is, quite simply, a very fine car.
Some interiors fail to make an impression - certainly not the new Camry. In particular, the $41,990 HL we drove, with cream-leather seats and door trims, brushed metal highlights and classy leather-stitched dash (common to all models) is really quite superb.
But the very sharply-priced $34,990 H is also a cut above. It shares the interior layout and design of the new Camry range, with nicely-placed controls and serene composition of lines and surfaces.
It's not cutting edge, there are no "ooh-ah" elements, but it is, like a well-tailored suit, simply the right fit with the right modern look.
Whether at the wheel of the H or HL model, there are no burrs nor mismatched surfaces, no elements that jar; and each is a very nice place to spend time in.
The fit to the interior is a credit to Toyota Australia, and, like the panel fit outside, approaching Lexus quality for the accurate marrying of surfaces and premium feel.
Also, importantly, there is an airy spaciousness evident from both passenger and driver's seat, with very good vision all round, that adds to the enjoyment of the drive.
In both H and HL models, the seats are well shaped, offer good under-thigh support, and are easily set 'just right'. The very well-equipped HL has full-electric adjustment among its laden feature list.
The Camry H sits on 16-inch wheels, has dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, push-button start, reversing camera, 6.1 inch screen, reversing camera, hill-start assist, audio display, cruise control, multi-function wheel, electric driver's seat, plus Bluetooth, CD and MP3 player with aux-in connectivity.
To that list, add 17-inch alloys for the HL model; also add leather trim, driver's seat memory, powered front passenger seat, premium steering wheel, electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, sat-nav with live traffic updates, rear parking sonar, blind-spot monitor, auto high-beam, JBL ten-speaker audio, digital radio and seven-inch display.
At $41,990, that's one heavily configured car.
Here, at the wheel of this car, is where conventional wisdoms about "driving a hybrid" are challenged.
For a start it's quick. The new Camry Hybrid gets away from the line very smartly and will whistle to 100km/h in 8.0 seconds flat. For any car that's not shabby; for a hybrid it's astonishing.
And, with 151kW under the toe, and the torque benefit of the Synergy Drive electric motor chiming in when things are under load, it will also readily whistle well beyond legal limits when some extra pace is called for.
Overtaking is a breeze. Rolling acceleration - picking up from a canter to a gallop - is near instantaneous.
Its stop-start technology is also the best we've ever experienced. The petrol engine springs into life absolutely seamlessly... unless you're really concentrating, it's undetectable.
You can also drive it on the electric motor alone for getting quietly around carparks and grid-locked city streets.
What we don't like is the CVT transmission, especially one without stepped ratios and paddle-control. It's a familiar gripe.
We understand the mechanical efficiencies of the CVT, and the resulting benefit to fuel economy, but in the new Camry Hybrid it dulls the connectedness of the drivetrain and dulls the driving experience.
Straight-line acceleration is unaffected, but the delay as the CVT winds up slows it out of corners.
It is clearly not built to be a sports car, but if you want to hustle between corners on a mountain road, you need to anticipate the CVT and get hard on the gas before the apex - normally a short course into tyre-squealing understeer and a cardinal sin in a FWD car.
Time this right however, and power comes on just as you need it. But a simple paddle shift would solve the issue.
The steering is also too light. It can be placed accurately on road - and turns in with exceptional front end balance - but the super-light feel makes it a little twitchy in normal driving.
But those are minor issues in the overall scheme of things; for family buyers lighter steering is a boon around town, and they won't fail to notice the willing power on tap nor the well-sorted comfortable ride.
And it's quiet; as quiet as a luxury premium saloon. For road noise suppression and overall refinement, it easily bests the Mazda6, and is quieter than the Commodore, Lexus CT200h and VW Passat.
It's also, in both H and HL grades, firm down below but free of jarring and 'crashing' over poor and broken surfaces.
In this, in its tuning for Australian roads and for dynamic balance and compliance, the new Camry Hybrid can take the game up to some of the premium Europeans.
Again, this is a big tick for Toyota Australia.
First Drive Verdict
If this reads like we're more than just impressed with this car, you're right.
Toyota Australia's new Camry Hybrid, built in Altona, Victoria, is a defining example of the quality of vehicle that our local manufacturing industry is capable of producing.
It's a hybrid that drives like no family-car hybrid I've ever driven. Its strength is that it is distinctly normal and drives without the quirks or concessions that many may expect of a 'half-electric' car.
In fact, it has the on-road balance and the get-up-and-go that matches - or betters - the best in its segment.
And, with Toyota now claiming battery life for the "life of the car", the last blockers to hybrid technology are slowly falling away.
You really should have a very close look at the new Camry Hybrid. It will surprise you as much as it surprised us; guaranteed.
- 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid H - $34,990
- 2012 Toyota Camry HL - $41,490
- 2012 Camry Altise - $30,490
- 2012 Camry Atara S $33,490
- 2012 Camry Atara SX $35,990
- 2012 Camry Atara SL $39,990
The new Camry Hybrid is covered by Toyota Service Advantage, with the cost of services capped at $130 for each of up to five services in the first four years or 75,000km (whichever comes first) - identical to the petrol Camry range.
As always, conditions apply, so speak with your dealer first.
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