The skinny: Toyota’s Camry is about as well known as parenthood and sausage-sizzles, but the hidden jewels in the range may just be the fuel-sipping hybrid models. Offering big car space with light car fuel bills, Toyota's family of hybrids have none of the DPF replacement fears of similar diesel models.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Price: $30,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 151kW/213Nm (combined output) 2.5-litre petrol 4cyl/electric motor | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.2 l/100km | tested: 5.8 l/100km
It may sound a little odd at first, but the most advanced new car built in Australia is a Toyota Camry.
Thanks to the petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain beneath the Camry Hybrid range, it out-techs the downsized and direct-injected efforts of Ford and Holden.
Unless a Tesla factory springs up here (don’t count on it), it will likely remain the champ.
Toyota has now expanded its Camry hybrid line-up to mirror the regular Camry range, with the exception of the sporty(ish) Atara SX.
That means even more buyers can select a green-credentialed family (or fleet) car without having to compromise on space or practicality.
Externally, the sweeping changes to the Camry’s form give it a more handsome look than the somewhat blocky model it replaced. Beneath the skin there’s not as much to crow about, but that’s not such a big problem.
With a surprisingly smooth and effective hybrid drivetrain, the Camry Altise Hybrid manages to impress, without breaking apart the well-known Camry mould.
Quality: Although the heat has been turned up on the exterior styling, the interior remains mostly untouched. The build quality is generally solid; built to last but perhaps a little utilitarian.
The climate control dials don’t feel very substantial, and the plasticky silver door-highlights seem scratch prone. Aside from that, the dash is moulded from precise fitting pieces with a few soft-touch and faux-stitched highlights.
Comfort: You’re hardly going to be tricked into thinking you’ve fallen into the lap of luxury inside the Altise, but the wide front seats will readily accommodate most shapes and sizes.
Hard-wearing cloth trim covers the seats, and the steering wheel and gearknob are urethane coated. Plain clothed, sure, but certainly ready for duty.
In the rear, there’s enough width to seat three adults, minimal centre-tunnel intrusion and generous leg-room.
Equipment: Standard Altise features include reverse camera, manual air-conditioning, trip computer, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel, cloth trim, touchscreen audio unit with Bluetooth and six speakers, as well as 16-inch alloy wheels.
Additionally the Altise Hybrid picks up push-button start with proximity key, and dual-zone climate control.
Storage: Due to the hybrid battery pack stashed in the boot, luggage space drops from 515 litres in the regular Camry to 421 litres for the Hybrid. The normal 60:40 rear seat is also slightly modified, offering the 60 side only, with the battery occupying the other side.
In the cabin, the glovebox and centre console are as generous as you’ll find, and here’s a lidded bin at the base of the centre stack that makes a great place to hide your wallet, phone, and keys.
Open cupholders next to the gear lever, plus a bottle holder and map pocket in each door complete the interior storage.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Powertrains for both the Camry range continue as before. For the Hybrid that means a combined output of 151kW, comprised of 118kW from the 2.5 litre petrol engine and 105kW from the electric motor.
Torque measures 213Nm from the petrol engine and 270Nm from the electric motor. In case you were wondering, the total outputs don’t equal petrol + electric, due to the variable nature of the electric assistance and the differences in peak power and torque.
That might sound confusing, so it boils down to this: the Camry hybrid is spookily quiet, doesn’t use much fuel, but can be deceptively quick.
In normal driving it feels much the same as a normal Camry. You may however notice a little more poke when you put your foot down, and from time-to-time it’ll run purely on electricity and absolutely silently.
The planetary CVT automatic feels better than belt-type CVTs. If you firewall the throttle it’ll still drone monotonously, but in most situations it behaves more like a normal automatic.
There’s an 'eco mode' that scales back the air-con, numbs throttle response, and relies more heavily on the electric motor. It really takes the wind out of the Camry’s sails and is best kept for those times you can safely 'hypermile' without becoming a nuisance to other road users.
Refinement: For most around-town errands the Camry is unbelievably quiet and serene.
There’s a little jolt when the petrol motor kicks into life, and you’ll feel it when it is running, but because it never has to work too hard it’s usually pretty subtle.
If you really have to work it hard, the 2.5 litre four cylinder engine isn’t always pleasant sounding. The shiftless CVT however is great to drive, and free of shift-shock, but it can pin engine revs to a constant buzz.
Ride and Handling: Able to soak up big hits, and glide over all but the most aggressive speed humps, the Camry is really built for comfort.
There are some pretty rough roads out there, but the Camry's gliding ride flatters them all. The pay-back is that there’s also plenty of body roll, and it can wallow through lunging dips.
With a car filled with family, and a boot crammed with holiday gear on a great Aussie road trip, you’ll be unlikely to mind.
Braking: The brakes sometimes feel a little underdone in the Camry Hybrid; initial braking is handled by the electric motor, which becomes a generator to replenish the battery pack under deceleration.
Transitioning to friction braking wasn’t always as consistent as we might like. Jam the brakes hard though and there’s enough in store for an emergency stop.
There’s also a ‘B’ detent on the gear selector. This ups the level of regenerative braking - it’s great for use in stop-start driving as the car slows more quickly and keeps the battery topped up.
The whiny electric-train noise that goes with it takes a bit of getting used to though.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.27 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: All Camry models come equipped with stability and traction control, ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution and reverse camera.
All seats feature three-point seat belts with load limiting pretensioners on the front seats. Seven airbags (dual front, dual side impact, full length curtain, and driver’s knee) are also fitted as well as three top-tether child seat anchor points.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Service intervals are set every 9 months or 15,000km (whichever occurs first). Toyota’s Service Advantage capped price service scheme covers Camry Hybrid for to up to 5 standard scheduled services at $140 each for the first 4 years or 75,000km (whichever occurs first).
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Ford Mondeo Ambiente Diesel ($37,190) - Ford gets to brag that its diesel Mondeo is more fuel efficient than Camry Hybrid, but it’s also a fair bit more pricey. There’s a lot more standard kit in a Mondeo however to offset the difference.
If open road touring is your thing the Mondeo is probably the better choice. It’s also the only car in its segment with rear seatbelt mounted airbags. (see Mondeo reviews)
Toyota Prius ($32,490 ) - Some of the Camry’s competition comes from within. Although priced similarly, the Prius is the more high-tech, more fuel efficient, but slightly smaller alternative.
A Prius is the more obvious way of showing your green intentions. (see Prius reviews)
Hyundai i40 Active Diesel ($33,090) - Recently revamped with a nip-and-tuck to the front and rear, the i40 looks a little more up-market than the staid Camry.
Inside accommodation is a little tighter, particularly if you plan on putting three in the rear. It also doesn’t offer quite the same grunt as the Mondeo. (see i40 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Not quite sure if you’d like to take the gamble on a hybrid? Here’s one to ease your anguish; Toyota's Camry Altise Hybrid cloaks the drivetrain technology in a thoroughly normal family car.
If you’re a ‘short trip through town’ kind of driver, you’ll love the small fuel bills, the extra torque from the electric motor, and the relief of not having to take an extended drive now and again to clear the DPF - like you would in a diesel.
It’s relatively decent value too, but in Altise spec keep in mind that the interior is fairly free of bells and whistles. If you’re after a few more toys, the Camry Atara Hybrid might be a better fit.
But we do like the way this car drives; it offers a capable and quite appealing alternative for family buyers looking for a little extra room and decent performance.
If you’ve ever been curious about Toyota’s planet-saving technology, there’s no reason not to check this one out.