Australian Hybrid Camry checks out

Just how much petrol does Toyota’s new Hybrid Camry really use?

Toyota couldn’t have asked for a worse time to launch its Hybrid Camry. With all the negative press that the Prius recall has created, it’s a shame that Australian’s might miss this very significant milestone in Australian motoring – the first Australian-built Hybrid family car.

As it has four doors and a decent sized boot, the Hybrid Camry is set to compete in the large car segment, with the likes of the Ford Falcon, Holden Commodore, Honda Accord Euro and Subaru Legacy.

I had the opportunity to try out the new Hybrid Camry, and drove it from central Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula and back. I’m naturally sceptical of manufacturer’s quoted fuel consumption figures, so I wanted to see with my own eyes just how miserly the Hybrid Camry was in a range of driving conditions. Also, let’s be honest, a fuel-efficient engine can be a real disappointment when it comes to driver involvement. I wanted to kick the Camry in the ribs to see whether it had any guts.

The interior of the Toyota Hybrid Camry

The Hybrid Camry is slightly different looking than the regular petrol-only variant. Cosmetic changes, such as LED tail lights, a refined grille, more silvery bits and Hybrid Synergy Drive logos on three sides certainly set it apart. Also, panels under the engine, rear floor and fuel tank improve airflow and contribute to an overall drag coefficient of 0.27 – which is among the best in mass-produced family cars.

Since the Hybrid Camry is the range topper, it gets nicer bits on the inside too, such as leather seats, dual-climate air conditioning, electric seats and unique ‘Optitron’ gauges. This is a fancy name for a vacuum fluorescent-lit instrument cluster, and it’s a feature that’s imported from Lexus. The gauges are easy to view in sunlight and they bring three unique fuel consumption indicators to the dashboard so petrol-saving is never far from your mind.

I hopped into my test vehicle, which was the standard-level Hybrid Camry -there’s a Luxury version as – and with a push of a button, the car silently sprung to life. Much of the first leg of my drive from central Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula was stop-and-start traffic. This gave me some time to assess the Camry’s interior atmosphere – and I was impressed quality of the plastics and seat comfort. The car also has decent noise insulation, which kept the busy outside world at bay. The brakes were sharp, and the steering felt light and easy to manoeuvre the wheels. The Camry uses electric steering and air conditioning so they can operate without the petrol engine running. From my perspective, I couldn’t tell the difference – so that’s a good thing.

When the traffic thinned out, I was gave the Australian-tuned suspension a workout, and it effectively muffled the bumps, such railroad tracks and potholes. Through winding bends, the car was capable, although there was no disguising the car’s hefty size or weight.

The very large boot of the Toyota Hybrid Camry
With a boot this large, it’s no wonder the Toyota Hybrid Camry sits in the large car market.

The 140kW output of the combined petrol and electric motors was surprisingly good, with brisk hops from traffic lights, and plenty of muscle for passing. There’s really no need to worry about lack of power with this vehicle, and it’s more powerful than a standard V6 Camry.

Once I reached our turn around point – some 85km from start, I had a chance to inspect the boot space. I was surprised at how much room there was, as the battery pack forms a small shelf half-way inside the boot, and the unit’s cooling system isn’t too intrusive. The battery is certainly not anywhere near as large as an LPG tank, so you should be able to get on with stuffing in your two golf bags with no challenges. Also, the battery pack has an 8-year warranty, so there’s little worry of any short-term issues.

OK, so what about the all-important fuel consumption? For the first leg of my journey, which was about 85km, I averaged 5.6 litres per 100kms. On the way back, which involved more motorway driving, I achieved 5.3 litres per 100kms. It’s important to note that I achieved these figures while driving conservatively; I spent most of my time keeping a close watch on the dash’s real-time fuel consumption gauge, doing my best to keep it in the ‘green’ zone. I didn’t have the air conditioning on for the way out, but it was on during my return journey, and I had one passenger in the car on the way out, and two passengers coming back.
The next morning I was back in the Hybrid Camry, only this time I drove more aggressively, with faster take-offs from a standing start, harder braking and more rapid acceleration to the speed limit. I had one occupant in the car and the air-conditioning on. To my surprise, I still managed 7 litres per 100kms.

The dashboard of the Toyota Hybrid Camry

Overall, compared to the 9 or 10+ litres per 100kms of many large ‘family cars’, this is a real achievement for Toyota. Also, the Hybrid Camry produces less CO2, NOX and particulate emissions, so you can feel like you’re doing more for the environment.

To put the savings into perspective, Toyota Australia ‘s senior executive director sales and marketing David Buttner said that when driving 20,000km in a year, a Hybrid Camry owner will get the last 7,000km mileage for free compared with someone driving a petrol V6 Camry the same distance. This boils down to a savings of about $15 per week in fuel costs.

My only complaint about the Hybrid Camry is that it lacks some of the cool features found in the Prius, such as the solar panels in the sunroof that power the air-con, or the heads-up display that projects your speed onto the windshield. However, I’m told by Toyota that the Prius is for people who are early adopters of technology, while the Camry is a mainstream Hybrid for the masses. Overall, the Hybrid Camry offers a genuine reduction in fuel consumption (running costs) and emissions compared to other large sized cars, and holds its own in terms of styling and driving enjoyment. I for one would be happy to see more Hybrids on our roads for no other reason than that they are better for the environment – and it’s an Australian-built car to boot.