THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Impressive efficiency, Spacious and comfortable cabin, Proven dependability
- What’s Bad: XLE trim is expensive, infotainment system needs an update.
Unsurprisingly, I get asked car questions all the time. Typically they’re about one of the thousands of new crossovers on sale but most want to talk reliability, efficiency, and low maintenance costs. The thing is, most people I know don’t want to sacrifice style, luxury, or comfort to get that. And of course, it has to be cheap to buy and cheap to run. Talk about wanting it all for very little in exchange.
Luckily for me, there’s an easy answer to all those questions: the Toyota Camry Hybrid.
This is not a new car, and the roots of its hybrid drive system are over 20 years old. In the face of the current crop of plug-in hybrids and full electric cars, this traditional hybrid seems woefully outdated. However, real-world driving still proves that a Camry Hybrid is one of the most efficient cars on the road, and is still very relevant.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid carries over into 2020 with no changes to mention over the previous year. This is a larger mid-size sedan with room for five. Nearly every taxicab I see is either a regular Camry or Camry hybrid, an excellent indicator of their dependability.
Powertrain and Performance
Don’t count this one out just because it doesn’t have a plug. The Camry Hybrid is a fuel-sipper and you don’t even have to try. Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive is a combination of a 2.5-L Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine hooked up to an eCVT and an electric motor. Either a Nickel Metal Hydride or Lithium-ion battery under the rear seat supplies the electrons to power the system. Total output is 208 hp.
Think of this system as a fuel-saving magician under the hood. At low speeds, it will use more of the battery and electric motors and less of the engine making it extra efficient around town. A sophisticated power management system always ensures that every drop of gasoline is stretched as far as it can go. The operation is seamless, and you’ll probably forget that it’s there. I averaged 6L/100 km on the highway, and an astounding 4.8 in the city. This is a car where 1000 kilometres of range per fill-up is a reality.
If you go in with the expectation that a Camry is not a sports sedan you’ll be just fine with the way it drives and handles corners. The steering is lifeless and over boosted but the lack of body roll and dive under braking was a nice surprise. The dampers are well tuned and offer a comfortable ride that never feels floaty.
Interior and Cargo
The Camry is on the larger side of the mid-size sedan spectrum and offers a quiet, comfortable cabin for up to 5 occupants. The driver’s seat was cushy and supportive even on longer drives. There is little in the way of wind noise, but some road and tire noise does filter through, however, it’s not much different than what you would observe in the competition.
A very large trunk with a wide opening will fit strollers, groceries, and large boxes with ease. At 428 litres the Camry lands itself mid-pack amongst the competition with the Kia Optima and Honda Accord both having a bit more space to work with. Standard 60/40 split-folding rear seats extend the capacity in a pinch.
My XLE tester being at the top of the pecking order came with all the boxes checked and included items like ventilated leather seats, a head-up display, a 9-speaker JBL audio system, and, oddly enough, a CD player in the era of Spotify and Apple CarPlay.
In general, the cabin experience in the Camry Hybrid is a good one, with nice materials used throughout and minimal use of hard plastics except as you work your way to the lower half of the dash and door panels but that’s to be expected. Ergonomics are excellent and real buttons and knobs for the climate control and stereo reduce reliance on the touchscreen infotainment system—a good thing.
Toyota’s Entune system is mixed bag. While easy to use, the graphics are outdated and response times sluggish. It’s not the worst out there, but systems like the one in the Kia Optima are far superior. It’s good news then that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard across the board so you can skip over the native system and use something you’re more familiar with.
Safety and Tech
The Toyota Camry is a very safe vehicle, earning the coveted Top Safety Pick + award from the IIHS. Its standard pre-collision system with pedestrian detection gets high marks and helps it earn this accolade. All Camry Hybrids get that as standard equipment along with automatic high beams, lane departure alert with steering assist, and dynamic cruise control.
A bird’s eye view camera, intelligent clearance sonar, and rear cross-traffic brake come standard on XLE trims. Those last two items act like a shield around the car helping the driver avoid running over pedestrians or objects at low speeds. It can also help with parking, especially if you’re the type that still uses the old tennis ball on a string trick when parking in your garage.
The XLE trim also gets you some of the cooler gadgets like a head-up display and the upgraded JBL stereo.
The Bottom Line
It’s hard to find bad things to say about the Camry Hybrid. It drives well and it’s comfortable, spacious, and remarkably efficient. It even looks pretty good. Sure it’s not going to get your heart racing but you wouldn’t be reading this review if you were looking for an adrenalin rush from your vehicle.
Even better, Toyota’s hybrid technology is seamless and works in the background but you don’t need to step into the expensive top-trim XLE to get it. My advice? You’ll be better off saving 10 grand and going for a base Camry Hybrid. You actually get more efficiency, thanks to a smaller, lighter, and more power-dense lithium-ion battery and you still get everything else that makes the Camry Hybrid an excellent choice.