Once again, Toyota's mid-sized Camry sedan earned the distinction as best-selling car in America in the 2016 calendar year. Point of fact; it's ranked as the top-selling car the past decade-and-a-half.
Toyota added to Camry's mix with a gas-electric hybrid (no nightly plug-in needed) back in 2007. Not a bad call since Toyota became synonymous with fuel-extending gas-electric technology when introducing the game-changing Prius.
Worldwide, Toyota racked up 10 million hybrid vehicle sales since the late 1990s; three million of those sold throughout the North American market. According to Toyota, this reflects a savings of 7.66 billion gallons of gas.
In 2012 Camry hybrid underwent a second-generation redesign. Adding a hybrid variant to America's best-selling car creates a huge potential audience for those yearning for fuel-extending propulsion, although hybrid editions made up only a five percent slice of total Camry sales last year.
Propelling the 2017 Camry hybrid; Toyota's well-tested 'hybrid synergy drive.' Battery charging occurs via a generator driven by the gas engine and during regenerative braking. When summoning the brake pedal, energy gets diverted to and captured by the hybrid battery rather than being lost as heat. This battery then powers an electric motor. The nickel metal hydride recharging battery has proved remarkably resilient since Toyota began selling hybrids in the U.S. 17 years ago.
This technology produced 42 miles per gallon city and 38 mpg highway in our Camry hybrid XLE trim tester. A conventional Camry sedan with a larger 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine generates fuel estimates of 21 gallons city and 31 mpg highway.
Camry hybrid's gas engine is a 2.5-liter four cylinder delivering 156 horsepower on its own. When combined with the on-board electric motor, horsepower reaches 200. The engine connects to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
As with most gas-electric hybrids and a growing cadre of conventional gas engines, start-stop technology is included. Come to a lingering traffic light or prolonged stop, and the gas engine morphs into a sleep mode to conserve fuel. Once the right foot lifts from the brake, the engine salutes to attention. Of the half-dozen testers that graced the driveway this year embracing start-stop technology, Camry hybrid hands down is the most seamless. No sudden noisy lurches or sensation the engine suddenly died.
In addition to the conventional five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, hybrid-related components get an extra layer of coverage, eight-years or 100,000 miles.
Gas electric hybrids may not get enough credit or fanfare for the added performance two propulsion systems working in concert provide, especially when accelerating from a standing start. Duo technologies create more low-end torque than one alone. Many so-called 'SuperCars,' (such as Acura's two-seat, redesigned-for-2017 NSX) employ hybrid technology.
Hybrid Camry's are available in three trims: LE, SE and top-trim XLE. Pricing for an XLE starts $30,140, unchanged from 2016. In fact, all Camry trims, conventional or hybrid, carry over 2016 pricing this year. Our XLE tester included all available option packages including subscription-based safety connect ($515), blind-spot monitor with cross traffic alert ($500), anti-theft system with alarm ($345), upgraded Entune JBL sound system ($710), power moon roof ($915) and advanced technology package with radar cruise control and lane departure alert.
An LE trim starts at $26,790, the lowest-priced Camry hybrid. By comparison a conventional four-cylinder Camry LE checks in at $23,070.
During the 2017 Auto Show circuit, Toyota's been showcasing and heavily promoting the eighth-generation 2018 Camry (front and center at February's Chicago Auto Show). Camry hybrid will also add next-generation upgrades come 2018.
The 2018 Camry hybrid follows similar marketing mantra started by the fourth-generation Prius which debuted in the 2016 model year. Base 2018 Camry hybrids will carry forward with the nickel metal hydride battery for electric storage.
Higher 2018 Camry hybrid trims will offer lithium Ion battery technology allowing weight savings approaching 30 pounds compared to the nickel metal hybrid battery. Lithium ion technology holds court in most plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles (and cell phones, lap tops) thanks to overall lighter weight, but adds to bottom line costs.
Exterior nuances for 2017 carry through the conservative theme of the current seventh-generation Camry. Tiny hints to hybrid underpinnings are present if one knows where to look. A 'Hybrid Synergy' badge adorns the trunk lid and 'hybrid' wording is visible on front fenders. Also, Toyota's front grille centerpiece, the "T" logo, includes blue highlights which Asia's largest automaker shares with other hybrid editions. Content wise, the 2017 is a carryover from the past couple of years.
The few interior tweaks rendering this Camry a hybrid include the instrument panel. In place of a circular left-side tachometer, an analog power usage gauge indicates 'Power," 'Eco" or "Charging." Also, the handsome center multi-function screen includes an 'Eco' option. When pushed, the screen fills with charts and information. For those who can live without such data, the button need never be summoned.
Below the very user friendly color screen, the ventilation system features extra-large, well identified buttons for selecting direction and fan speed along with two dials monitoring dual zone temperatures. Beneath resides a plug-in port area and 12-volt outlet benefitting portable electronic devices. A retracting door covers these valuables whenever needed.
As with most Toyotas, cruise control gets summoned via a rectangular 5 o'clock steering wheel appendage. Our top trim included 'radar' sensing cruise, a great high-tech feature easy to use and helpful which automatically slows and speeds based on the distance from the highway vehicle ahead.
With a relatively flat floor and mid-size dimensions, Camry hybrid accommodates three second-row riders in relative comfort, something the smaller Prius has a harder time justifying. The right side seat back folds down, onto the cushion once a trunk-located tab unlatches the backrest, allowing limited access to the trunk region. The smaller back rest portion remains unmovable because of battery pack storage. Vertical venting is noticeable at the seatback's far left edge to cool the battery.
Relatively stable fuel prices the past 12 months have slowed hybrid sales. This coupled with a next-generation Camry hybrid arriving soon should incentivize nice deals for remaining hybrids in stock.
For those yet to experience gas-electric hybrids, these vehicles handle and drive similarly to a conventional car. The biggest learning curve remains minimal gas-engine idle.
Camry hybrid starts up with a remarkable silence with push button start as the electric motor activates prior to the gas engine. Same holds true when shifting the transmission to park; an eerie quiet permeates with no engine rumble. More than once, I found myself stepping out with the silent system still active. While a generic low-level 'ping' emits, a more pragmatic alert would be welcomed.
2017 Camry hybrid
Price as tested: $34,710
Gas Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder
Combined Horsepower: 200
Length: 190.9 inches
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Height: 57.9 inches
Width: 71.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,565 pounds
Fuel economy: 42 mpg city/ 38 mpg highway.
Assembly: Georgetown Kentucky