Camry Hy­brid im­proves on a good thing

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By Bob Mchugh

ALOT of savvy con­sumers have al­ready twigged to the com­pletely re­designed Toy­ota Camry’s great value story, par­tic­u­larly the hy­brid model.

With a new base price of just $26,990 it costs $4,320 less than the 2011 ver­sion. And it of­fers more power and even bet­ter fuel econ­omy.

The Camry is the top-sell­ing in­ter­me­di­ate size sedan in Canada, and al­most 40 per cent of them are hy­brids. Toy­ota al­ready leads the auto in­dus­try in hy­brid avail­abil­ity, pro­duc­tion and sales (over two mil­lion glob­ally) and it’s as­tutely guid­ing this key mar­ket ad­van­tage to a new level of pop­u­lar­ity.

At the core of ev­ery Toy­ota hy­brid is its Syn­ergy Drive sys­tem. Re­fine­ments to the 2012 Camry Hy­brid in­clude a slightly larger and more pow­er­ful 2.5-litre 4-cylin­der gasoline engine. A more com­pact nickel-hy­dride bat­tery (which comes with en­hanced air cool­ing) and a repack­ag­ing of other com­po­nents al­low more cargo space in the trunk.

The new engine helps the hy­brid sys­tem achieve 200 horse­power, which is a 13-horse­power in­crease on the 2011 edition. The drive sys­tem is also no­tice­ably smoother in tran­si­tions be­tween its power sources and, best of all, more fuel-ef­fi­cient. Toy­ota claims a 39-per-cent im­prove­ment in city fuel con­sump­tion.

A new EV Drive mode, in ad­di­tion to an Eco mode, al­lows the Camry Hy­brid to be driven by the elec­tric mo­tor alone for up to 2.5 kilo­me­tres at lower speeds (be­low 40 kilo­me­tres per hour). It’s a very nice fuel-econ­omy fea­ture to have in slow-mov­ing traf­fic, and it can also be used in sit­u­a­tions where low-noise op­er­a­tion might be ben­e­fi­cial.

The new Camry Hy­brid comes in two trim lev­els, LE and XLE. The main up­grades on the XLE in­clude 17-inch al­loy wheels (ver­sus 16-inch steel on the LE), an eight-way power ad­justable driver’s seat, leather steer­ing wheel and shifter, Blue­tooth hands­free phone con­nec­tion and fog lights. These items also add weight, so there’s a slight in­crease in XLE fuel con­sump­tion.

My test Toy­ota Camry Hy­brid was the higher XLE trim with­out any op­tions. Its to­tal price (in­clud­ing PDI) be­fore taxes came to $30,690, which is lower than the start­ing price of most of its di­rect com­peti­tors.

Ex­ter­nally, the 2012 Camry has gone through a sub­tle re­design. Its front and rear have a slightly dif­fer­ent look, which in­cludes changes to the lighting. The roof sup­port pil­lars are less bulky and al­low bet­ter out­ward vi­sion. The Camry Hy­brid has some ad­di­tional aero trim and comes with unique badges with blue ac­cents to help iden­tify it as the eco-friendly ver­sion.

Inside, the roomy and com­fort­able cabin of­fers new seat fab­rics and an all­new dash, in­stru­ment clus­ter and cen­tre stack. There’s more char­ac­ter here than be­fore and it still has lots of handy stor­age places, in­clud­ing a gen­er­ously sized glove box. A leather-look cap on the dash­board gives it an up­scale ap­pear­ance and the hy­brid comes with a unique in­stru­ment clus­ter with ecodrive and fuel-con­sump­tion in­di­ca­tors.

The MI (multi-in­for­ma­tion) dis­play can graph­i­cally show fuel con­sump­tion in real time, as well as pow­er­train en­ergy flow. Rear-seat leg and head room are very good, and the split rear seat­back also folds down to re­veal a passthrough from the trunk. The smaller hy­brid-bat­tery pack, po­si­tioned be­hind the rear seat­back, al­lows more trunk space than in the pre­vi­ous Camry Hy­brid.

Built into the rear seat­back is a new air vent that feeds into the hy­brid bat­tery pack. It’s im­por­tant that this vent is not ac­ci­den­tally cov­ered by some­thing or some­one sit­ting in the left rear seat­ing po­si­tion, as a lack of air can cause the bat­tery to over­heat.

The Camry’s airbag count is now 10 (up from seven) and it has al­ready earned the top five-star over­all rat­ing un­der stricter new U.S. crash-test guide­lines. A front pas­sen­ger knee airbag and rear-seat side airbags are the new ad­di­tions.

Smoother, qui­eter and more pow­er­ful, the im­prove­ments made to the hy­brid pow­er­train will be rec­og­nized im­me­di­ately by pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Camry Hy­brid own­ers. It’s so slick that I found my­self check­ing the dis­play graphic in or­der to see what was hap­pen­ing un­der the hood. Even the auto stop-start fea­ture seemed to be more fluid in op­er­a­tion.

With out­stand­ing fuel ef­fi­ciency and top-notch safety fea­tures, the smoother and more pow­er­ful 2012 Toy­ota Camry Hy­brid is al­ready a win­ner.

Inside, the roomy and com­fort­able cabin of­fers new seat fab­rics and an all-new dash, in­stru­ment clus­ter and cen­tre stack. There’s more char­ac­ter here than be­fore and it still has lots of handy stor­age places, in­clud­ing a gen­er­ously sized glove box.

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