2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE. Click image to enlarge

Toyota is coy about total system torque but the effect of the electric motor is quite noticeable and a bit disquieting. Get a little too aggressive on the accelerator and the Camry will reward you with loudly chirping tires; exercise the car’s cornering ability and the hard compound low rolling resistance Michelin tires wail as they reach their limits. I found myself switching to Eco mode, just so I could leave a stop light in a civilized manner (and wishing for better traction. A good set of snow tires would be essential in our climate).

As on the previous Camry Hybrid, Eco mode optimizes throttle response and air conditioning output to prioritize maximum fuel efficiency. New with the 2012 Camry Hybrid is EV mode, a feature found in most Toyota Hybrids today, that will allow the Camry Hybrid to be driven exclusively on electric power at low speeds for about two and a half minutes. It is intended for creeping silently around parking lots and scaring people.

Realizing that, Toyota has equipped the Camry Hybrid with an audible vehicle approach notice system that alerts those around the Camry Hybrid to its presence when it’s being driven in electric-only mode.

The Camry Hybrid looks (except for some Hybrid specific trim), feels and drives like any other Camry. Ignore the hybrid information on the trip display or on the large 7-inch AVN monitor and one wouldn’t know this Camry is a hybrid. So transparent are the transitions between gasoline engine on and off that you can’t really feel when the transition occurs and driving under electric-only power feels much the same as under gasoline power.

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE (photo by James Bergeron). Click image to enlarge

For the first time the Camry Hybrid is available in two trim levels – LE and XLE. Considering the entry level price for a 2011 Camry Hybrid was $31,310, the 2012 Camry LE Hybrid with a price tag of just $26,900 greatly expands the market for this car and comes nicely equipped with such features as tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, dual zone automatic climate control, 6-speaker audio with USB audio input, power door locks and windows, keyless entry and smart key with push button start.

The XLE adds, for $28,990, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; power adjustable driver’s seat; fog lamps; aluminum alloy wheels with wheel locks, upgraded audio system with 6.1-in. colour display and auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass.

The XLE can be further upgraded with a Moonroof Package ($31,800) or Leather and Premium Audio Package ($34,510). Our Cypress Pearl test vehicle included the latter, which adds garage door opener, power moonroof, 7-in. AVN monitor with navigation system, backup camera and 10-speaker premium JBL audio system, anti-theft system, glass breakage sensor, heated front seats and leather-trimmed seating.

With UltraSuede inserts and some leather-like seat trim, there really isn’t a whole lot of leather, but the two-tone ivory interior with wood and metallic trim, coupled with a variety of different textures (including the UltraSuede inserts) makes the Camry cabin a much brighter place than it once was. I particularly like how the side trim on the centre stack is wrapped in material, soft should your knee rest against it, and the stitched leather-like dash cover.

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