Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE toyota car test drives reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE. Click image to enlarge

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry XLE
Test Drive: 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Manufacturer’s web site
Toyota Canada

Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

Photo Gallery:
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Second Opinion: by Chris Chase

Several years ago, we ran an in-depth comparison of the Lexus GS 450h Hybrid and the Chrysler 300C to prove a point (and to have a lot of fun) that a Hemi could be fuel efficient if driven fuel consciously and that a hybrid could kick a Hemi’s butt on the drag strip if driven without any thought at all for fuel consumption.

While we wanted to demonstrate that how a car is driven affects how much fuel is consumed (and quite dramatically), we also wanted to show that V8s are way more fuel efficient than they once were, while hybrids should not be thought of as, you know, slow.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE toyota car test drives reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE. Click image to enlarge

In fact hybrids have moved into the mainstream of automotive transportation with most manufacturers offering one or more hybrids. At one time, Toyota had a lock on the hybrid sedan market with its Prius and Camry hybrids, but in the past few years, the Camry has been challenged by the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu Eco, Nissan Altima Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid and a variety of luxury hybrids competing with hybrids from Toyota’s Lexus brand.

For 2012, the Toyota Camry and Camry Hybrid have been redesigned, with new interior and exterior styling, more horsepower and improved fuel economy. The gasoline-powered Camry is available with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine in the LE, SE and XLE models, and a 3.5-litre V6 in the SE V6 and XLE V6. All Camry models with the revised 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine now offer 178 horsepower, and 170 lb.-ft. of peak torque. Fuel efficiency numbers are 8.2L/100 km city, 5.6L/100 km highway, and 7L/100 km combined. 

The Camry Hybrid uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder with Hybrid Synergy Drive system and continuously variable transmission (CVT), and comes in LE and XLE trim lines. It is a full hybrid, capable of running on its battery alone.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE toyota car test drives reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE. Click image to enlarge

Like the 2.4-litre it replaces, the new 2.5-litre engine uses the Atkinson cycle – delayed intake-valve closing for an expansion ratio greater than compression ratio – to achieve maximum efficiency.  Other efficiency improvements – new water-cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system, reducing internal losses in the transaxle, improving motor-voltage control, and optimizing regenerative braking – add up to a 30 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency and a boost in overall system power from 187 hp to 200 hp.

The 2011 Toyota Camry had an Energuide rating of 5.7 L/100 km for both city and highway driving, while the 2012 Camry Hybrid LE is rated at 4.5 L/100 km in the city and 4.9 on the highway, 4.7 L/100 km and 5.1 L/100 km for the XLE.

My real world experience was not as good – 6.5 L/100 km – employing normal driving behaviour: no excessive speed and no excessive efforts to save fuel. The disparity is quite large but still considerably better than the Energuide combined L/100 km rating for either the 2.5-litre gasoline (7.0) or 3.5-litre V6 (8.2) Toyota Camry.

While 13 horsepower might not seem like much, when coupled to a high-torque electric motor, the 2.5-litre 4 cylinder launches the Camry forward like a sport sedan. Acceleration is linear and unrelenting. I was reminded of the powerful Accord Hybrid that Honda sadly quit building a few years ago – a remarkable rush from a most unlikely source.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE toyota car test drives reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews
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.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE toyota car test drives reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews
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.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE toyota car test drives reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews
Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE toyota car test drives reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE. Click image to enlarge

Exclusive exterior and interior design touches and badging differentiate the Hybrid from other Camry models. Inside, Hybrid-exclusive trim is found on the instrument panel and door switch bases, upper console panels and shift knob. The Camry Hybrid also features its own exclusive seat fabric in ivory or ash and a Hybrid-specific gauge cluster. A three-dial Optitron gauge panel with chrome-accented outer rings is unique to the Hybrid and provides a wealth of information to assist drivers to improve fuel efficiency. However the three little tabs that digitally display outside temperature and gear selection, odometer and trip information are not very imaginative and remind me of the popup numbers on an antique cash register.

The Camry Hybrid cabin is a bright and airy place with great visibility in all directions. And it is incredibly quiet. While the tranquility provides a good background for the premium JBL audio system, it can also amplify what little noise does intrude, in this case the sound of those rock hard Michelin tires slapping the pavement.

For the 2012 model year Toyota revised the Camry suspension to improve ride comfort and handling. A more rigid body structure, revised front suspension and redesigned rear suspension are intended to help the new Camry with straight-line stability and steering response, while also enhancing overall ride comfort.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE toyota car test drives reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE. Click image to enlarge

Handling has noticeably improved over the previous generation. The car may surprise you at how quickly it will navigate a freeway ramp. It feels confident, steering is crisp and there is stability control to keep you inline unless you exceed the laws of physics. The ride is comfortable and a bit on the soft side, as one would expect from Toyota, but when I’m riding in the Camry I get the feeling of being suspended between the front and rear wheels and not firmly planted between them. The chassis feels flexible and transmits a variety of jiggles and wiggles through to the seat of your pants. Maybe it’s those low rolling resistance tires again. Maybe it’s more than that.

On safety, the Camry can’t be faulted. Stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and Smart Stop Technology are all standard active safety features. As well, the Camry is equipped with a class leading 10 airbags – dual stage driver and passenger front airbag, front seat-mounted side airbag, front and rear side curtain airbags, rear seat side airbags and driver and front passenger knew airbags, a first in its class.

The redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid displayed excellent power, good fuel economy, transparent transitions between engine on and engine off and the look and feel of any other Camry. Acceleration and handling proved to be better than expected, while ride comfort suffered due to a jiggly suspension and hard compound low rolling resistance tires. With an entry price of just $26,990 (LE), the Camry Hybrid is at last within reach of most family car buyers.

Pricing: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Base Price LE: $26,990
Base Price XLE: $28,990
Options: $5,520 (Leather and Premium Audio Package (10-speaker Premium JBL Audio, 7-in. AVN monitor, garage door opener, power moonroof, navigation system, backup camera, anti-theft system, glass breakage sensor, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, heated front seats, leather-trimmed ultra suede upholstery)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,490
Price as Tested: $36,100

Specifications
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Competitors
2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid
2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
2012 Kia Optima Hybrid
2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid