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This week I’m driving a race car! That’s right, all you NASCAR fans of course watched the Daytona 500 this past weekend right? The Toyota Camry won the historic Daytona 500 and so this week is the perfect week for me to get behind the wheel of the 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid: a pure race car at heart.

Maybe that is a little far fetched I suppose, highlighting the silliness that NASCAR vehicle branding has become [always been – Ed]. But the Camry Hybrid is surprisingly quick for an ECO friendly vehicle while still offering excellent fuel economy in a familiar mid-sized sedan package.

With a starting price of $29,235 the Camry Hybrid is also affordable. My tester is an top of the line XLE model of course so it does not really have the value proposition that one may be searching for in a Camry at over $36,000 — but it does offer a lot of features you would expect in a vehicle in this price range.

Those features include such items as: leather seating with heated front seats and power-adjustable front seats, radar-guided cruise control, navigation, moonroof, dual-zone climate control, lane-departure warning, blind spot detection, reverse camera and a ton more.

In the mid-sized category the Camry is a major player and the Hybrid option makes it appealing to even those looking for that transition to electric without having to give up range or the familiar styling. Hopefully the cold winter weather doesn’t dampen my fuel savings too much.

Model: 2016 Camry Hybrid XLE
Pricing: $36,135
Options: None
Freight: $1,690
A/C Tax: $100
Price as Tested: $37,925

Honda Accord Hybrid
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Kia Optima Hybrid
Ford Fusion Hybrid
Chevrolet Volt
Toyota Prius

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The big loss with the Camry Hybrid is the split-folding rear-seats. While competitors have figured it out now, Toyota has not yet updated their chassis and battery location to accommodate the batteries under the seats, this means the batteries are behind the rear seats resulting in the loss of those fold down rear seats for larger objects. That said the trunk is still fair sized for a sedan, a handle to close the trunk would be nice though.

The back seats are generous as well, although the rear doors do cut into the opening slightly making it a little more difficult to exit the backseat than to enter it. Once inside though the seats are comfortable and there is a lot of head, leg and shoulder room making this a great family vehicle or friend hauler.

Of course I tend not to spend very much time in the backseats and neither do owners of cars, right? So the front seats are what are important and again, they are supportive and very comfortable. I usually like the cloth seats that Toyota uses but these leather seats are also well done, not too hard and not too cold it seems in the frigid weather. The seats do heat up quickly the the adjustable seat heater adjustment and I like the manual knob oppose to a digital switch, this way I can just leave that seat heater at a desirable temperature all winter.

The gauge cluster is a little bit different in the hybrid. No tachometer is present, but instead a “Power” gauge is used which moves from “charging” through “ECO” into “Power.” If you drive the Camry Hybrid like any normal car you should stay in ECO most of the time. Of course if you really put your foot into it you will enter the power mode, which sets the engine to maximum output and also uses the battery drive for assistance. This isn’t the most economical way to drive, which means poorer fuel economy.

The infotainment system also offers an ECO “APP” which allows you to monitor your fuel economy per trip as well as providing a power flow animation. This shows you where the power is coming and going within the power-train. IE: Gas engine to wheels, Gas engine to battery, battery to wheels, or a combination of any of these.

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It is kind of funny: I drive so many crossovers that I start to feel like they handle pretty darn well. But then I step into an average family sedan and it feels like an outright sports car. Even on winter tires the Camry feels more nimble than one would expect, almost, dare I say it, fun to drive!

The first thing I did this morning as I headed out on the snow covered roads was look for the hand brake to have a little sliding fun. Of course I was somewhat disappointed to realize there wasn’t one, but a foot operated emergency brake — but hey that’s better than an electronically controlled brake as I stepped on the pedal quickly to snatch the brake and quickly again to disengage, it’s almost even more fun as it poses more of a challenge.

I guess what I am saying is if I can have fun in this car it isn’t the wet noodle that some make it out to be just because it’s a hybrid. The surprises do not end there as the power train really is surprising. The electric motors really enhance the torque curve of the engine, resulting in very quiet operation even when accelerating briskly.

The power delivery is smooth and effortless despite only having 200 hp and the CVT transmission that is usually despised in all forms works in this car remarkably well.

In the city the Camry Hybrid spends a lot of its time in EV mode running on battery alone. Once you climb over 79 km/h the engine runs but is barely perceptible. Out on the highway the Camry is also whisper silent, the only noise that can be heard is the hum of the aforementioned winter tires — I’m confident the ride would be nearly silent on the standard low rolling resistant all-seasons.

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I really enjoyed my week with the Camry. Not a vehicle that I would have thought I would be sad to see go, but it was efficient, smooth quiet and comfortable, pretty much everything you want in a daily driver.

It handled really well and had a ton of grip with the mounted Blizzaks in the snow as well which made it quite capable on some tricky roads.

Fuel Economy
Exterior Styling

It was pretty cold this week, Hybrid or not this week was probably 10-20 percent less fuel efficient than on a warmer week. I averaged 7.3 L/100 km over the week, I noticed that it actually improved when I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic dropping down to 7.1 L/100 km.

But as I got clear road and sailed off at 120 km/h the average slowly climbed back up. Clearly the Hybrid’s advantage is at slower speeds where the battery is capable of assisting much more than it does on the highway.

Either way, I feel the fuel economy result was great for the temperatures we dealt with this week and with the type of driving I was doing. Overall I will put the Camry Hybrid on my list of cars that meet or exceed most of my expectations and a car I would be happy to own.

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