At the new Camry's launch event in Florida last Fall, we were very surprised to hear the best-seller's recent powertrain sales mix. With such a gem of a 3.5-liter V6 available and pushing sprint times to the low 6's, that would be our choice Monday through Sunday.
And such a smooth and effortless hybrid available too, with almost no downsides except a very-slightly smaller trunk?
These two premium powertrains have recently each pulled just 10-percent of overall sales each, with the base four-cylinder hoovering up 80-percent of the overall mix. Surprising to us as auto enthusiasts, yes - that people would choose every option for comfort and style... except the one that makes the Camry a rocketship (V6) or a mileage champ (Hybrid)!
But this is what the market wants. And it is a testament to the smooth and relatively peppy feel of the base engine, of course. Toyota execs said that would gladly build as many V6s as dealers requested, so they are not setting these goals internally.
Another caveat is that 10-percent of Camry sales numbering 400,000 annually is still a big number of cars.
The big V6 will still be rare in the 2015 restyle, but we expect the portion of Hybrid takers to jump dramatically.
Why? It makes an excellent case for itself in all scenarios. Read on to learn how we struggled to find any problem areas in the Camry SE Hybrid over a 1000-mile road trip, but came up with three after much inspection.
Plus see the trims and colors in animated comparisons, compare Hybrid MPG stats as LE vs SE vs XLE, and learn the pricing of the 2015 Camry lineup.
The big news of the style front of the 2015 Camry Hybrid is that the green-tea-sipper is now available with the SE style theme. The SE and LE Camry's are vastly different from one another this year, so the previous strategy of the Hybrid wearing mild earth-tone colors and tiny wheels would always limit its uptake.
The Hybrid now comes in SE or LE trim grades, with the SE packing a fresh and sexy gloss-black nose where the LE wears a conservative grey grille, intake and bumper design.
This change also affects the handling tune, the cabin materials and colors, and the lip spoiler on the trunk of the SE Hybrid. Yes, we still have Hybrid badges on the trunk and flanks telling the world you care, and a blue-tinted Big T badge up front.
But what of these sexy multi-spoke alloys in a dark-ish titanium color?! Dual chrome-tipped exhausts? Gasp!
Our test SE Hybrid lacks the coolest (XSE and XLE-specific) LED headlights and LED fogs down below, but does have dark-tinted lamp shrouds and amber LED blinkers in the bumper.
Along with the sporty and convincing SE nose look, the SE Hybrid is indeed sporty-looking enough to feel comfortable in the fast lanes on I95. But with the new Hybrid setup and 200-horsepower engine up front, can it keep up with the DINAN M5 and Impreza WRX we paced en route to the sunshine state? See the Performance section below.
The cabin of the 2015 Camry SE Hybrid is perhaps the most univerally-easy and comfortable of any machine. In terms of winning driver and passenger kudos in the first block, the new Camry nails it. Good firm seats, lots of space, airy view outside, near-silent step-off and a much-improved sense of chassis rigidity.
Camry's have always felt solid, but this new 2015 model has dozens of reinforced welds in the subframe to make it stiffer and more resistant to flex. The extra rigidity actually allows the Camry to ride even smoother than ever, but it is also a bit of a handler this year, too.
We do not have the full-fat XSE style here with its tasteful hypersuede black fabrics and contrast-stitched seats, doors and dash. The SE Hybrid is half-sporty inside, you might say, with tan stretch-fabric on the seat-fronts and a dark material on the seatbacks. It feels pretty cool, but not offensive.
The new Camry is defined by its superior tech: new iMid screen in the gauges is extremely high-res and helpful, new touchscreen audio is standard, with the Nav upgrade highly recommended. Entune Audio Plus adds $615, or Entune Premium Audio with Navigation packs a thumping stereo from JBL along with map functions for $1300 over the base system. Satellite radio is a pricey $449 option, which seems steep.
With the new Entune, you can now have three panes of info vs just two before, showing Nav, music and climate simultaneously, for example.
MINI ISSUE #1
A new charging pad is fantastic with its $20 special phone case, but without that case, we came across a slight problem. The USB charge ports appear to be the 1-amp kind, not the 2.1-amp variety. This means it trickle-charged my iPhone 6 Plus. It would barely charge it at all: adding 1% battery life every 2 minutes or more. Slows-ville. Standard lighter jacks will work better for most people needing juice.
Tap one and it becomes a full-screen display. Press Home icon and all reverts back to your settings. It is foolproof, and responds with near-instant tap controls. No irritating button lag.
Toyota also makes big claims about the voice-recognition being vastly improved. We can vouch for the old system not understanding much at all. This new one is still a bit irksome, but learns your voice. If you help it by saying a few phrases via the Menu screen Help sections, it is actually really good. It gets full addresses in one fell swoop. No more yelling the state, city, house number and street one at a time, mercifully.
You'll want to use the voice-control because nav address inputs are locked out when the car is moving. (Side note: This could be disabled via sneaky button push sequences in 2014-model-year Toyota... but only for that session of driving. Nanny comes back when car is restarted.)
Yes, even in the dark it was clear: our Camry SE Hybrid was the same shade of Swedish Racing Purple as the previously-mentioned M5 and WRX. It is also, funnily enough, a dead ringer for one of the 2015 Ford Mustang colors....
Toyota calls this SE-exclusive shade Blue Crush, by the way, not my above nickname.
A new Special Edition Camry coming in August has a slightly tweaked and extra-metallic version of this shade available exclusively, called Blue Streak Metallic.
CAMRY SE COLORS
So, how does the Camry SE Hybrid do at high speeds, when its city-optimized regenerative brakes are not used much? The car is amazing at speed. Like it has almost no rolling resistance whatsoever. Versus my personal SUbaru, the drivetrain of any Camry feels incredibly silky and like it will coast for miles where the Subie would self-slow itself rapidly.
This comes from a total focus on rolling refinement, aerodynamic optimization and cabin calmness in the Camry SE Hybrid. Even at 80-mph-plus speeds, the Camry SE Hybrid rides very, very smoothly and quietly. The SE has an ever-so-slightly more firm shock setup, but you would never need the LE just to avoid big suspension jabs. The SE is still a smoothie over bumps.
Power is respectable on full throttle, with the engine ringing itself to redline enthusiastically. Only the eco-meter in the dash spoils the fun: it lets you know your throttle usage is sapping power rather than regenerating or conserving it. But whatever, this is the SE. Outta-my-way!
Even driven like this, the Camry SE Hybrid is almost surreal in its efficiency. 400-plus-miles per tankful seem to go on forever. It just uses no fuel. Driven gently on the highway, scores of 37-mpg are realistic at 80mph. That is damn good.
Driven more aggressively, the MPG average can tumble to about 33-35-mph. But even deliverate hooning over a 20-mile test stretch, with throttle constantly floored, we could not achieve less than 31-mpg. (A recent Escalade in similar test? MPG average of 3. Yes, three miles per gallon.)
SURPRISE AND DELIGHT!
The SE Hybrid really feels playful and sporty, with very-good grip and handling balance around fast sweepers and on-ramps. The extra weight of the battery in back helps the car feel more planted than the base Camry, which always feels extra light on its feet. The V6 is much more nose-heavy in its maneuvers, with big understeer.
So it is fun and pretty quick at about 8.0-seconds to 60-mph. This is quicker than the base four-cylinder, by the way, and about 10-mpg better all the time. In urban city driving, the Camry SE Hybrid delivered about 39-mpg in real-world use. This compares well with the SE Hybrid's EPA rating of 40/38.
MINI ISSUE #2
We liked Eco mode because it makes the steering and throttle heavier and more sporty, which was an unexpected benefit.
Oddly, the Camry SE Hybrid in both normal and Eco modes is very susceptible to crosswinds. In a stormy drive, the car is blown around pretty dramatically. It needs frequent steering corrections with any wind or weather, which is odd versus its planted feel when the sky is calm. We checked tire pressures in the iMID screen, but all was normal. Just a quirk.
|Mileage estimates (mpg city/highway/combined) 2||40/38/40||43/39/41||40/38/40|
|starting msrp 1||$27,995||$26,790||$29,980|
So, the third mini issue, if you will, is that the Hybrid is pricey. Available in LE, SE or XLE, the Hybrid adds about $3500 to the cost of the Camry. This feels worthwhile because it is quicker and much more efficient, but we can see how some buyers might question the value proposition of costlier monthly payments.
2.5 L 4-cyl.
Camry Hybrid LE
2.5L 4-cyl. Hybrid
Camry Hybrid SE
2.5L 4-cyl. Hybrid
Camry Hybrid XLE
2.5L 4-cyl. Hybrid
Truly, to find those three slight issues with the SE required days of study. We thought there was no external trunk release and were thrilled to have something to mention.... but then found it. That is the kind of perfection we are talking about in all Camry's. Struggling to find anything they might improve.
A mark of a good car? Perhaps.
But as 400,000 people a year will agree, the near-perfect Camry is not just a good car. It is the best car around.
The 2015 sweeteners of cooler style, more trim choice and better cabin tech only makes the Camry even better than ever. It is an exceptional machine.