First off, game over. Hybrid has beaten Diesel. At least for passenger cars. The VW debacle has pretty much snuffed the light out for diesel cars as your super-efficient way to motor around. And with the departure of our dear departed Diesel, expect to start seeing more hybrids.
Hybrids ‘R Us.
So, it makes sense to see what Toyota’s up to. Especially since they pretty much owned the tech for a long time, and made Prius and Hybrid a household word.
And no, this isn’t a Prius test, because there’s a brand-new Camry for 2018, and after having a ball with the 301 hp XSE V6 model, we were interested to see if the hybrid model could enjoy as much of a transformation as the XSE model did.
No More Hand-me Down Threads
First thing you notice, the Camry Hybrid is handsome. While the whole line up of Camrys is much sportier and evocative, the Hybrids have always seemed a little dowdy, and rolled on skinny wheels and tires. They seemed to cry out “Look at me, I’m cheap”.
No more. Our SE model looked sporty and aggressive, and if it didn’t have hybrid badging, you might not even know. Being an SE, we get some sporty looks thanks to a mesh front grille and tasty 18-inch alloy wheels. This along with LED headlights and taillights, color-keyed sport rocker panels, rear spoiler and chrome exhaust tip. Done up in Ruby Flare Pearl, our tester turned heads.
Sporty, Comfy, Smart
Inside, the Hybrid is typical ’18 Camry – roomy, comfortable and fitted with nice materials. The SE feels ready to play with Sport seats with fabric inserts an 8-way power driver seat, a chunky, leather-wrapped 3-spoke wheel and paddle shifters.
The gauges are familiar, with clear and round displays of speedo and charge/eco/power indicator replacing the tachometer. In between a 4.2-inch Multi-info display trip computer. In the middle of the sweeping S-shaped dash, an 8-inch touchscreen for info-tainment display which our tester added navi and hand Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charge on the sliding tray below.
This is a spacious interior, and those riding in the back enjoy impressive stretch-out room as well. Our tester’s fold down rear seat and pass through giving loads of room for longer items.
Pretty much everything so far is standard fare for the new Camry, but the Hybrid drive is something different altogether. With a combined 208 hp courtesy of 2.5-liter 4 cylinder and 118 horse electric motor, there’s plenty of power, and the CVT transmission is smooth and efficient if not overly sporty. More important to those that buy hybrids, we averaged 40 mpg in our time with the Camry, and considering we have a heavier foot than many, that’s very impressive.
Equally impressive is the safety equipment. The Toyota Safety Sense-P included Pre-collision with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist.
They all work flawlessly together, and when you’re talking family sedan, you can’t beat a strong feeling of protection that you get from leading-edge safety gear.
Which also lets you kick back and enjoy that stellar fuel efficiency.
There’s a more relaxed feel to the drive – even though off-the-line is spirited, especially in Sport Mode, and the system is happy to shut off the gas engine and let you cruise along on whisper silent E-power on street and freeway. It adds up to a luxurious feel – with almost no outside noise as you waft along.
Like the XSE model we tested recently, this is a much happier chassis when you ask it to play. Steering feel is good, the ride is controlled but connected and it’s an enjoyable companion on a twisty road, and a confident one on on- and off-ramps.
We did have on small gripe – the brakes. At low speeds, they’re very grabby. Each time we’d get in, there would be that first time when you tap on the binders and they hook in like a toddler on a parental leg. The accompanying lurch doesn’t do much to impress passengers or passersby. Once you remember to ease the pedal it’s much better, and thankfully, the grabbiness only occurs at very low speed.
Most Valuable Player
The Camry Hybrid also strikes us as a smart buy.
While your most basic Camry starts at $23, 495, the Hybrid line starts at $27,800 for a well-equipped LE model. Rolling on 16-inch steel wheels and aimed for maximum efficiency – it has a EPA combined MPG of 52 vs our SE models 46 – it’s a nice big sedan with a nice blend of features including the same standard safety gear of our SE.
OK, we’re not nice. We want a little sporty flair, so we’d plunk down for the SE model. Our tester started at $29,500, and included all the nice bits from 18’-alloy wheels and sport body kit, to the sporty seats and fabric, and added convenience features.
Our tester also has a nice layer of options, including Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert ($600), Ruby Flare Pearl Paint ($395), Power Moonroof ($900), Audio Package with Navi and Qi-Compatible Wireless Charging ($1080), add in the Convenience Package ($325), Rear Bumper Applique ($69), and Carpet/Trunk Mat Set ($224) and Destination Fee ($895) and our tester totaled up at $33,988.
For those who want all the goodies, there’s also the leather-lined XLE trim that starts at $32,250.
For comparison, the all-new Honda Accord also offers a Hybrid model, starting at $25,100. We loaded one up to $31,600, but there were some features we couldn’t put on the Accord that were on our SE, so we’ll just say they seem to be very closely priced.
The all-new 2018 Camry is another member of the already-impressive Camry family. We love that you can have aggressive sporty looks, a nice driving experience and get an easy 40+ mpg all in one enjoyable 4-door family sedan.
The 2018 Camry SE Hybrid is like having your cake, and eating it too.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.
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