2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE: Comfortable, familiar–and very economical

26 Mar 2014 | 1,697 views | No Comment
    By Don Hammonds Okay. Let's say you're shopping for a hybrid family sedan. We will assume, for purposes of discussion, that you're not sitting on a pile of money, so we're eliminating the luxury hybrid sedans.  We will also not include either the Kia or Hyundai  hybrid sedans, which don't get nearly the mileage that our two top hybrid family sedans are able to achieve.          The bottom line is that you mainly  have two high gasoline mileage options.  One is of course, Ford's popular Fusion Hybrid, a four wheeled vanguard of the future of the automobile.       The other is the subject of this review, Toyota's tried, tested and true Camry Hybrid.  Last year, this we got an almost unbelievable 71 miles per gallon out of a 2013 Camry Hybrid, which astounded even the staff at Toyota. More on that later.      So how do you decide which one should be parked in your driveway? Depends largely on youor personal tastes, frankly. Both are terrific products.  But it's hard for us to imagine that buyers of either brand would be all that comfortable with the alternative, and that's because each of these two  cars is likely to appeal to a very specific segment of the mid-sized market.        The Fusion Hybrid of course, has so many gee whiz features and mouth dropping technical tricks that it will make your head spin.  And then there's that knock yous socks off styling.  Cool, huh? We think so! And yes, it's a formidable competitor in the mid-sized family car market.       Yet... is all that "Car of the Future" stuff scaring the beejeebers out of you?  Is Ford Fusion Hybrid's sexy, muscular,  fastback look just a little too fast for you? Does the sporty handling and firmer ride discomfit you, too?        That's where the Toyota Camry Hybrid comes in. It's tough to think of a more comforting, nurturing car than the Camry Hybrid XLE, which, as tested, had a price of $31,483.  Driving this car is as predictable as spring following winter. All the controls are just where you expect them to be. The interior is comfortable and roomy.  Steering has improved, and the car wanders far less than Camry's used to back in the day.The fit and finish is solid.   So,  Camry Hybrid will soothe you, ease your mind and give you way less stress than just about any mid-sized vehicle on the market.       The styling is pleasant, and resembles sedan design philosophy that has been around for ages.  Nothing wrong with that--and Camry sales make that point better than anything we could say.  Moreover, the Camry is built like a tank and tomb quiet inside and out, and then there's the reliability story.  It's real, and it's  a huge point in Camry's favor.       And apparently, Consumer Reports, the respected consumer guide, agrees with that view.  The esteemed magazine predicts that the Camry Hybrid's performance and reliablity will be "much better than average" for a new car, while Ford Fusion Hybrid's rating is "much worse than average" in terms of new car reliability.       In case you're wondering, the Hyundai Sonata's hybrid model is rated "average" in terms of reliability, as is the Kia Optima Hybrid.        So score knockouts for Camry Hybrid against all those cars when it comes to reliability.         Then, the icing on the Camry Hybrid cake is the incredible mileage story I referenced above.  Somehow, in a stretch of urban "mixed driving of stop and go traffic and motorng through unclogged streets,and rarely going over 25 miles per hour, we managed to get 71 miles per gallon on our 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid. "Excellent!!" cheered the econominder gauge on the car. No kidding!
Actually, what happened was this: We had driven back to our home base of Pittsburgh from Zelienople, a little town about an hour away from the city.
We had the cruise control on and the car was in the "econ" mode. We finished that stretch of travel with about 45 miles per gallon. When we hit town--remember--our economy gauge read "45 miles per gallon"---we ran into traffic, which was crawling at a rate of 20 miles per hour.
Now. Camry Hybrid is designed to run exclusively on electric power (EV mode) at speeds of about 25 and under, and that's just what this car did. We continued to drive, finally hitting smooth, unclogged streets. When we turned off the car some 30 minutes later, the gauge read: 71 miles per gallon" since starting the trip.
Needless to say, we were astonished. But we think several things made a difference. First we stayed within speed limits, and there were no jackrabbit starts from traffic lights or stop signs. We used cruise control when possible and had the car's system operating on "Eco" mode.
     By the way, the annual fuel bill on the 2014 version of the Camry Hybrid is estimated at $1,300 is estmated at $1,388 based on 15,000 miles of driving at $3.55 a gallon.
 In fact, at no time during which we had the 2012 Camry Hybrid did it fail to exceed gasoline mileage of 40/38 miles per gallon.
 It always did so, quietly, efficiently, and still with a good measure of driving enjoyment to boot.
Our silver 2014 Camry Hybrid XLE test car base a six speaker system, full ppower accessories, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, eight way adjustable power drivers seat, cruise control, Bluetooth, alloy wheels,  electric power steering,  6.1 inch nav screen, center armed rest with cupholders,  and a host of other features.
     Options included inthe price was a Displauy Audio system with navigatin and Toyota's easy to use Entune infotainment system, stellite radio, music streaming via Bluetooth, a host of statonis that offer information from sports and stocks to theater and weather; a convenience package, integrated backup camera and still more.
     So how did it perform? Pretty decent, actually.
It has a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine as part of its hybrid synergy drive system, and aceleration was really quite brisk. Moreover, the Camry Hybrid has some tremendous handling improvements. With the electric steering system the car doesn't waver, nor does the steering need lots of correction as did prior Camrys. Handling has been tightened up considerably, and has become sharper around corners and more stable overall.
The new Camry Hybrid, like other new Camry models, has much better interior material, better presentation and much better fit and finish for starters.
     Our main issue for Camry is that it's falling further and further behind when it comes to styling and design.  When you get into a market where everyone's cars have basically the same equipment and level of safety, fit and finish, things get down to how you feel about the car emotionally.  Does it really turn you on visually and sensually?
      On  that score, Camry still has a way to go--and we're saying that knowing full well that the car was just refreshed a year or two ago, and knowing that Toyota has a five year cycle give or take, before it replaces its aging models.  That's going to be way too long for Camry to soldier on with the same basic design.
        We hope that Toyota can do the same thing that it did with big brother Avalon--sexy up the Camry with a more up to date look.
        Until that happens,  Camry--whether you're talking about the gasoline version or the hybrid one-- is going to have an uphill market fight in a year or two  unless things change.
 The big news in safety is Safety Connect, an OnStar like system that provides roadside assisstance, a stolen car locator system, and automatic collision notification among other things. Otherwise, it's pretty much like most cars out there. Traction and stability control, plenty of airbags, anti-lock brakes, etc.
In terms of interesting technology, the display audio with Navigation Entune takes precedence here. It includes an eight speaker system, subwoofer and amplifier, USB port with iPod connectivity, hands free phone capability, Bluetooth technoplogy, advanced voice recognition, customizible text responses, music streaming with Bluetooth and other features are included. It's easy to use and one of the best in the business.

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