The Toyota Camry Hybrid is such a well-known commodity that each new generation brings with it the expectation of, well, more Camry-ness. More of the stubbornly consistent formula that has made it thoroughly innocuous and also the best-selling car (pickups excluded) in the United States for 15 years straight: a roomy cabin, a floaty ride, solid fuel economy, reliability that would make the Maytag repairman envious, and driving character so bland it gives vanilla a bad name.
But with this all-new eighth-generation model that is hitting the market now, Camry-ness takes a significant turn. Credit Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who has decreed that all of the company’s new products be infused with a modicum of stylistic passion and driving verve—far be it from us to argue—so the Camry has received a major overhaul, including a new platform, more aggressive styling, and vastly improved driving dynamics.
Inside and out, the new XLE gives off a premium vibe foreign to Camrys of yore. Built on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), the 2018 Camry rides on a 2.0-inch-longer wheelbase and is about an inch and a half longer, an inch lower, and three-quarters of an inch wider. The resulting proportions and elegantly sloping roofline give it a more substantial, upscale look. Brightwork is delicately applied. But for the XLE’s unfortunate grimace of a front end, it almost could be mistaken for an entry-luxury sedan.
That impression is reinforced when you drop into the driver’s seat. Passenger space is virtually unchanged and glass area remains plentiful, so the cabin once again feels roomy, airy, and open. The interior materials, finishes, and design details are surprisingly rich. Our dark-brown XLE’s standard furnishings included quilted leather seats in a subtle, two-tone tan that reminded us of the chairs in more expensive sedans. Soft surfaces abound, and hard plastic trim pieces are well disguised.
The Toyota Camry hybrid facelift remains the same as the outgoing model in terms of the engine and the underpinnings. In the hybrid version, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine has been detuned to produce 160bhp and 213Nm of torque. The Hybrid Synergy System (electric motor and petrol mill working together) as Toyota has dubbed it takes the total output to 205bhp and 270Nm of torque. Power is sent to the front-wheels via a CVT gearbox.
There are three driving modes being offered with this engine- ECO, EV and standard mode. Thumb the starter button in any of the three modes and voila! There is no sound! It took quite a few attempts for all of us to realise that the electric motor had come on and that the vehicle was actually running.
In the Eco mode, the power delivery is a far more sedate and up to 55kmph or depending on throttle input, the car will travel only in electric mode after which its switches on the petrol motor. In the EV mode the car runs purely on electricity and is limited to a top speed of around 45kmph.
In standard mode: unhinge the foot-controlled parking brake as always, press the throttle and you are greeted by an instant wave of torque right from the word go. However, if you mash the throttle, then there is a rubber-band effect commonly associated with the CVTs when it comes to power delivery. The ICE, when running, also charges the batteries as does the process of regenerative braking.
There are no paddle shifters or manual shift option offered with the gearbox. The only extra feature you get is a ‘B’ mode to engine braking for some additional stopping power that seems to have been taken away due to the engine braking.
Efficiency wise, Toyota claims that the Camry Hybrid delivers 19.6km/l (ARAI figures), which is truly impressive for a car of this size. But what is exceptional here is that Toyota has managed to break all the barriers, and come out with a car that is smooth, luxurious, and possibly affordable.