So last year when Toyota launched its second hybrid model in Indiathe made-in-India Camry HybridI was hopeful that the car would give the Skoda Superb a run for its money. After all, Toyota priced the Camry Hybrid below the psychological level of R30 lakh and closer to what you pay for the Superb diesel. But that didnt quite happen. The Superb remains the largest selling car in its segment and, after the facelift, looks fresh.
With Honda Accord now discontinued, Volkswagen Passat rumoured to be so, and both Nissan Teana and Hyundai Sonata not selling much, the Camry Hybrid, because of its exclusivity, remains the only strong contender in the Superbs area of dominance. We find out which of these two is a better car Or at least better value for money in the Indian context
Is hybrid a new phenomenon
It was more than a century ago that the first hybrid was developedthe Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid made by Ferdinand Porsche was the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle in the world. But, back then, or even until the 1980s, there was no need to invest in hybrid R&D because of the low cost of petroleum (thus low cost of running vehicles) and comparatively little environmental consciousness. Then the times started to change. And the planets favourite hybridthe Priustook birth. Interestingly, the Prius went on sale in Japan on December 10, 1997, a day before Kyoto (December 11, 1997). (Toyota Prius review: http://goo.gl/AaoACK)
Toyota Camry Hybrid
What works against the Camry Hybrid is its appearance. But for a badging on the sides and a blue Toyota logo, it looks exactly like the regular Camry. Yes, it is a large car but it doesnt come across as the most identifiable designs on the road.
The Hybrid System Indicator on the meter gives a sense of superior technology. Then, the windshield is an acoustic glass that absorbs wind noise. Both the front powered seats are ventilatedcool air flows through micro vents on the cushion and back support to remove moisture. But, unlike the Prius, you dont get a head-up displaywhich projects driving information on the lower part of the windshield, minimising eye movement.
Because this car would primarily be chauffeur-driven, Toyota has made the rear seat as cosy as possible. In fact, calling the rear area a seat would be an understatementit is a sofa instead, one that can be reclined! The rear armrest allows you to control rear windshield sunshade, audio system, AC and you get a 12V power socket. There are assist grips fitted on the back of front seats that ensure easy ingress and egress. At the touch of a button, the rear passenger can slide the front passenger seat according to his convenience.
From standstill until you gradually reach about 40 kmph, there is no sound from the carthe reason, it runs exclusively on the electric motor. Floor the accelerator and the petrol engine comes to life, and in conjunction with the electric motor, it literally shoots the car aheadthe 2.5-litre petrol engine and the electric motor together generate an output of 205 PS. When you, say, approach a traffic signal and press the brakes, the regenerative braking system turns the cars kinetic energy into electric energy and charges the batteries. On a complete stop at the traffic signal, the petrol engine shuts off but the electric motor remains on, ensuring the cars AC is running, without unnecessary fuel consumption and emissions associated with idling. The certified mileage for this 1,625-kg car is an impressive 19.16 kmpldriving around Delhi, we got a maximum of 17 kmpl.
Skoda Superb diesel
Although the Superb is not exactly stunning, you will appreciate its timeless design. The recent facelift has given the Superb a completely new front and rear, yet the elements of the Skoda brand are visible: clear lines, elegant feel and balanced proportions. The front gets new grille, headlamps, bumpers and bonnet. At the rear, the new tail-lamps look pretty.
Skoda claims that the Superb offers the largest luggage compartment and the most legroom for rear passengers in its segment. You have 565 litres of boot capacity, expandable to a huge 1,700 litres with the rear seats completely folded. In the boot, there are interesting touches such as two foldable hooks that help keep your shopping bags upright and six load-anchoring points that allow you to secure larger baggage. Rear passengers can access the luggage compartment by lowering the centre armrest and using the access hatch provided. For front passengers, a nice touch is the diffused footwell lighting, which enhances visibility in the cabin floor area without interfering with the drivers vision.
The Superb has a cosseting feature for rear passengersit is the only car in its class that comes with an ergonomically angled lounge step for your feet. The rear seat armrest, though not as futuristic as the Camrys, comes with a storage compartment and retractable cup holders with adjustable grippers. The rear AC vents are placed on the B-pillars of the car and the rear centre console displays the outside temperature and time.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine powering the Superb produces a maximum output of just 140 PS, but dont be fooled by the numbers. On an open road, just as you press the accelerator, the engine growls and the car effortlessly picks up speedthe real shove comes past 2,000 rpm, and it pulls through rapidly from there on. The Superb, in fact, is an excellent combination of good body control in corners and composed poise at high speeds. It also comes with a dual-clutch DSG gearbox that changes gears faster than any other geared transmission. The certified mileage for this 1,644-kg car is a decent 17.2 kmpldriving around Delhi, we got a maximum of 14 kmpl.
A superb story
Apparently, it was Czech president Milos Zeman, embarrassed at having to use a German car for his official duties, who prompted Prague to initiate plans for a top saloon to slot in above the medium range Octavia. What the president originally wanted was a stretched Octavia, but since the Octavia, in a way, is already a stretched version of the smaller Volkswagen Golf, creating a limousine out of it was asking a bit much. However, what could be provided was a stretched Volkswagen Passat. And such a vehicle had already been created for the Chinese market. All the Czechs then had to do was to Skoda-ise it. Thats how the modern Superb was born.
For R29.1 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Camry Hybrid doesnt come cheap. Remember, in Indian traffic conditions, you dont get that good a fuel-efficiency to offset your high buying costs. And, unlike the Prius, the Camry Hybrid doesnt come across as the most identifiable designs on the road. But yes, by owning a Camry Hybrid, you are at least contributing to cleaner air in your city and setting a benchmark for others. And because it is a Toyota, you can be assured of unbeatable reliability and better after-sales service.
However, the Superb diesel, from R23.07 lakh to R24.8 lakh, is clearly better value-for-money. Agreed, the Superb is not as technologically advanced, but it feels like a full-fledged limothe new design is more up-market, the cabin cosseting and the DSG gearbox ensures it is more fun to drive. If you can ignore Skodas alleged poor after-sales service, the Superb is a better car to buy. And in certain rare conditions, the Superb can also prove to be the safer optionwhile the Camry Hybrid gets four front airbags, the Superb gets eight all around.