2019 Toyota Camry Hybrid Road Test Review: Nearly perfect!

The eighth-generation Toyota Camry Hybrid arrived in India in January, while the numbers may seem impressive, in the midst of its like-for-like competitors we find out what it is like to drive one in the real world. 

By: | Published: August 29, 2019 4:43 PM

The Executive (D2) sedan market in India is all but dead. Cars like the VW Passat, Skoda Superb, Honda Accord Hybrid and the all-new Toyota Camry in the mix, the entire segment in the month of July accumulated to just 124 units with no Accord or Passat models sold in that month. This is down to two major factors, one of which is the automotive market is currently experiencing a major slump, while the other is that people have for an unexplainable appetite to buy big and bulky SUVs. In the same time, the 2,297 SUVs in the same space were sold with the Toyota Fortuner leading the way.

With such a small market to cater to, why even bother investing to launch premium executive sedans, let alone assemble them locally? The most recent entrant of the list is the Toyota Camry which is in its eighth generation in total, while it is the fourth generation in India. This new one is now only available as a hybrid, unlike the older model which was available with a petrol alternative. So with an ex-showroom, Delhi price of Rs 37.5 lakh, it now needs to offer more than just Toyota’s unscarred reliability to keep the Camry still relevant. While the previous generation of the Camry Hybrid was a very good car, it didn’t meet the customer’s requirements, and despite being a hybrid, it didn’t reflect very well in fuel economy either. With the new model, things seem to be different, especially now that the Camry is all-new from the ground up, it must be a promising proposition to maintain its relevance.

A feast for your eyes

When it comes to looks, the Camry is like a feast at Hogwarts – anything you wish will be presented to you. Great for food on the table, not so much when it comes to designing a car. The multiple curves and creases do make it look a little too busy, and the large grille makes it seem a lot wider than it actually is. It is not a bad looking car by any means but like all other Toyotas in the market, it is just not very interesting. While I will have to give it to Toyota for being able to execute such a complex design especially around the C-pillar, engineering and shaping metal into such a form is no cakewalk. And those creases which I was just complaining about at the front, the contours on the C-Pillar are what give the Camry and aggressive and commanding presence on the road from the rear.

Inner Sanctity

The Camry has always been known to be one of the most comfortable Japanese cars to travel in. It has always had a cabin that offers a copious amount of space and convenience features all packaged in a very orderly manner. Anything you would expect you would need is available inside the cabin of the Toyota Camry.

With the new model, the story is exactly the same. The cabin is laid out well with everything neatly positioned almost where you would expect them to be. The seats at the front and rear are extremely comfortable and very supportive. In terms of the equipment list, the Camry has the competition demolished. As a Camry owner would most likely be seated in the rear seat, Toyota has allowed quite a few features available to be controlled by the rear passengers as well, with the digital touch panel on the centre armrest. The panel at the rear allows you to control the music and radio, the rear climate control, rear-seat reclining function and the rear sunshade.

At the front, the dash is laid out with a driver-centric approach. The centre console with the design gives importance to the driver to make their life easier. The design itself is kept simple and elegant, dominated by the large touchscreen infotainment system panel flanked by the ancillary buttons. Below that, you have the climate control system which not only manages the dual-zone at the front but also the third zone at the rear. Underneath the main cluster, you have the wireless charging panel which also retracts to hide away your phone altogether and provide storage space below. You also have USB, AUX and a 12v ports. The driver gets a multi-function steering wheel which can control the audio functions, calling functions, cruise control, and also raise or lower the rear sunshade which is pretty cool.

However, not everything is perfect with the Camry. Let’s begin with the infotainment system. While the 3D Navigation system is great, the interface itself isn’t very user-friendly. I was unable to connect to Bluetooth because it reached its maximum device limit and after struggling for 2 hours, I failed to delete an old device to connect mine. The only way to connect, was through the USB port, but that had its own problems like to try and start playing music, you have to go and select the source every time you start the car. The user interface can be entirely bypassed with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto which the Camry is unfortunately not equipped with.

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The buttons on the dashboard for the infotainment system and climate control are way too small and a bit confusing. This forces you to take your eyes off the road which isn’t ideal. Additionally, the Camry is also equipped with a driver heads-up-display, which is very nice but I like to sit low down in the driver's seat. The problem that arises then is that the HUD is not adjustable, and you cannot turn it off. I searched every panel, settings and menus through the steering wheel and the infotainment system but I failed to find anything related to the HUD. Therefore, if you like to sit low down you cannot see the HUD and at night it leaves partially readable figures middle of your vision which becomes very distracting. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the ventilated seats, owners of this car would spend most of their time in the backseat and hence it would have been great for this feature to be offered for the rear passengers as well.

But what the Camry does have going for itself is space provided in the cabin and the quality of materials that Toyota have used. Everything feels very good to the touch and there is none of that faux-wood nonsense. In terms of storage, the front door pockets are tiny, however, if you are seated and driving around in the Camry, there will be little you would have to complain about and here’s why.

Driving Green

The Camry comes equipped with Toyota’s fourth-generation hybrid powertrain with a small-ish battery which offers very good performance on the road. To drive, it is extremely smooth and delivers linear acceleration. The Camry can even drive in full EV mode for up to 25kmph, which means that when you’re in stop and go traffic, the Camry can turn off its petrol engine entirely and run on electric power alone, as long as the batteries allow. As you brake, the heat from the regenerative system charges the batteries which quite clever.

The engine sends power to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (e-CVT). While Toyota does offer paddles to change gear but using the paddles they only change engine speed. There is no effect on the car's acceleration resulting in the inherent rubber-band effect notoriously associated with CVTs. However, downshifting does help with engine braking. The steering is a little heavy at low speeds and during parking or driving around tricky bends. That said, once in motion, the steering becomes lighter but doesn’t offer much in terms of feedback to the driver.

In motion, the Camry is extremely comfortable as the suspension setup offers a supple ride. Rear occupants can still be comfortable at high speeds and the suspension is very pliant yet the Camry corners with minimal roll. The very well balanced ride and the eager hybrid motor makes the Camry a phenomenal car to drive. With three modes on offer, Eco, Normal and the third being Sport which removes most restrictions from the engine to allow it to breathe and deliver all its 218 combined hybrid horsepower to the front wheels with urgency. You never get an unnerving feeling driving the Camry even at high speeds as it offers quite a forgiving and confidence-inspiring driving experience.

My only major gripe with the Camry Hybrid is the fact that despite being a hybrid, it doesn’t offer the fuel economy that is expected from a Hybrid. While it can run on full EV mode for a short distance, it still isn’t quite as efficient as its direct rival, the Honda Accord Hybrid which does offer fuel economy worthy of a hybrid. In real-world conditions, the best I was able to muster up in a short span of driving was 13.6kmpl. But the car’s telemetry history did show that it is capable of 19.1kmpl. However, to achieve such numbers one would have to drive under 25kmph extensively, and that in the real world is quite difficult, especially in a city like Delhi. What the Camry could have done to help boost its efficiency is to make the regenerative braking a little more aggressive which would help charge the batteries quicker and offer more juice for a longer EV mode. In its current state, I was unable to charge the batteries any more than 60%.

The worthy proposition?

If you do not want to jump on to SUV bandwagon, then the Camry makes perfect sense. It’s comfortable, very well equipped compared to its direct sedan rivals for sure, drives phenomenally well, and it's not just good ‘for a Toyota’, it's simply good, ‘end of story’. In addition, you also get Toyota’s dependability. While there may be cheaper alternatives like the Passat and Superb, the Camry makes a very good case for itself despite its drawbacks because the complete package it offers is second to none.

 

Technical Specifications

Toyota Camry Hybrid

Engine: 2,487cc, 4-Cylinder, Petrol-Hybrid

Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

Engine Power: 187hp @ 5,700rpm

Engine Torque:221Nm @ 3,600-5,200rpm

Battery: Nickel-metal hydride battery

Electric Motor: Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor

Combined Power: 218hp

Electric Torque: 202Nm

Drive: Front-Wheel Drive

Dimensions (LxWxH)4,885mm x 1,840mm x 1,455mm

Wheelbase: 2,825mm

Brake (F/R): Disc / Disc

Fuel Economy: 13.6kmpl

Price (of variant tested)Rs 37.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)

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