by Scott Corlett
Toyota practically pioneered the hybrid movement in the United States. The Prius—Toyota’s high-mileage golden egg—was not only the first hybrid vehicle to gain widespread acceptance among drivers, but it’s now the de rigueur transport to red carpets for Hollywood’s eco-set. For 2007, with gasoline prices sure to remain high and global warming ever more on American minds, the engineers at Toyota have mated hybrid technology to the best-selling sedan in all the land, the Camry. The only question is, will the Camry Hybrid be a category-killing combo or a cannibal that eats away at Prius sales?
In early fall, a 2007 Camry Hybrid arrived in our driveway in San Francisco, the heart of hybrid country. Before drives in some tanker-like test vehicles—which will remain nameless—we don a ball cap and dark shades. San Franciscans aren’t shy to make their feelings known about those that hog tight roads and dwindling hydrocarbon resources. The Camry Hybrid required no such costume. As we drove around the city, the badges that proclaim the Camry’s eco-creds and the near-silent whir of the sedan’s electric motor brought only approving glances.
The Camry Hybrid, like its Prius cousin, is a full-fledged hybrid, which can operate under power from an electric motor, a gasoline engine, or both (for a fuller discussion of how hybrid technology works, see our review of the Prius). Unlike the super-aerodynamic, gently powered Prius, the Camry Hybrid merely sees good mileage for a sedan of its size. According to the folks at Toyota, the Camry Hybrid makes 43 mpg city/37 mpg highway. As in the Prius, we experienced significantly lower mileage during our test drive—closer to an average of 30 mpg for the Camry Hybrid. This is only slightly better than the fuel economy of a Camry equipped with the available 158-hp, four-cylinder gasoline engine. So, you ask, what’s the upside? In the Camry Hybrid, the proposition is fuel efficiency without the sacrifice of power—you get the go of a six-cylinder engine with the fuel economy of a four-banger.
First and foremost, she’s a Camry. Aside from the powertrain, the Camry Hybrid is just a well-equipped Camry—which is to say, a perfectly good, all-purpose sedan. For 2007, the team at Toyota fully redesigned the Camry. Compared to the previous iteration, the metal is sharper and the interior is outfitted with more pleasing materials. This new, edgier (for a Camry) look is just right for the introduction of futuristic hybrid technology into this, the most traditional of family sedans. The hybrid model features much of same standard equipment as the top-end Camry XLE: you get premium JBL audio with Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and many other goodies. This makes the Camry Hybrid a great value as its base price of $25,900 falls between that of the four- and six-cylinder XLEs.
The Camry Hybrid, like all Camrys, is just fine on the freeway and perfectly adept around town, but never will the adjectives nimble or rocking refer to the handling dynamics of this sedan. That is OK with us, as the Camry’s mandate is to provide safe, comfortable, spacious transport. The Camry Hybrid succeeds on all fronts: as in all 2007 Camrys, seven airbags are standard; there is plenty of leg-, hip-, and headroom; and a capacious trunk awaits your bags.
The Camry Hybrid is the eco-friendly alternative to the top-of-the-line, six-cylinder Camry XLE—with little sacrifice, you’ll save big on fuel and greenhouse-gas emissions. But, if you really want to go deep green, you’ll have to stick with the similarly sized, but ovoid-shaped Prius sedan, which easily makes 15 mpg more than the hybrid Camry. Either way, with the introduction of the 2007 Camry Hybrid, the automotive universe—and Toyota’s bottom line—just got a little greener.
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