Rapidly falling gas prices will squeeze Camry Hybrid sales.
Through 2014, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car model in America, outpacing the likes of the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and its own compact sibling, the Toyota Corolla. Sales of the standard-bearer Camry routinely top 400,000 units per year, keeping this front-wheel-drive midsize sedan securely on top of its segment each year.
Toyota, moreover, has seen that Camry competition is growing with the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Legacy and Chevrolet Malibu among the other models clamoring for sales. In 2012, Toyota released the seventh generation Camry, but for 2015 it made a significant refresh in response to more recent changes made by its competitors.
The current iteration is its most stylish one yet and although it hardly offers the driving dynamics found in some other segments, it delivers a look, value and dependability shoppers expect. My test drive of a 2015 Toyota Camry was with its hybrid version, itself a sporty and attractive four-door model.
Steadily Falling Fuel Prices
Before I press on with the hybrid’s review, it bears mentioning that fuel prices have been steadily falling over the past three months, dropping below $2 per gallon in some locations. Car manufacturers that have invested billions of dollars in electric vehicle technology will soon see already tepid demand for all types of EVs fall even further.
Concerns raised by industry experts such as Chris Knittel, a professor of energy economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, point to slow sales ahead. Knittel told the Los Angeles Times, “Low gas prices can undo the progress we’ve made in green technology.” Further, he noted that companies have less of an incentive to pour their monies into new technologies, while consumers look elsewhere.
The Revised Look
Take one look at any Camry — standard or hybrid — and it is evident that its design has been refreshed inside and out.
Its face mirrors the recent changes made to other models, including the compact Corolla and large Avalon sedans, with a trapezoidal grille topped by a distinctive horizontal bar. Hood creasing, boomerang LED lights and sleek headlights combine to give this model a sportier persona. The sedan’s profile characteristics, choice of wheels, wrap-around tail lamps and exhaust ports each contributes to the sedan’s sportier flair.
Inside, the cabin seems and is more refined. The familiar upper dash is in place, but everything else has been changed.
The hybrid’s instrument panel is dominated by a pair of analog displays — on the left is a hybrid power read out, what replaces the traditional tachometer — to the right is a speedometer. In the center is a digital driver’s information center, customizable to display vehicle, infotainment or navigation information.
The center console is marked by a six-inch display, with buttons and switches surrounding same. Most Camry models offer some version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with available navigation. The screen displays navigation, audio and climate information and also provides such apps as Yelp guides and Pandora radio.
Beneath the display in the Hybrid SE are the dual-zone climate controls, a covered storage compartment, the transmission stick and two cup holders. Between the seats are switches to put the sedan in Eco or EV mode, the latter functioning at crawling speeds.
Overall, the interior look features a good amount of soft touch materials, stitching and bright work trim. The seats in the test model are made of SofTex, a synthetic material that looks and feels like leather. Toyota says that it weighs half as much as regular leather and is easier to clean. Importantly, no animal-based materials were used in the production of these seats.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid offers seating for five — two bucket seats up front and a split bench seat to the rear. The driver’s seat offers 8-way power adjustment with lumbar support; the front passenger has 4-way support.
The rear seat folds down and offers a center armrest with cup holders and a pass through to the trunk. There is ample room for three adults in the back with sufficient amounts of head, shoulder and leg room present.
The driver’s seat is comfortable, offering ample support and very good head, shoulder and leg room. The leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic steering wheel has audio and Bluetooth hands-free phone controls. An overhead console with map lights and sunglasses storage, a covered center console with storage, an illuminated glove box and in-door storage with bottle holders are at the ready.
This model also comes with power accessories, a backup camera, cruise control, a pair of 12-volt auxiliary power outlets, four cup holders, four bottle holders, and 10 airbags. The exterior includes a sport mesh front grille, projector-beam halogen headlights, a color-keyed rear spoiler and a smoked chrome upper grille. SE Hybrid models also bring in a sport-tuned suspension.
2015 Toyota Camry SE Hybrid
Toyota outfits its hybrid Camrys with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and pairs it with a continuously variable transmission. Also at work is a nickel-metal hydride battery pack that stores energy created by the electric motor and regenerative braking. Combined, the engine and electric motor make 200 horsepower and 199 foot-pounds of torque. If you are not familiar with hybrids, the sedan’s net power is comparable to a gas-powered model.
Importantly, the hybrid is rated at 40 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Alternatively, the hybrid’s fuel economy should be compared to the 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway achieved by the base gas-powered model.
Turn this hybrid on and you’ll be met with silence. Keep your eyes on the dashboard as it provides the information you need to know whether this sedan is on or not. Shift into drive, step on the accelerator and more than likely the gas engine will kick in, especially as you put the pedal to the metal.
Not once while I was driving the Camry Hybrid did I feel as if power was lacking. Toyota’s hybrid system shifts seamlessly between gas and electric power, and is especially vigorous on the open road.
This model is equipped with electric power steering and has ventilated disc brakes up front and solid disc brakes to the rear. Handling isn’t particularly involving, but it is hardly numb either. Its braking is as good as you will find among other sedans in this segment.
All models come equipped with a long list of standard safety features. Besides the 10 airbags, you will find: stability control, traction control, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and smart stop technology. Choose the XLE Hybrid and your model comes with a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert. The advanced technology package brings in a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beams.
And if advanced technology is important to you, then the available Qi wireless charging option may be worth a look. Place your smartphone in the eBin storage tray and this $75 accessory will keep it fully charged.
If you are going to look elsewhere for a new sedan, then the standard gas-powered Camry is a good place to begin. The base Camry is priced from $22,970, although a fully-equipped model will set you back by more than $33,000.
Toyota prices the Hybrid LE from $26,790, the Hybrid SE from $27,995 and the Hybrid XLE from $29,980. Choose a top-of-the line hybrid and add in such features as an advanced technology package ($750), diamond cut face alloy wheels with Michelin tires ($1,529) and an Entune Premium JBL audio system with navigation ($1,490) and your price will come in around $33,749.
So, if you really want a hybrid and prefer a well-dressed sedan, your final price will come in at just $750 more than a comparably equipped Camry with an optional V-6 engine. Me thinks that you will also have more wiggle room at the dealership, especially if corporate slaps extra incentives for this model in a bid to stoke sales. It is a buyer’s market for hybrids and scoring a very good deal should be within your reach.
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