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Toyota Camry: Respected Hybrid Leader

By Frank A. Aukofer, April 4th, 2015

If you had to pick a subject that was popular and successful but got no respect, it would have to be comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Or perhaps the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

With Rodney, it was part of his shtick. With the Camry Hybrid, well, the disrespect is simply what the popular Japanese nameplate must endure -- all the way to the bank.

The Camry is the most popular car on the market with sales of nearly 429,000 units in 2014. It also qualifies as the red ball express over at Consumer Reports, where a red ball anoints it as way better than average, at the top of the quality heap. The Camry Hybrid resides there.

Yet it gets no respect. Peruse reviews anywhere and the answer is always the same: Yep, the Camry is deadbolt reliable but it is an appliance like your refrigerator or dehumidifier. It gets the job done but without any emotion or excitement. If you're a nerd stuck in a rut with no interest in adventure, Camry's the car for you.

So what? There must be legions of folks out there who simply want something that is fuss free, with at least the comfort, style, reliability, and quality of their living rooms. There's nothing wrong with that -- as the Camry's sales attest.

Toyota has a new lineup of 2015 Camry models, all with a claimed 2,000 new ingredients, even though it is halfway through the normal four-year model cycle when manufacturers usually inject minor sheet metal and trim changes. Everything has been redesigned except for the roof (including the sunroof), engines, and transmissions.

The Hybrid is a small but substantial part of the mix. Nobody does hybrids better than Toyota, with more than a million systems in the popular Prius. The 2015 Camry Hybrid uses the same gasoline-electric system, with the same reliability, and an EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 40/38/40 mpg.

It has caught on in the Camry, though the system is more expensive than the standard four-cylinder gasoline engine. To its credit, Toyota offers its hybrid drive across the Camry lineup. The Camry S versions are slightly sportier than L models because the engineers took a bit of play out of the front differential to improve handling and straight-line tracking.

A giant black maw of a grille, which looks as if it could swallow the average Fiat 500, distinguishes S models. Other Camry grilles wear six horizontal bars. The S models also get suspension tuning and shock absorbers with valve modifications that soften the ride on harsh surfaces and stiffen it on curvy roads, delivering sharpness and control with only a slight degradation of ride quality.

Tested here was the Camry Hybrid SE model, with a base price of $28,820 and, with a list of options that included a motorized glass sunroof, remote starting, and Toyota's Entune package of navigation, entertainment, and connectivity, checked in at $32,980 -- near the average selling price for most cars for these days. Also included was remote starting and wireless charging for cellphones, although the charging pad (which requires an attachment on the phone) is too small to handle some of the larger new smart phones.

The powertrain joins a 156-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 156 lb.-ft. of torque to a 105 kW electric motor. Together they deliver 200 hp and 199 lb.-ft. of torque, which is plenty for anything a midsize sedan owner is likely to encounter.

Moreover, it's difficult (unless you're paying careful attention) to discern that you're driving a hybrid. You do get brief periods of purely electric driving, and then the gasoline engine kicks in. And yes, a stop/start system shuts the power down at stoplights. And, for sure, transmission shift points are indiscernible -- because there aren't any. It's a continuously variable automatic.

Camry Hybrid is a comfortable urban and highway cruiser. The interior is first rate with a stylish and sturdy cloth upholstery trimmed with vinyl that looks as if it would outlast the stainless steel tableware in your kitchen drawer.

You're looking here at a disrespected, comfortable sedan with enviable reliability, good handling, and 40 mpg fuel economy. Rodney would love it.

Specifications

Base price $28,820 (as tested: $32,987)
Curb weight 3,565 lbs.
Displacement 2.5-liter
Engine type 16-valve 4-cyl. 105 kW electric motor
Epa mileage rating 40 mpg city, 38 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 17.0 gal.
Horsepower (net) 156 at 5700 rpm Net 200 hp
Overall length 190.9 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 156 at 4500 rpm / electric motor: 199
Transmission CVT
Vehicle type 5-passenger midsize FWD sedan
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