Hybrid vehicles mightn’t have the same appeal that electric cars have today, but the fact of the matter is that Hybrids are highly fuel-efficient, less polluting and not that much more expensive than equivalent internal combustion engine cars. With Toyota launching the latest generation of the Camry Hybrid in India, we drive the car to assess its abilities and also to judge if Hybrids, and not Electric cars, are better suited to India.
Electric cars are certainly the latest fad in the automotive world. And you can hardly blame people for thinking that electric vehicles are the future of mankind’s transportation needs. Questionable media reporting – especially the inability to distinguish between facts and fantasy – by so-called new age media is certainly one of the reasons for this widely-held belief. Moreover, stories of autonomous and self-driving vehicles are certainly good to read – one that offers a dream-like view of the future, not unlike the stories of flying cars that we’ve been reading for a few decades now. Another reason for this belief is the argument that Electric cars are greener than cars powered by other energy sources, but the actual truth and the counter argument are a lot more complicated than one swooping presumption. But this is, a difficult argument, almost impossible to make in a few pages, so let’s park it for another day.
Now, air pollution and environmental damage is a very real problem in today’s world. And transportation in all its forms contributes to this. And Toyota’s solution is not to offer a pure electric vehicle, for a multitude of reasons, including the prohibitive cost of producing electric cars – both in terms of pollution generated when producing a battery and the cost difference between an electric car and an ICE vehicle of the same range. This problem is even more exaggerated in a country like India where per capita income is still low and customers of private vehicles are still highly price-sensitive.
So, the only option is to go for the middle ground, which not only exploits the outer limits of fuel efficiency and decreases pollution but also allows vehicles to be relatively affordably priced. The shining example of this technology in Toyota’s India range is the new Camry Hybrid. Based on the latest Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA) platform, this fourth-generation Hybrid vehicle benefits from the years of research and experience that Toyota has in Hybrid technology.
The first impression, when you look at the new Camry, is that of a pleasant surprise. Its beautiful design stands out in the crowd for all the right reasons. Sure, I’m not a big fan of the huge plastic grille up front – I just think that the all-grey finish just makes it look a bit dowdy – but the car overall is an eye-catcher, and it looks really good in profile. There’s a strong shoulder line running along the sides of the car, and the deep indent in the rear quarter panel is a particularly impressive piece of engineering. The best view of the car, however, has to be from the rear. The large, swooping tail lights and boot lid give the design more of an Italian dimension, and it looks really good. And, I also quite like the large 18-inch wheels, as they are well proportioned to the design and nicely fill up the wheel arches.
The interior is also very well designed – keep in mind that the Camry is one of the largest selling products worldwide in Toyota’s portfolio and has to compete in various markets across continents – and the layout is really clean with controls placed very intuitively. At the centre of the controls is a quite responsive 8-inch touchscreen multimedia system, which controls the audio as well as the navigation system. And while the touchscreen functions quite well, Toyota has been slow in adapting to constantly changing technology – the Camry, or any of its products sold in India, do not feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is disappointing and something that needs to be remedied in today’s connected world. A nice and surprising addition is the standard-fit HUD display that projects information on the front windscreen in front of the driver and works very well.
Now, a product like the Camry in India is generally used by most owners to be chauffeured around, and, in that respect, the Camry fares very well. There is more than ample space inside the car – head, leg and shoulder room – to fit five adults with ease. The seats themselves are incredibly comfortable, and the front seats are ventilated, which is fantastic considering our warm climate. Two other highlights of the new Camry that stand out are its very quiet cabin – as part of developing the new architecture, Toyota’s engineers worked extensively on it, smoothing which is also evident in the other car that the Camry shares this platform with, the new Lexus ES – and the class-leading isolation from the outside environment, as well as the NVH levels. The rear suspension on the new Camry features wishbones, while the front suspension comprises traditional McPherson struts. The ride too is absolutely fantastic. Equipment wise, the Camry leaves nothing much to desire, as the standard equipment list is very comprehensive and features nine airbags, usual bevy of active and passive safety systems, a nine-speaker JBL audio system, LED headlights and an adjustable rear seat that you can recline to increase your comfort levels. And to benefit the rear passengers, the central armrest of the rear seat allows you to control the air conditioning and even the rear power sunshade.
When it comes to driving, let’s be honest, the new Camry is not a driver’s car and, more importantly, it doesn’t even try to be. The 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle engine is paired with a single electric motor, while the battery for the Hybrid system is mounted below the rear seat. And while the car features a CVT transmission – a technology I’m not a fan of – it has a trick up its sleeve that hugely reduces the rubber band effect of CVT gearboxes – lots of torque. The reason for that here is the electric motor, which produces enough torque at virtually zero rpm, which means that every time you’re trying to push the vehicle, both the engine and electric motor deliver torque and power to the front wheels and make the car feel rather responsive. While Toyota doesn’t mention the total torque output of the Hybrid engine, it does mention that with engine and motor combined, the Camry’s powerplant produces 215bhp, which seems more than enough to power the car comfortably. And the Camry does have one party trick up its sleeve courtesy the Hybrid system – a pure EV mode, which means that in stop-start traffic and slow manoeuvres, like parking or pulling out a parking lot, the engine is not engaged, and the car is powered by the battery alone. Also, because of kinetic energy recovery systems, the battery is constantly charged when the car is coasting or when the driver is using the brakes. Similarly, when the engine is being used at higher capacity, the engine not only powers the car but also constantly charges the battery. Which effectively means that the Camry’s Hybrid system does not need to be plugged in and is self-charged by the engine and other systems of the car.
However, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, and the efficiency gains can be clearly judged by how fuel efficient the new Camry is. And despite my not so efficient right foot, in our near 200 kilometres of driving, the Camry comfortably averaged between 16 and17km/l, which for a petrol-powered car of its size is unheard of. If you’re a more efficient driver than I am, I think seeing efficiency figures of 18 – 19km/l wouldn’t be very difficult. The official fuel efficiency figures of the Camry by ARAI are just over the 23km/l mark.
To sum it up, the Camry Hybrid offers practicality that EVs, at least at this point in time, can’t match – that of going from an empty fuel tank to full range in a few minutes. With the fuel efficiency I witnessed, it’s clearly more efficient than a car of its size powered by a traditional ICE. And let’s not forget that it pollutes the environment less too. And at a price point of Rs 36.95 Lakh (ex-showroom), it does offer a massive amount of bang for your buck, no matter whether you look at it from a perspective of space, comfort, features and even environmental friendliness. A couple of things that might work against the Camry, though, would be the idea that one could get a German luxury brand at that price point and the fact that only a small percentage of potential buyers in our market can a afford car like the Camry. But, in every other respect, the new Camry is a fantastically capable vehicle, which is hard to match in its comfort or environmental friendliness.