Comedian Lewis Black loves to joke about the weather. In one sketch he wonders what it must be like to the be the TV weatherman in San Diego, home of possibly the most pleasant year round weather there is to be had in the US. Black ruminates on what does he say in the new forecast when it’s time to report the weather? “Um, it’s nice!” What more is there to say when it’s sunny and warm everyday? And so it was with our Camry when people who knew I had one on loan to review asked me my opinion of it. The short answer is, “Um, it’s nice.”
The Camry is a car that needs no introduction. While the Camry itself is now in its eighth generation, the first Camry Hybrid went on sale in 2007; the Camry Hybrid is now in its third generation.
The current Camry was all new in 2018, so it is still contemporary, and arguably the smartest looking Camry yet. The front end is a little too busy with its massive grill treatment, but apart from that, there’s little to argue with here. The greenhouse design is pleasantly elegant for a Camry. The rest of the car is clean, uncluttered, and, let’s face it , utterly forgettable. Our test car, finished in Predawn Gray Mica was of little help. However, there was one pleasant surprise. Nearly every hybrid I’ve driven is shod with the tiniest, whimpiest wheels the company offers. Those enormous sidewalls seem out of place and out of date on what is otherwise a car brimming with modern technology. Thankfully, our car was equipped with respectable 18″ alloys, so finally a hybrid that no longer looks like the whimpy kid of the parking lot.
One advantage of the Camry Hybrid is it allows buyers who prize fuel economy and environmental friendliness to do so without letting everyone else around them know it. While a Toyota Prius offers those same attributes, a Prius is also a statement car, like it or not. If cars were people, the Prius is that one person you know who’s on the Keto diet and does CrossFit and that’s all they want to talk about over dinner. The Camry Hybrid is the person who drives home from that same dinner listening to NPR, makes donations to their favorite causes, and quietly goes on with their life.
Inside, the Camry is no nonsense. Although it packs the latest in mainstream auto tech, it is refreshingly user friendly, with knobs and buttons available for most basic functions. All passengers enjoy ample room, and an easy to see out of cabin. Although our Camry Hybrid was top of the line, it didn’t feel premium. Make no mistake, the materials are of good quality, fit and finish cannot be faulted, and it will no doubt age better than I will. But finished in a frosty grey, the interior of this Camry leaves you cold. Even on a bright day with the sunroof open the Camry looks drab and austere inside. Thankfully, Toyota lets you choose a much warmer tan interior, and judging from the pictures, does wonders in fostering a much more inviting cabin.
The Camry is powered by a 2.5L four paired with the hybrid system to make a reasonable 208hp. Power gets to the wheels via a CVT transmission. While you won’t mistake the car for being swift, the Camry Hybrid offers usable, real world power. Merging onto highways and passing requires no advance planning on the driver’s part, and does so with no drama. On a clear weekend, I had the Camry Hybrid up in the hills of Litchfield County in northwestern Connecticut. The car happily went along with the curves and hills, never once upset or nervous. Granted, I wasn’t pushing the car hard, but the point is, the car was perfectly composed once the road started getting twisty. Of course, when it comes to hybrids the most important number buyers care about is miles per gallon, and the Camry Hybrid delivers an excellent 46MPG combined city/highway, a remarkable figure for a car of this size, and crammed with every available option.
The Camry Hybrid is available in base LE, sporty SE, and luxury oriented XLE. Regardless of which Camry is right for you, none will leave you without the basics one expects from a modern car. Our top spec XLE added the Driver Assist Package (Head up display, birds eye view camera, rear cross traffic braking and ventilated front seats), LED adaptive headlights, moonroof, and Navigation Package (Dynamic navigation and premium JBL audio). Including destination, our test car stickers at $39,619USD. That is not a typo, and yes, a fully loaded Camry Hybrid is just scraping $40,000. In talking to someone who owns a current Camry, she loves her car, but said she could never justify spending this kind of money for any Camry. I went to compare this price to the most expensive Honda Accord Hybrid. Similarly equipped, the Accord costs over $3,300 less. In the midsize family car hybrid market, that is a significant difference to buyers.
Yet, the Camry Hybrid, like the weather in San Diego, continues to be perpetually nice. It does everything you ask without fuss, and will do so for hundreds of thousands of miles if you treat it reasonably. It gives you all the benefits of a hybrid without forcing you to advertise it. Room, comfort and superlative fuel economy is a popular combination for buyers, and with the Camry Hybrid, you are not being asked to sacrifice much in return. Skip the drab gray interior though. And as for price, I suspect very few buyers out there are willing to go all in for a top spec, fully loaded Camry Hybrid XLE. All of the qualities that make this the car that it is are available at a price point that is far closer to the comfort zone of the average car buyer.