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Toyota Camry Hybrid: Elevate your efficiency

BY RORY DALEY
Observer writer
daleyr@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 12, 2018

JAMAICA's market is currently very 'sport utility vehicle-centric', but the family sedan isn't taking the shift lying down. The 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid is fighting back, putting forward strong arguments of luxury, comfort, style, and environmentally friendliness.

The new Camry carries Toyota's current design language of a distinctive face. The overall shape from a distance is streamlined. Get closer and the devil is in the details, from the aggressive lower front bumper with its series of thin slats to the NASCAR-inspired spoiler integrated into the rear truck lid. There's no mistaking the Camry for anything else.

Space is abundant. The leather power-adjustable seats are comfortable and provide enough bolstering for spirited driving. Matching them is the electronically adjustable steering column. Between them both, it's easy to find a good driving position. Passengers aren't ignored either. They are also dealt plenty of leather, adjustability and access to climate controls. Upper-level features like rear-side sunshades add to the overall sense of luxury. This is further heightened by the sweeping dash. Covered in soft-stitched leather, piano gloss black trim, and metal highlights that aims the major controls towards the driver, it looks more art than dashboard, eventually blending into the centre console. Slide the full panoramic roof back and its grandeur becomes even more pronounced as light flows in.

In the centre is the eight-inch infotainment screen. Despite no Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it does a good enough job mimicking them. The screen is sharp and responsive. The graphics range from Pixar movie levels, especially when showing off the engine data, to Atari 2600 videogame for certain stereo functions. Sound quality is excellent with shortcut buttons abound — arranged on either side of the screen and on the steering wheel. As expected at this level, all the key driver operations are automatic.

On the road the Toyota Camry is a comfortable cruiser. In NORMAL mode, driving is a pleasure with the steering wheel offering weighty feedback. Here the Hybrid system earns it keep. The vehicle has two power sources — a naturally aspirated 176-bhp 2.5-litre four cylinder; and an 118-bhp electric motor, joined to a common six-speed automatic transmission. According to Toyota, the combination yields 208-bhp. Regardless, the vehicle feels stronger.

There is no rpm gauge, just a sweep indicating three levels — CHARGE, EV and POWER. Leaving the car to its own devices, it does its best to figure out which of the three modes to use based on driver input. Low-speed cruising sees nothing but smooth quiet electric power. Occasionally, the petrol engine engages to keep the battery charged or if rapid acceleration is needed. Braking will also charge the battery. One can enforce EV only mode, but it will only engage if certain conditions are met. On EV power alone, the Camry uses only the electric motor and can cover just over one mile at speeds up to 25mph. This might not sound like much, but when paired with the auto-hold electronic handbrake in stop-and-go high-density traffic, the Camry will waft away in comfort without burning an ounce of fuel.

It's no slouch either. The fastest way to charge the battery is to drive it hard in SPORT mode. During initial acceleration, the electric motor provides an addictive wave of torque, while the chassis is compliant enough to soak up bumps and handle corners at speed.

If the appeal of using no gasoline in bumper-to-bumper traffic isn't enough to sway potential buyers, the 2018 Toyota Camry adds a sense of hassle-free motoring, a plethora of comfort and convenience features, all topped by wonderful drivability.