The anti-Prius

Posted on 04 Dec 2015 at 7:30am

Toyota’s Camry Hybrid packs all the green cred of Honda’s enviro-friendly icon into a package totally lacking in smug


CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

One of the funniest episodes ever of South Park is where they’re making fun of the supposed arrogance of Prius owners. There’s a “smug cloud” threatening the town because of the smuggy enviro-friendly hybridists. It’s not like Prius owners can hide, either — their cars’ shape is as iconic as a VW Beetle’s, copied widely to demonstrate green cred. I mock, because I like the Prius. But what if there was a hybrid from Toyota that’s as stealthy as a peanut in a Pay Day factory? It’s called the Camry Hybrid — the Prius for un-Prius people.

Toyota gets credit for making this generation the sportiest Camry ever, but that’s like picking spots upon vanilla beans. It should be mentioned that hasn’t kept it from top of the sales charts since for, well, nearly forever.

At least in hybrid trim, stylists made an effort. They added creases and gaping air inlets to the facia, fit 17-in. alloy wheels with granite finish under the smooth body, glitzed up the front with projector-beam headlamps and padded the rear with a color-keyed spoiler and chrome exhaust tip. None of that will cause a stir at your local “cars and coffee.”

Screen shot 2015-12-02 at 4.08.35 PMNor will the interior, although the flowing stitched dash covering and premium materials may make hot rodders envious — as will the sporty seats with silver leatherette, cloth trim and heated cushions. A leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, back up camera and remote starting might also. Check the two 12v outlets, deep cupholders, USB port and wireless phone charger in the console. The Entune Premium Audio system with navigation includes a 7-in. touchscreen, Bluetooth calling/audio streaming, voice recognition and an array of apps for restaurants, movies and radio.

All nice, but if you’re expecting 50-MPG, you’re gonna need more smug. At 40/38-MPG city/hwy (40-MPG combined), Camry Hybrid doesn’t even match the Ford Fusion Hybrid’s 44/41-MPG nor the all-new 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid’s expected 48/45-MPG. Still, it’s a smooth operator that works its magic without theatrics.

The gasoline portion of this parade is represented by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 156 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission. That would warrant praying without the electric motor’s 104 kW output, tallying up 200 horsepower for the combined powertrain. That won’t cause hooves to thunder, but it’s enough. This Camry’s mission is gas mileage, not winning NASCAR races.

In that vein, Camry Hybrid has some fancy tricks. Regenerative brakes recapture energy during deceleration as in other hybrids, but Camry also has a  mode that optimizes throttle and climate control to maximize fuel economy. Press the EV mode button to travel up to 1.6 miles at low speed (very low, like 25 mph).

If you’re looking for an efficient hybrid that blows the imaginary Prius smug cloud out of town, the Camry Hybrid has much to offer. It’s roomy, comfortable, quiet, well-equipped and loaded with technology. Just don’t expect to get noticed. For that, you’ll need the all-new 2017 Prius.

While Camry starts at $23,070, and Camry Hybrid rises from $26,790, our test car came to $32,233.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 4, 2015.

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