2015 Camry Hybrid: Ready to Adopt Your Personality

BLACK ‘N BLUE: The Camry SE Hybrid has a unique black grille, black headlight surrounds, and a blue Toyota background that signifies it’s a hybrid.
BLACK ‘N BLUE: The Camry SE Hybrid has a unique black grille, black headlight surrounds, and a blue Toyota background that signifies it’s a hybrid. –BILL GRIFFITH

Toyota checked all the style and engineering boxes when rethinking and redesigning today’s test car, the 2015 Camry Hybrid sedan.

It’s easy to imagine product managers looking at the first computer-generated design prototypes, then walking around the model with a punch list, making sure the design team truly had touched all the bases.

This redesign is a reflection of the competitive midsize sedan market. Normally, Toyota would have made only annual tweaks during a five- to seven-year product cycle. Thus, this redesign is a tip of the Toyota top hat to the quality of the competition, the fast-moving technical advances in the industry, and Toyota’s resolve to keep Camry’s title of “best-selling car in America for the last 13 years.’’

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Our test vehicle was the sport-tuned SE that is very nicely equipped at $28,820 (including destination). The main option was a $1,300 Entune premium audio system with navigation, an app suite (reminds me of Windows 8), and a seven-inch touchscreen. It’s another noticeable step towards making these systems truly user-friendly.

Other add-ons include a moonroof ($915), enhanced security system ($359), illuminated doorsill enhancement ($299), remote start ($499), wireless charging ($75), and carpet/trunk mat set ($225.) That brings the bottom line to $32,492.

So let’s go down that punch list.

Styling: Toyota redid the Camry from the roof down—except, yes, the roof. The new styling, to our taste, was a nice update. In reviewing a vehicle, the color generally is off limits because consumers have their choice of colors. That said, the SE’s “Blue Crush Metallic’’ was hideous in my view; however, Mrs. G says, “I kind of like it.’’

Trim levels: Camry hybrid comes in a base LE, sportier SE, and upscale XLE trim. All have a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power driver’s seat (with lumbar adjustment), cruise control, Bluetooth, and touchscreen. The SE, which we tested, adds a unique black grille, black headlight surrounds, 17-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension, rear spoiler, sport fabric seats, leather-wrapped wheel, and silver interior trim accents. Main reasons to opt for the XLE would be the available Advance Technology package that includes automatic high beam control, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision and lane departure warnings. Also available is a safety connect package that adds automatic braking to complete a frontal collision mitigation system. I priced out an XLE with all these systems and the MSRP came out a bit over $35,000.

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Powerplant: Camry retains its hybrid synergy drive system, mating a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and battery pack. The two motors combine to produce 200 horsepower and send it to the front wheels via a CVT (continuously variable transmission). It offers EV (all-electric) and ECO driving modes; however, I prefer to leave it in the default mode and drive with a light foot. It seems to give you the same fuel economy. Hit the gas hard, and the Camry shakes off its political correctness and just takes off.

Interior: Toyota has taken pains to give the interior an upscale feel and look. The XLE gives you leather upholstery and heated seats, but our cloth seats were fine. Controls are intuitive and there are knobs to adjust audio and climate functions. Though Mrs. G says I don’t hear well, that’s mostly when there’s background noise. So, when driving alone in the hybrid (ahem), it still seemed quite quiet. Legroom is generous, both front and back. Cargo space is adequate, considering the battery cuts into the depth of the trunk; however, the rear seats don’t fold to enable a pass-through from the trunk for longer items (the battery again).

Seats: The multiple adjustments worked well on our fabric seats in the SE, but they felt hard. However, after a two-and-a-half hour trip through the Everglades from Naples, FL, to Miami Beach, I emerged in good shape, avoiding both the dreaded bent-like-a-pretzel-feeling and numb butt.

Fuel Economy: Our SE is rated at 40 mpg in city driving and 38 on the highway, less than the 43/39 for the LE with its smaller, 16-inch wheels. We achieved 38.2. With the Prius able to achieve 51 city and 48 highway (or better), you have to wonder if the Camry hybrid is a good choice, especially when a Camry with the standard four-cylinder engine can do 35 mph on the highway.

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Wireless Charging: The SE had a $75 wireless charging pad at the front of the console plus a lid you can close to hide the phone. Unfortunately, you must have a qi-enabled phone, so my iPhone 5 wasn’t eligible without an adapter.

One thing Toyota didn’t design into the Camry Hybrid was a personality; in fact, it seems they went out of their way to make the car completely neutral.

Instead, the Camry seems ready to assume its owner’s personality. If you’re the type to just drive but otherwise neglect your cars, it still will be faithful transportation. Pamper it, and it will shine. Drive it aggressively and it will be nimble enough, especially with the SE’s slightly sportier suspension tuning. All while making a green statement.

We thought the Camry Hybrid was a tad expensive, but only until the mailman delivered the latest Consumer Reports’ annual new car value rankings.

The magazine gave the Camry Hybrid its highest value score of 2.01, projecting that owners’ dollars will go about twice as far as with the average vehicle.

“While the Camry Hybrid may not be the most exciting car to drive, it is smooth and capable, with stone-cold reliability at an affordable price,’’ wrote Mark Rechtin, Consumer Reports automotive editor.

Why do we quote CR? Because that was exactly our summation.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid Sedan

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $28,820/$32,492. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 40 city/38 highway.Fuel economy, Globe observed: 38.2.Drivetrain: Toyota Hybrid Synergy System: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, electric motor, CVT (continuously variable transmission), front-wheel-drive.Body: 5-passenger sedan.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 200 combined system.Torque: 156 lb.-ft. (gas engine), 199 lb.-ft. (electric motor).Overall length: 190.9 in.Wheelbase: 109.3 in.Height: 57.9 in.Width: 71.7 in.Curb weight: 3,565 lbs.

THE GOOD

Styling, great interior space, user-friendly controls, economy, reliability.

THE BAD

A step down in economy from Prius;a personality issue.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A reliable, efficient, user-friendly, green vehicle.

ALSO CONSIDER

Ford Fusion hybrid, Honda Accord hybrid, Hyundai Sonata hybrid, Kia Optima hybrid, Toyota Prius V, Volkswagen Jetta hybrid.

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