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2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-driving-1Green Car Journal recently experienced driving what Toyota proudly says is its greatest Camry Hybrid achievement to date. The rather posh, redesigned Camry Hybrid approaches the combined fuel efficiency of Toyota’s Prius, with the Camry HV LE + achieving 53 highway and 51 city mpg while comfortably seating five adults. Yet, there’s much more to this efficient Camry model than initially meets the eye. Hybrid or not, this variant arguably delivers the best overall drive and ride experience in the 2018 Toyota Camry lineup.

In today’s highly scrutinized auto market, nothing is more important to the successful launch of a new car than its visual first impression, followed by a satisfying walk-around and driving experience. Toyota’s all-new 2018 Camry Hybrid accomplishes all these, presenting a very refined and well-designed package with an intuitive driver-to-car interface, enveloped in a sporty body design that rivals many European offerings. Happily, it’s also a kick to drive!

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-cabin-1Comfortable, Refined, and Tech-Rich

During our recent test drive, the Camry was virtually silent as we exited the driveway in electric-only mode, exhibiting that quiet, electric-only drive characteristic that some modern hybrids do so well. This is one of them. As the Camry’s four-cylinder gasoline engine kicked in, we pushed the accelerator aggressively and launched onto the two-lane, finding the combined gasoline-electric horsepower and torque impressive, and the interior quiet.

The 2018 Camry Hybrid produces impressive combined torque and horsepower while sipping gasoline, thus reducing emissions. Its drivetrain technology is borrowed from the Prius and does an excellent job of presenting V-6-like torque while achieving four-cylinder fuel efficiency

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-rear-1Featuring MacPherson struts up front with a redesigned and much-improved double wishbone suspension at the rear, this four-door, five-place sedan is quick off the line and handles with the best of the segment.

One forgets it’s a hybrid being driven within minutes of taking the wheel. In fact, having just exited the 306 horsepower Camry XLE moments earlier, Toyota’s mainstream hybrid sedan surprisingly delivers just as dynamic a driving experience as the high-output V-6 XLE.

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-display-1Great Attention to Detail, Performance, and Price

Acceleration is seamless thanks to the Camry Hybrid’s redesigned, electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). Sequential shift mode allows for a select-shift feel, plus there’s a choice of four drive modes to tailor the driving experience. Braking and steering provide a natural feeling. We like the feel of the hybrid thanks to a lower center of gravity facilitated by positioning the Camry Hybrid’s higher density, compact battery module below the second row seat. This battery placement does not impede the function of the Camry’s 40/60 split and fold-down rear seat, affording unobstructed access to a rather spacious and well-finished trunk, a first for hybrids of this type in the auto industry.

From where we sit, Toyota borrowed a design cue or two from its upscale Lexus brethren, sized it down a tad, and injected it into the most visually-dynamic Camry offering to date. In the case of the 2018 Camry Hybrid, at a base MSRP of $27,800 you get a car that drives as good as it looks. Kudos to Toyota since that's not an easy accomplishment in the bread-and-butter mid-size car segment that’s historically driven by cost effective, price-sensitive, and fuel efficient imperatives.

Really, there should be no doubt which automaker holds the distinction as the most prolific hybrid marketer in the business. It’s Toyota, pure and simple. This company’s brilliant strategy for its Prius hybrid has evolved into a success story that other manufacturers can only envy.

So the news that nearly two million Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles have been sold in the U.S., and five million worldwide, is not earth shattering. It’s expected. And the company is justifiably proud.

According to Toyota, its global fleet of nearly 20 hybrid vehicles is estimated to have decreased some 34 million tons of CO2 emissions because of its fuel efficiency and electric operation, compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. Obviously, there’s strength in numbers. Toyota and Lexus hybrids represent 70 percent of the U.S. auto industry’s total hybrid sales. Hybrids also account for 16 percent of overall Toyota/Lexus sales globally and locally. With total industry hybrid sales now about 3 percent of the U.S. new car market, the picture will clearly only get better.

Of the 19 hybrid models and one plug-in hybrid now sold in 80 countries and regions around the world, a dozen are sold in the U.S. These include the Prius Liftback, Prius v, Prius c, Prius Plug-in, Camry Hybrid, Avalon Hybrid, Highlander Hybrid, Lexus CT 200h, ES 300h, GS 450h, LS 600h, and RX 450h. Three of these models are now manufactured in North America with a fourth, the Highlander Hybrid, joining in soon. Toyota says that it will introduce 18 new hybrid models between now and the end of 2015 and expects its global hybrid sales to be at least a million units a year during that same period, with a third of these sold in the U.S.

The Toyota Avalon has always been aimed squarely at those who enjoy a large and comfortable car. It is Lexus quiet, Toyota reliable, large enough for Americans, and reasonably priced. While a good car, though, the Avalon’s environmental credentials have never been strong. That’s about to change with the all-new 2013 Avalon Hybrid coming to Toyota showrooms later this year.

Toyota has clearly paid attention to the success of high efficiency mid-size vehicles. VW has its Passat TDI that offers 43 highway mpg, and Ford, with the new 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, is expected to hit EPA ratings of 47 city/44 highway mpg. Buyers of larger sedans are more environmentally conscious than ever and  Toyota needs those customers to come back, or stay with them. They are banking on the new 2013 Avalon, and the Avalon Hybrid, to help make up the fuel-efficient, midsize sedan ground they have lost.

The 2013 Avalon has been redesigned for today’s green, luxury, and value conscious buyers. It has also been designed to be more youthful, yet still appealing to the Avalon’s traditionally conservative buyers. The new Avalon Hybrid achieves 40 city/39 highway mpg and 40 mpg combined. That’s quite respectable given the size of this vehicle and the big improvement over the gasoline model’s best highway fuel economy rating of 31 mpg.

Power is supplied by a variant of the Toyota Synergy Drive hybrid system used in the Toyota Camry. It  features  a 2.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with a 244.8-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and two electric motor/generators, providing a total 200 system horsepower. A driver can select EV, ECO, and SPORT modes, with the EV mode allowing travel up to a mile on electric power alone at a maximum 25 mph.

Toyota’s all-new 2013 Avalon is significantly improved inside and out, appearing well-prepared to compete in the growing field of highly fuel efficient larger sedans. The North American-designed and engineered Avalon Hybrid will be built at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant. Its MSRP has yet to be announced.