Green 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!
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
Featuring 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.
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.
Toyota has added ‘Prime’ to the branding of its second generation plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) to emphasize it’s the most technologically advanced, best-equipped Prius ever. Prime is the first Toyota hybrid to feature a dual-mode generator drive system that enables the Hybrid Synergy Drive’s electric motor and generator to both provide power for maximum acceleration. A new 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack delivers up to 22 miles of all-electric driving, double that of the first-generation plug-in Prius. Toyota estimates 120 MPGe or greater or the model, which is expected to be the highest MPGe rating of any PHEV.
Prime features an array of connected and advanced electronics systems including an available 11.6-inch HD multimedia screen. Prius Prime will start appearing in U.S. showrooms in late fall and will be available in all 50 states.
We are all enamored by the advanced technologies at work in vehicles today. And why wouldn’t we be? The incredibly efficient cars we have today, and the even more efficient models coming in the years ahead, are testament to a process that combines ingenuity, market competitiveness, and government mandate in bringing ever more efficient vehicles to our highways.
It’s been a long and evolutionary process. I remember clearly when PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) technology was first introduced in the early 1990s, a breakthrough that brought near-zero tailpipe emissions from gasoline internal combustion engine vehicles. That move was led by Honda and Nissan, with others quickly following. Then there were the first hybrids – Honda’s Insight and Toyota’s Prius – that arrived on our shores at the end of that decade. Both technologies brought incredible operating efficiencies that drastically reduced a vehicle’s emissions, increased fuel economy to unexpected levels, or both.
Of course, there were first-generation battery electric vehicles in the mid-1990s that foretold what would become possible years later. That first foray into EV marketing was deemed by many a failure, yet it set the stage for the advanced and truly impressive EVs we have today. Those vehicles may not yet be cost-competitive with conventionally powered vehicles due to very high battery costs, but that doesn’t diminish the genius engineering that’s brought them to today’s highways.
Even conventionally-powered cars today are achieving fuel efficiency levels approaching that of more technologically complex hybrids. Who would have imagined popular cars getting 40 mpg or better, like the Dodge Dart, Chevy Cruze, Mazda3, Ford Fiesta, and many more in a field that’s growing ever larger each year?
VW and Audi have proven that clean diesel technology can also achieve 40+ mpg fuel efficiency while providing press-you-back-in-your-seat performance, and importantly, doing this while meeting 50 state emissions criteria. That’s saying something considering diesel has historically had a tough go of it meeting increasingly stringent emissions standards in California and elsewhere. Yet, with elegant engineering by these automakers and their diesel technology supplier Bosch – plus this country’s move to low-sulfur diesel fuel late last decade – ‘clean’ diesel was born.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention natural gas vehicles. There was a time when quite a few automakers were exploring natural gas power in the U.S., but that faded and left Honda as the lone player in this market with its Civic Natural Gas sedan. Now others are joining in with dual-fuel natural gas pickups and vans, benefitting from advanced engine technologies, better natural gas tanks, and a sense that with increasing natural gas reserves in the U.S., demand for natural gas vehicles will grow. As Honda has shown with its Civic, it’s possible to operate on this alternative fuel while also netting admirable fuel efficiency.
All this advanced powertrain technology is important. It makes air quality and petroleum reduction goals achievable, even ones like the ethereal 54.5 mpg fleet fuel economy average requirement that looms for automakers by 2025. There’s no doubt that advanced technologies come at a cost and reaching a 54.5 mpg average will require the full range of efficiency technologies available, from better powerplants and transmissions to greater use of lightweight materials, aerodynamic design, and answers not yet apparent. But I’m betting we’ll get there in the most efficient way possible.
Ron Cogan is editor and publisher of Green Car Journal and editor of CarsOfChange.com