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2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid: First Drive

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This time around, the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid isn't an afterthought.

That's what a Toyota official circuitously said at a product presentation for the new Camry, and it was a point driven home as we spent a couple of hours with a 2012 Camry Hybrid. The new Hybrid sedan is so well sorted, so completely seamless and remarkably well packaged, that from the driver's seat we might actually call it part of the Prius family.

It wasn't quite that way with the former Camry Hybrid. While it did get better gas mileage than the base Camry four-cylinder models, it was a few steps behind in drivability. Specifically, the throttle could have a dead spot, the brakes were somewhat grabby, and the battery arguably took up too much space back in the trunk.

In short, this time Toyota applied all its smarts from the latest generation of the Prius, early in the development cycle, so the Camry this time was developed from the very start with a Hybrid model in mind—as an important, popular part of the product mix this time, not just a niche model.

43 mpg city, from an honest-to-goodness Camry

But that's getting ahead of ourselves a bit. The big news is on the window sticker:

The all-new 2012 Camry Hybrid gets excellent gas mileage, of up to 43 mpg city, 39 highway. That's better than the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which up until this point we'd grown to like better than the Camry Hybrid because of its better drivability, more responsive steering, and of course its better EPA rating for 2011.

To get there, Toyota dropped the former 2.4-liter engine in favor of a special Atkinson-cycle version of the base Camry's 2.5-liter four-cylinder.

The engine's compression ratio was bumped from 10.4:1 up to 12.5:1, variable valve timing for the exhaust valves was eliminated, and all accessory drive belts have been replaced with electrically driven accessories—including the A/C compressor and water pump. Total output for the gasoline engine is now 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet, while total power output of the hybrid powertrain is 200 hp—13 hp more than last year.

The inverter has been repositioned to make the battery pack smaller, while the air intake for the battery pack has been moved to the far left side rear seat, next to the seatback and the back of the doorline. Along with that, the entire battery assembly has been moved forward about 5.5 inches, which increases trunk space significantly, from 10.6 cubic feet to 13.1. Altogether, the battery pack is a bit lighter, too, totaling about 150 pounds.

EV Mode, Eco Mode just like Prius

Just as in the Prius, Toyota has added EV Mode and Eco Mode to the Camry. Under some situations, given proper charge, the lack of steep hills, and light throttle application, the Camry Hybrid can go about a half-mile or more on electricity alone.

In addition to the power-flow screens and the histograms for mileage in time increments, the Camry Hybrid gets a screen readout for real-time mileage and its own power-flow display.


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Comments (2)
  1. Thanks for the thorough review.

    This is a huge improvement in MPG for the Camry in the city (38%) and decent improvement on the highway (12%).

    I was always disappointed in the Camry hybrid MPG compared to the Prius. This really brings the Camry up close to the performance level exemplified by the Prius without the controversial look of the Prius.

    Also, is it just me or is this a better looking car than the last Camry?
     
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  2. Regarding the styling-- From a few paces away, the crisper corners are really noticeable on the new Camry, next to the old one. It's what really gives the design more pop in person, only somehow it doesn't show well in photos.
     
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