Review: 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
This 2007 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2011.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Can a family sedan today get any better than the new-generation Toyota Camry Hybrid?
Except for the price tag, the answer is "no."
The Camry already is the quintessential family car for Americans with annual sales of more than 400,000 in the U.S. In fact, it ranks as the top-selling car in the country— miles ahead of other midsize sedans.
The Camry has a lengthy reputation as a reliable vehicle—so much so that used Camrys often garner generous used car values.
Now a sixth-generation model, the Camry grows slightly roomier, definitely more stylish and more powerful as well as more fuel thrifty with its first gasoline-electric hybrid version.
And what a savvy hybrid it is. The Camry Hybrid drives like a regular vehicle but has the highest government fuel economy rating of any Camry—40 miles a gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway as the supplemental electric power boosts around-town travel mileage most of all.
But this car doesn't sacrifice power to be fuel-stingy. Actually, the hybrid's combined 187-horsepower—coming from a 147-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with Toyota's VVT-i variable valve timing meshed with a 105-kilowatt electric power system—is nearly as much as in any previous Camry, including the predecessor, 2006 Camry V6 with maximum 190 horses.
The Camry Hybrid is comfortable, too, with an easy driving style and plenty of people and cargo room. It's especially quiet inside, to boot.
And making this family car even more perfect is the fact the Camry Hybrid is more than 70 percent cleaner in terms of smog-forming emissions than an average new car. In fact, it's the only Camry rated as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions (AT-PZEV) vehicle in emissions-conscious California.
Nothing strikingly different on the outside
Consumers have to look carefully to spot the Camry Hybrid's metallic-look grille, blue-tinted headlight reflectors and light-emitting diode taillights that differentiate it visually from other Camry cars. Consumers have to climb under the Camry Hybrid to notice the underbody fairing panels under the rear suspension and fuel tank that improve vehicle aerodynamics over non-hybrid Camry models.
Don't expect undersized tires and a weird shape on this hybrid. The Camry Hybrid even rides on good-looking, 16-inch wheels and tires, which had been an uplevel size of tire and wheel on 2006 Camrys.
And unlike early hybrids, the Camry Hybrid wears regular all-season tires, not low-rolling resistance rubber. The latter can have less grip on rainy and snowy road surfaces.
This hybrid car has a substantial appearance, in part because the new-generation Camry is a bit bigger than its predecessor. Wheelbase, or distance from the middle of one wheel on one side to the center of the other wheel on the same side of the car, has grown by 2 ¼ inches. The car is wider than before by an inch, with wheels moved farther out to the corners, and there's a more open glass area in the car.
Better yet, with seven standard airbags, including a new knee airbag to help keep the driver seated properly in the seat during a frontal crash, the Camry Hybrid gets the same, top, five-out-of-five-stars safety rating for front and side crash protection as do all new-generation Camrys.
Differences here and there
The 4-cylinder engine is a version of the 4-banger that's in other Camrys. In the hybrid, this engine operates on an economical Atkinson combustion cycle, not the more traditional Otto cycle.
While efforts were made to make all new-generation Camry models quieter than their predecessors, the hybrid car can feel much, much quieter, in part because it operates at times on silent electric power only.
But there's also the fact that the hybrid is the only Camry with a special acoustic-dampening windshield designed to absorb road noise for a quieter interior. Indeed, the test Camry Hybrid conveyed a luxury feel because it was so quiet inside.
The Camry Hybrid has a nifty hybrid power graphic on a dashboard display screen that no other Camry has. It's an attention-getting, instructional diagram showing where power is coming from and where it's going among the internal combustion engine, electric motor and storage battery pack. Kids young and old can enjoy monitoring the goings-on under the sheet metal via this display. But drivers had best keep their eyes on the road, no matter how tempting it is to look at the colorful graphic in the middle of the dashboard.
The Camry Hybrid loses nearly 4.6 cubic feet of trunk space compared with a gasoline-only Camry. This is because a battery pack for the electric motor system sits behind the hybrid's rear seats, reducing trunk space to 10.6 cubic feet. This trunk room compares with the 14.4 cubic feet in Toyota's other midsize hybrid car, the Prius 5-door hatchback, and the midsize Accord Hybrid sedan, which has 11.2 cubic feet of cargo space.
Higher-priced than most other Camrys
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price is around $26,000 for the 2007 Camry Hybrid. The higher price isn't just for the hybrid components. The Camry Hybrid includes a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic, plus some uplevel amenities such as 8-way, power driver's seat.
In comparison, a gas-only-powered Camry with 150-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, automatic transmission and 6-way manual driver's seat had a starting price of just over $19,900 at the start of the 2007 model year. The lowest starting retail price for a Camry with 268-horsepower V6 and automatic was just over $23,000.
Indeed, the Camry Hybrid's starting price is second only in the Camry lineup to the top-of-the-line Camry XLE with V6.
Remember, though, that the Camry Hybrid is the only Camry that qualifies for a federal income tax credit of up to $2,600, though this amount was already being halved to only $1,300 by fall 2006 due to lawmaker limits on hybrid tax credits. Buyers should check with auto dealers and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for details.
Some hybrid perspective
The Prius, which has a 5-door hatchback design and a combined 110 horsepower from its gas-electric system, serves up more mileage than the Camry Hybrid. Government fuel economy ratings for the Prius are 60/51 mpg. With U.S. sales dating to 2000, the Prius is the world's best-selling hybrid car.
Meantime, the Accord Hybrid, which comes with a V6 mated to an electric powerplant, has a 28/35-mpg rating and is tuned for performance and more than 250 horsepower, rather than strictly fuel mileage.
The Camry Hybrid takes a different approach than the Prius and Accord Hybrid. It gets noteworthy mileage, but at 3,680 pounds, which is more than either the lighter-weight Prius or the Accord, the Camry Hybrid feels—and looks—like a more substantial car. And inside, the Camry Hybrid has a near-luxury personality, plus more rear-seat leg- and shoulder room than the Prius and Accord Hybrid.
Can drive it like a regular car
At times, I didn't know the test car was on, because the double overhead cam, inline 4 cylinder didn't immediately start up. In fact, I could back out my driveway and head down my neighborhood street at moderate speeds on quiet, electric power only.
But watch carefully for pedestrians. They are accustomed to hearing vehicle engine noises and may not notice a Camry Hybrid coming up from behind.
There were hot summer days when the Camry Hybrid's 4-cylinder engine came on almost immediately at startup. This was because I wanted to get the air conditioning going full blast, and it won't operate full blast on electric power only.
Also, on some particularly oppressive, 90-degree days, it was not unusual to hear a fan whirring behind the Camry Hybrid's back seats when I started the car without the air conditioning on. This fan kept the battery pack back there cool and operated on its own. But it was weird to hear that fan and not have any air blowing on me, up in the front seat.
It's easy to drive the Camry Hybrid like any other car. It operates on regular, unleaded gasoline and is not ever plugged in. The car uses Toyota's latest Hybrid Synergy Drive system and has electronics that automatically mix the gas engine power with electric power, as needed.
Save for the intriguing dashboard graphic and a sometimes golf-kart feel with just the electric power on, the Camry Hybrid felt like a "normal" sedan.
The engine can generate 147 horsepower on its own, so highway travel isn't sluggish.
In city traffic and during passing maneuvers, electric power provided good get up and go. The car's electric motor can produce 199 lb-ft of torque instantly for smooth, quick acceleration.
Best of all, in actual city/highway driving—and without concern for fuel mileage, I admit—the test Camry Hybrid got 36.4 mpg, or just 6.7 percent less than what the window sticker advertised. This was with the air conditioning on, too.
The ride was pleasant. The car rolled over most bumps without fuss, and I talked with passengers conversationally in the quiet interior. Mostly, we heard road noise from the tires rolling on the pavement.