What did I learn about the Toyota Camry Hybrid after 12 hours?
You learn a lot about a Toyota Camry Hybrid if the drive is six hours there and six hours back…
FOR SOME PEOPLE a long drive is an hour, but for others it’s a week. For me, the run from Melbourne to Mildura is around 550km, and that’s starting to get on the long side of a medium trip. So in the interests of road testing, I decided to see what a few hours drive would be like in a Camry Hybrid.
Usually when I walk through the house door the resident cat is waiting for me with a knife and a sneer, demanding to be fed. This time it’s nowhere to be seen. Aha…the electric Camry had snuck up so quietly the cat hasn’t realised I’m home! I feel sudden and unexpcted love for the Camry Hybrid.
I pack the Camry with long-distance driving essentials; two water bottles, food, road atlas, 12v charger for the phone, emergency weather clothes, and prepare the Boredom Weapons. The boot offers way more space than my overnight bag and laptop take up. But there are no tie-down points. Bad, Toyota. But I forgive them because…
Rush hour traffic. This is where hybrids do their best work, inching along in electric-only mode. All hybrids are stop/start, but it’s not annoying because the engine cuts soon as you brake or lift off, and doesn’t restart till after you move off. As usual with modern Toyota hybrids, the transition between electric and petrol is completely seamless.
I decide to explore the Camry Atara’s features.
Hour 1 + one minute
Exploration of Camry Atara features complete. Only the driver’s window is one-touch up/down. And this is the Atara S which is a step up from the entry level Altise. The interior really is very boring.
Free of the Melbourne snarl, Camry and I are cruising on the freeway. There’s a bit of traffic still, and I miss adaptive cruise control. The Calder Freeway bores me, so I use Boredom Weapon #1 – the phonecall. Yes, remember them? What we used to do before it was all text, emoticons, and pictures of food on Facebook.
So, I call friends and have a chat..I’ve got time and the Camry needs very little attention. Chats over, I spend some time looking at whether the car is actually operating as a hybrid or not, and it’s not. This is as expected; the battery can be recharged by the engine, but that’s a bit pointless as the engine should be diverting its efforts to powering the car. The efficient way to recharge the battery is to slow down, ideally by lifting off the accelerator only, or by braking. And you don’t do that in cruise. Well, not unless you get very bored 🙂
Now off the freeway onto country roads. These brakes are good, as you generally find with hybrids as the vehicle recharges its battery when it slows down. Sometimes the brake pedal feel on hybrids is a bit unatural, but Toyota get it right on their hybrids.
Around corners the Camry isn’t actually terrible. It’s boringly competent, a joyless but effective cruiser. It can overtake though; several times we surge past a car or two with no drama at all, didn’t even need to floor it. The other drivers look surprised to see a Camry overtaking anything as usually these cars are the choice of fatburgers.
Both the petrol and electric engine work in concert for maximum power. I pull away enthusiastically out of a T-junction turn and the Camry squeals the outside front tyre. It’s really not designed for this sort of thing. Little bit of torque steer too. But what it is good at is ride comfort. Super smooth, almost use a 4WD-like don’t-care attitude to potholes.
The Camry reads an email to me. That’s not very exciting, so I use Boredom Weapon #2 – podcasts. So many to choose from, but I’m listening to the 4X4 Earth podcast as I’m a regular guest on the show but not this time and I want to hear what else is going on. I also listen to the Guardian Long Reads or Science podcasts, which despite being Guardian media are not all sackcloth and ashes but quite interesting. I also like Gareth Jones on Speed which is a little bit like the old Top Gear but in podcast form. You’ll like it too if British chat about cars and F1 is your thing.
I’m now into the 110km/h single-lane roads and the Camry is in its element, loping comfortably along. From time to time there’s a truck, and as I approach the alert driver signals right. That tells me it’s clear to overtake, which I don’t rely on but use as an extra check for my own sighting. Once clear, I toggle my indicators left and right as thanks. Did that all the time in Europe, don’t often see it here.
The final Boredom Weapon is used. One of my handheld UHF radios which I use to scan channels and listen in. And sometimes talk to people, like Jim and Jane, happy caravaners who advertise their journey on Channel 17.
The reversing camera is pretty average. Only two parking sensors at the back too. Turning circle at 11m is also a bit big. But, Camry and I have arrived and I’m in one piece and feeling fresh. So the Camry has done its job, just like they do every day, everywhere.
Melbourne to Mildura was 638km, of which about 80km was in heavyish traffic. The fuel consumption meter read 5.8L/100km, but I used 40.36L of fuel which is actually 6.38L/100km, so the readout was 10% optimistic which isn’t unusual. As we explained in a previous post, hybrids aren’t worth it for these long cruises, but are can be cost-effective around town if you do a lot of stop-start driving…which is why they’re so popular with Uber drivers!
Much as us enthusiast drivers like to rag on the Camry, you can see the attraction. It’s big, easy to drive, reliable and comfortable.
Toyota keep trying to persuade people it’s cool and sporty, but it’s neither and it really should own that, wearing the non-sporty badge with a kind of anti-mainstream pride. Sounds odd but it’s true, as every car is claimed to be cool and sporty, so the Carmy should focus on being the big, reliably boring but usefully dependable workhorse that it is. We need those cars in Australia.