Full 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid Review
What's New for 2008
The Camry Hybrid's base price has been lowered this year to bring it closer to otherwise similarly equipped Camry models. The Hybrid also gets revised options packages this year.
Other than better fuel economy, people buy hybrids for a number of reasons. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is one, and reducing America's dependence on imported oil is another. A third (and less valid) one is that morally superior feeling one gets from owning a car with a hybrid badge. But up to this point, buying a hybrid for financial reasons has been a questionable decision. Quite simply, the price premium for all that high-tech equipment would take years to recoup through fuel savings (and even government tax rebates). The 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid could change that.
With hybrids flying out of Toyota dealers, it makes sense that the cost of producing these sophisticated machines has gone down. Either that or Toyota is just feeling generous, because the Camry Hybrid's base price has been lowered by $1,000 for 2008. It is now only $200 more than a similarly equipped four-cylinder Camry XLE. At that price, buying a hybrid suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Aside from being more wallet-friendly and offering revised options packages, the Camry Hybrid is unchanged from its debut last year. It still offers the same seamless gasoline-electric power plant, serene cabin, quiet ride and ample features list. Actually, there was another change, but it depends on how you look at it. The EPA has revised the way it calculates fuel economy to better reflect real-world driving, and that has resulted in a significant lowering in the Camry Hybrid's mpg ratings. At 33 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, the Hybrid can no longer boast last year's unrealistic 40/38 mpg rating, but its fuel economy is still incredibly impressive for a vehicle of its size and performance. Only the mechanically similar Nissan Altima Hybrid can match it.
Overall, the 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid is a very impressive and complete sedan that now has the added benefit of an attractive price. While the Prius remains the fuel-economy champion and is now one of the best-selling cars in the country, the Camry Hybrid offers buyers a more mainstream and traditional package. Its closest competition comes from the aforementioned Altima Hybrid. The Altima offers a nicer interior and a superior driving experience at practically the same price. Sadly, that car is only sold in the five California-emissions states. As such, the Camry Hybrid is likely to be the hybrid of choice for more people, no matter what their reasons are for buying.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid comes well-equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition, cloth upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat, a 60/40-split rear seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt/telescoping column, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer and a six-speaker stereo with a single-CD player and auxiliary audio jack.
Stuffed together into various packages, Camry Hybrid options include leather upholstery, a sunroof, a four-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, a navigation system, satellite radio and a JBL sound system with a six-CD changer and Bluetooth capability.
Powertrains and Performance
In the Camry Hybrid, the gas-fueled engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder modified for greater fuel efficiency. It's capable of 147 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor adds another 40 hp, for a total of 187 when driving conditions call for maximum power. The electric motor can also power the Camry Hybrid on its own, but only under light throttle applications at speeds below 30 mph. Although maximum performance is not a priority for hybrids, this Camry goes from zero to 60 mph in a very respectable 8.4 seconds. Power is directed to the front wheels in a seamless fashion through a simplified continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Like most hybrids, the Camry took a hit this year because of the EPA's revised fuel economy calculations. Still, 33 mpg city and 34 mpg highway are very impressive results, and the city number in particular is more than 10 mpg better than other four-cylinder sedans. The Camry Hybrid is also an Advanced Technology Partial-Zero Emissions Vehicle, the cleanest possible rating in terms of air pollution. In some cases, a city's air is actually dirtier than what's coming out of this Camry's tailpipe.
Every Camry comes with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control. In government crash testing, the 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid received five out of five stars in all front and side collision categories. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also gave the Camry its highest rating of "Good" for frontal-offset and side collision protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the Camry's cabin looks snazzier than in years past, the general quality has gone downhill in terms of build quality and materials. It's still better than what some other brands offer, but we've come to expect better from Toyota, and the Nissan Altima Hybrid is more impressive.
What it lacks in polish, though, the Camry Hybrid makes up for with space, quiet and comfort. While the regular Camry provides a serenely hushed environment, the Hybrid's ability to travel using only electric power makes it rival King Tut's tomb for quietude. The Camry's comfy seats and oodles of cubbies and compartments make it a very family-friendly environment. The hybrid system's battery packs chew into trunk space (10.6 cubic feet versus 15 in the regular Camry), although a 60/40-split/folding rear seatback provides some added utility when needed.
Like the Prius, driving the 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid can be a bit odd at times due to the CVT, electric motor and eerily quiet cabin at traffic lights. Unlike the Prius, though, the Camry Hybrid offers relatively brisk acceleration, meaning you don't necessarily have to sacrifice performance for good fuel economy. While the Camry offers a smooth ride and quiet cabin, its isolation takes a toll in terms of road feel and general driving dynamics. For those who appreciate a car that offers more feedback and borderline fun, the Nissan Altima Hybrid (that shares Toyota's hybrid system) would be a better choice.