It's not easy being ... jade, emerald, lime. We're tired of the word "green" and refuse to use it. Although it has come to mean environmentally friendly, it can also imply naiveté, immaturity or a lack of sophistication. Not fair. The 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid sedan is pure smarts. It's fresh, refined and above all, very, very normal. It deserves a new hue. Sage is a good variation. It's descriptive and wise at the same time.
More than any other hybrid we've driven, the 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid has the most seamless transition between electric motor and gasoline engine. If we didn't tell you it was a hybrid and let you drive it, we doubt you would notice. And unlike Toyota's Prius, which was purposely designed to look special with its little shifter and Alpine cable car-like design, the Camry Hybrid looks almost identical to the non-hybrid Camry. They're driving among us and you don't even know it.
A horse of a different color
Toyota's Camry Hybrid uses a 45 horsepower electric motor mated to a 147 hp 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder gasoline engine, resulting in a net 192 horsepower. The system adjusts power between gas and electric, or uses both, as needed. A continuously variable transmission helps the engine operate at maximum fuel efficiency. Engine torque is rated at 138 pound-feet at 4,400 rpm and electric motor torque at 199 lb-ft at zero to 1,500 rpm. We've grown accustomed to hybrids feeling somewhat sluggish, but this new Camry Hybrid feels surprisingly robust.
On the dash, instead of revs, you will find an MPG consumption meter depicting the electric/gas power ratio. The only exterior variance to the non-hybrid Camry is a slight difference in undercarriage design, which reduces aerodynamic drag and helps increase fuel economy. But that's it. The most noticeable difference will be found at the fuel pump.
Testing the claims
On one 17.2-gallon tank of gas, Toyota claims you can drive 650 miles. Rated at 40 mpg/city and 38 mpg/highway by the EPA, the Camry Hybrid was daring us to test it. So we conducted our own fuel economy experiments and got similarly dramatic results. On our city loops, we made moderate starts at traffic lights and were careful not to exceed 45 mph. We averaged 38.4 mpg.
Likewise, we experimented on the freeway, setting cruise control to 60 mph and watching the fuel economy gauge hover just above the electric motor level, blending electric power with a minimum of gasoline. On inclines, the meter climbed to 40-percent gasoline. We averaged a staggering 42.4 mpg. Granted, this was with a completely charged battery that could draw full electric power. But it goes to show that if you drive this car prudently, you really can travel more than 650 miles per tank.
During our time with the Camry Hybrid, our overall fuel economy was 32.6 mpg.
Compare the Camry Hybrid EPA numbers to the Honda Accord Hybrid, which is rated at 25 city, 34 highway. In fairness, the six-cylinder Accord Hybrid doesn't really use its hybrid technology for maximum fuel efficiency, but rather to supplement its 253 horsepower. Another fuel-efficient option could be the Volkswagen Jetta diesel. It only offers 100 hp, but is rated 35 city, 42 highway.
But is the Camry Hybrid slow?
OK, you feel good about the environment, but do you have to sacrifice performance? While our test driver thought the car felt like "an ice cream truck" at the track, those of us who weren't pushing the Camry Hybrid through the slalom course after a BMW M6 were decidedly more generous. The Camry Hybrid may feel dull after driving a high-performance car, but when you look at the actual numbers from the track, they're on par for the front-wheel-drive midsize sedan segment.
With a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds, you won't win any drag races in the Camry Hybrid, but no one will make fun of you as you try to merge onto the freeway either. The numbers aren't bad compared to the previous-generation non-hybrid Camry with an inline-four engine, which took 10.3 seconds to reach 60 mph in our comparison test against a Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata. The Accord, which was also a four-cylinder, managed 9.5 seconds while the Sonata, even though it was a V6, took 8.2 seconds. For the record, the V6-powered 2007 Camry XLE cut 0-60 times to 6.5 seconds.
Braking numbers were comparable within this segment as well. The Camry Hybrid's four-wheel disc brakes brought the sedan from 60 to 0 mph in 135 feet. Not terribly impressive. But the previous four-cylinder Camry from our comparison test took 146 feet. The new 2007 V6 Camry did it in only 124 feet. One thing to note: The hybrid's brake pedal is fairly sensitive and takes some adapting to avoid jerkiness.
The electronic variable-assist power rack and pinion steering felt precise and in proportion with the weight and size of the car. The chassis rolled a bit in sharp turns, but not so much to be bothersome. The Camry Hybrid uses MacPherson struts in front and dual-link independent MacPherson struts at the rear, and rides on 16-inch Bridgestone tires. The ride is comfortable around town and on the highway. It feels stable, and handles potholes and bumps well.
Vehicle stability control with traction control limits the car's high-performance ability in favor of safety. But in a hybrid, smoothness is what matters most — moderate acceleration and even braking will equal maximum efficiency.
Our test Camry was loaded with more than $4,000 worth of option packages full of niceties like heated leather seats, a voice-activated navigation system, power moonroof and first aid kit.
Contributing to your clean lifestyle, Toyota outfitted the Camry Hybrid with an ECO button for the A/C unit to conserve energy and a Plasmacluster air filtration system, which is basically like an Ionic Breeze for your car. This helps us feel a bit better about the giant hybrid battery that lives behind the rear passenger seats.
Fine quality materials are used throughout the interior. The power seats are infinitely adjustable and remain comfortable and supportive even after long drives.
At lower speeds, the Camry Hybrid is quiet inside and out, eerily quiet, pedestrians-beware quiet. When driving on the highway, however, interior quiet was disturbed by road noise penetrating the cabin.
Overall length is the same as the previous-generation Camry, but this 2007 model sits on a 2-inch-longer wheelbase. This edition is also an inch wider, providing a little more hip and elbow room. Even the backseat felt roomy, although for long drives two rear passengers would be more comfortable than three.
Cargo capacity is lacking at only 10.6 cubic feet compared to the non-hybrid Camry, which offers 15 cubic feet. The rear seats fold down but only pass through to the trunk on one side in order to protect the hybrid battery.
Soon to be America's best-selling hybrid?
Fear not the hybrid lifestyle. You don't have to drive around in something that looks like a pod. Our only difficulty with the car was driving up very steep hills. The engine complained loudly. So if you live in the Hollywood Hills or someplace similarly vertical, you may want to opt for more power. You could go for the V6 Honda Accord Hybrid, which is similar in dimensions but will cost you $5,000 more than the base Camry Hybrid's $25,900.
If you care about quick green light take-offs, the new V6 non-hybrid Camry may be more your speed. But if you drive under normal everyday conditions and would like to get more than 500 miles out of a tankful of gas, the Camry Hybrid is a sage option.
The 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid will leave its competition chartreuse with envy.
System Score: 9.0
Components: XLE and Hybrid Camrys come standard with a JBL premium sound system. It includes an in-dash six-disc CD changer, but when the navigation system is ordered (as on our test car) it becomes a four-CD changer and stereo functions are integrated into the color touchscreen. The stereo has eight speakers and an eight-channel, 440-watt digital amplifier.
Bluetooth hands-free phone technology is also included with the JBL stereo. The JBL system can play MP3 and WMA CDs and has an auxiliary audio jack for connecting portable MP3 players. Steering-wheel-mounted audio controls are also standard.
Performance: Once we got the spec sheet on this stereo, we were shocked to find that it has only eight speakers. Frankly, it sounds like 16.
The sound is so clear and bright it makes almost any type of music a joy to listen to. The sound quality is also well-rounded, with near-perfect balance between highs, lows and midrange reproduction. Even at higher volumes, the sound never gets harsh and there is no perceptible distortion. Plus, the sound has a warm quality that lends it a true premium feel. The bass is full and rich and if you want it to thump a little, simply turn that bass up. This is easily the best Toyota/JBL stereo we've heard and is one of the best factory systems available in any non-luxury-branded car. It's absolutely on par with stereos found in more expensive vehicles from Acura, Audi and Cadillac.
On the other hand, we don't really care for the clunky manner in which CDs are loaded when the JBL stereo is paired with the navigation system. Since the nav screen has to flip open to access the CD slot, it's difficult to load multiple CDs because the screen that shows the CD position is out of view. Additionally, the green lights that flash when the changer is ready to accept a disc are hard to see in the daytime. Also, the "load/eject" screen is separate from the "audio" screen, which is confusing at times.
However, there are a few thoughtful features that make using the stereo easy and more enjoyable. For example, when the nav screen transitions from one function to the other, it uses a nice dissolve rather than a harsh jump. Also, the screen colors are bright and fresh-looking and there's even an "eject all" button that eliminates the need to sit in the driver seat for an extra three minutes pressing the eject button six times in a row. That is simply an excellent idea. The touchscreen also incorporates commands from the hard buttons very nicely — the integration with the navigation screen is more than just an afterthought and works very well.
Best Feature: Excellent sound quality.
Worst Feature: Confusing CD load procedure.
Conclusion: This is the best Toyota/JBL stereo yet. The sound quality approaches Lexus standards, which seems even more amazing given that this is the standard stereo on the Hybrid and XLE versions of the Camry. — Brian Moody.
Road Test Editor Brian Moody says:
So this is the face of hybrids to come? Wow! This is simply an excellent car, hybrid or not. It drives like a regular sedan, or perhaps even a luxury sedan. It's smooth, quiet and serene and there's plenty of power. Unlike the Accord Hybrid, the Camry has little to no jerkiness as it stops and goes in heavy traffic. The only noticeable drawback to all of the hybrid workings is that the brakes can seem a little grabby, but I'll bet this is something you get used to as an owner. Also, the interior is great looking and the navigation screen is easy to read with very pleasant colors and graphics — it looks like I'm viewing an animated Thomas Brothers Guide.
On the downside, I don't think the radio volume-control knob is well placed (I kept reaching for the temperature knob), and I noticed that the passenger's seat rattled a little when it was unoccupied.
Clearly, hybrids use less fuel than their gas-only counterparts, and that is a good thing no matter what your motive. Still, I'm not convinced that hybrids are the key to saving planet Earth. I'm not even entirely sure it needs saving, but if Toyota is going to build a hybrid that's this good and asks for so few compromises along the way, what could it hurt to drive one?
Vehicle Test Assistant Mike Schmidt says:
The 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid holds true to the traits of its pedigree: high-quality, comfortable and economical. An MSRP under $26K and estimated 40 mpg are icing on the cake for one of America's best-selling cars. Were I in the market for a "green" sedan, the Camry would be on my list, but I'd think twice about a hybrid due to an experience I had driving this car:
I'm cruising down the street when, from the corner of my eye, I spot Mr. Head in the Clouds stopped at the intersection just ahead of me. It's a stop sign for him and nothing for me, so I proceed. Defensive driving 101 taught me to be wary in these situations and for good reason. As I enter the intersection, so does Mr. Clouds. I stomp on the accelerator to elude him but the car doesn't react quickly enough and forces me to swerve as well. Batteries power the Camry at low rpm, so flooring the pedal means about 2 seconds of delay before the transition from battery to gasoline mode. It's fuel-efficient, but scary in this case.
The experience reminded me of a visit to the bank. "Hello," I say, "I would like to withdraw full throttle." The teller replies, "I am sorry, sir, I will need my manager to approve this request before we continue. Will you please wait?"
"I traded in my 1995 Toyota V6 XLE with 148,000 miles on it for this 2007 Toyota Hybrid. It's as peppy as the V6, excellent on the fuel so far. I only have 256 miles on the new car and am getting 32 miles to the gallon thus far. It has many features that were in the Lexus: JBL sound, duo air conditioning, keyless entry and start. Trunk is a little small but the seats fold forward in the back. This is not an option on the XLE. I know I will love this car for many years." — Lucy, May 24, 2006
"Excellent acceleration for an economy hybrid. Less than 8 seconds to 60 mph. And it gets good mileage so far — about 37 mpg. It isn't a sports car, but it handles well, is quiet on the highway and seats are comfortable." — TKCamry, May 17, 2006
"At this point (500 miles) I am extremely pleased with the 2007 Camry Hybrid. Fuel economy in mixed driving has ranged from 34.5 to 37 miles per gallon which to me is more than acceptable. The car is completely loaded including leather, moonroof and NAV system. The handling and performance have been more than adequate and the fit and finish are superb." — Stewn, May 17, 2006
"Make no mistake about it this is a green luxury car for under $30K. Leather, nav, the whole deal go drive one, you'll see what I mean. P.S. I am currently getting ABOVE the quoted gas mileage!!!" — ChipGreen. May 16, 2006
Edited by Erin Riches