Following the roaring success of the Prius, Toyota has a lot to live up to with the release of its next hybrid car, and the 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid doesn't disappoint. With the same Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) technology found in its egg-shaped little brother, the Camry powers driver and passengers around using propulsion from its 105kW battery and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. You could write a thesis on all the technology under the hood, and it wouldn't have been surprising if Toyota had cut back on cabin electronics, if only to save on solenoids.
However, the 2007 Camry Hybrid comes loaded with cabin features, most of which are standard factory installs. These include a JBL stereo system with MP3 playback (both CDs and portable devices via an auxiliary input), Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calling, and the unique Plasmacluster ionizer (more in Comfort). Also standard on the Camry Hybrid are voice-activated GPS navigation and XM Satellite Radio. Toyota equips the Camry with a well-appointed interior from which to control this array of tech; our test model had heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, and a snazzy, digital instrument panel.
Toyota loads the Camry Hybrid with all the above tech and appointments and offers it at the single price of $25,900, plus a delivery charge of $580. Buyers can even choose leather seats over cloth at no additional charge. This pricing scheme differs from that of the standard-engine Camry, which ranges from $19,320 for a four-cylinder base model to more than $30,000 for a fully loaded V-6 version.Owners of the 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid can indulge their ecofriendly consciences in style. Optional leather-trimmed seats are complemented by a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, lending the cabin a comfortable feel and a touch of class. Both front seats can be heated using toggle switches in the center console. At the other end of the climate scale, dual-zone climate control provides effective air conditioning with a high-tech twist in the shape of the Camry's Plasmacluster air filter. Perhaps the most unique element of this car's onboard technology, Plasmacluster works by artificially creating positive and negative ions that seek out and surround harmful airborne substances, such as mold spores, microbes, fungi, odor, germs, and bacteria.
Although there will be accusations of first-degree gimmickry leveled at Toyota for making this a selling point of the car, there is a certain brand consistency in the Camry Hybrid offering cleaner in-cabin air. After all, if you're driving an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) car, why should you have to breathe other people's burned-gasoline smog?
With good, clean, filtered air in their lungs, drivers of the Camry Hybrid can talk to their hearts' content using the car's as-standard Bluetooth interface and hands-free calling functions. It took us less than a minute to pair our phone to the system, after which we could make calls using either voice-command dialing or a virtual keypad in the Camry's dash-mounted touch-screen LCD, as well as by simply dialing into our Motorola Slvr L2.
Sound quality for hands-free calls was tolerable but lacked the crisp clarity of the stereo system. From the other end of the line, our Bluetooth buddy John said that we were comprehensible, albeit a little tinny and indistinct. Transferring cell phone contacts to the onboard address book is possible only one entry at a time; those with a lot of friends will have to set aside at least a couple of hours to get them all on speed dial.
Sharing the LCD touch-screen interface with the phone is the Camry Hybrid's GPS navigation system, which we found to be admirably equipped with information and easy to program by hand, though less amenable to voice commands. Destinations can be entered using the onscreen keypad in either A-to-Z or QWERTY configuration, and when in map mode, the screen can be set to display a full map or split between an overhead view and either zoomed-in details or a compass. The GPS was reliable around town and quick to recalibrate when we went astray, but the unit completely lost its bearings on a trip through the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Voice recognition on the Toyota nav unit was also a little disappointing; after learning a list of specific instructions from the manual, we found that certain commands were compatible in only specific screens, which meant a lot of fiddling with the Back button and considerable manual pushbutton work to enable use of the voice-command function. As the point of a voice control is to eliminate pressing buttons when on the road, we found the voice option self-defeatingly complicated. When we finally arrived at the right screen to enter voice directions, our frustration was compounded by the system's inability to interpret our commands (we had no idea that there was such a place as San Ysidro until we tried in vain to locate an address in San Francisco).
Despite these drawbacks, the navigation system is packed full of information. Drivers are able to enter destinations by address, freeway entrance, coordinates, and intersection, as welll as by the name or category of a point of interest (POI). And there of plenty of POIs to choose from; a cursory search for points of interest including the word memorial turned up more than 1,000 results.
A number of other neat options can be accessed through the touch screen, including a display for battery life, cruising range, and gas-mileage readouts; an energy monitor showing an overhead schematic of the car and its propulsion sources; and a calendar with a facility to add dated memos, which then pop up on the screen on their appointed day.
As the navigation unit takes up so much space, the Camry's standard JBL six-disc CD changer is downgraded to a JBL four-disc model. However, this doesn't affect the stereo's number of speakers (eight), range of supported playback formats (MP3 CD, WMA, XM or Sirius satellite radio, AM/FM tuner), or auxiliary input jack for playing music directly from a portable MP3 player. And the sound quality of the stereo is exceptional. Toyota labels its in-car audio experience psychoacoustics, which rivals Plasmacluster for gimmickry. But there is no denying that the system sounds good right through the range, with solid bass and clear separation when cranked up and tuned into XM's classical channel.Toyota's latest hybrid family member looks markedly different from its Camry ancestors; from the side, a fuller rear end and more parabolic lines will likely have passersby mistaking this car for something off the Mercedes-Benz drawing board. Toyota's iconic Hybrid Synergy Drive logos on the tailgate and both fenders subtly let the world know that this car is ecofriendly and--more important--acts as the ultimate alternative-cosmopolitan status symbol.