When driving a car like the Jaguar F-Type, I want to be involved in the experience, hearing the exhaust note at every launch and feeling how it grips the road in hard cornering. But sometimes, I've got other things on my mind while traveling, like what's for dinner or an upcoming vacation, with as little intrusion from the driving experience as possible.
For completely carefree driving, the 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid cocoons me, making my mode of transportation the last thing I need to think about.
The Camry Hybrid operates silently, with naturally quiet electric propulsion and a gasoline engine that only sounds off under full throttle. The gearless transmission makes acceleration smooth and linear, while the cockpit presents an uncluttered, ergonomic design with intuitive placement of controls. Considering its 40 mpg average fuel economy and 17-gallon tank, stops for gasoline come few and far between.
Amidst all the intentioned blandness, I was amused that the shifter, really just another electronic control, looked worthy of a manual-transmission sport coupe.
Camry is, of course, Toyota's midsize sedan, and as the most popular passenger car in the US for many years running, most people have been in one at some point in their lives. For the Camry Hybrid, Toyota takes the same gasoline-hybrid drivetrain technology it developed for the Prius, gives it a bigger engine, and puts it into play.
That means a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, similar to that found in the base level Camry, putting its 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque to work. In concert with the engine, a 105-kilowatt motor and nickel-metal hydride battery pack bring total output up to 200 horsepower, ample for a midsize like the Camry Hybrid.
Even with that power and its sporty shifter, the Camry Hybrid doesn't offer much in the way of engagement with the road. Suspension and steering all feel tuned for comfort, making for an easy driving experience. That's not to say the steering wasn't precise, it just wasn't tuned to communicate any road feel.
The Camry Hybrid mixes power from its gasoline and electric sources seamlessly. If I wanted to know what was going on with the hybrid drivetrain, I could watch a power animation on its dashboard LCD, or just check if the green EV icon was lit on the dashboard. Impressively, that green EV light showed up even when I was cruising along at freeway speeds.
I find braking in the Camry Hybrid, and most hybrids for that matter, rewarding. Instead of burning up brake pads and bringing the car closer to an expensive maintenance appointment, I knew that the car was actually saving its friction brake and largely relying on regenerative braking, recharging its battery pack to give it more electric boost. Every stop is like a mini fill-up.
During my testing period, I got to put the Camry Hybrid up against the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid in a half-mile drag race. Flooring it off the line, the Camry Hybrid took a moment figuring out that I wanted all its power, losing valuable time, but then picked up speed. Its 200 horsepower gave it an edge over the competition, beating the other hybrids across the finish line. A little better programming on the throttle for a better start and its victory would have been much more devastating.
However, those competitors beat the Camry Hybrid handily on fuel economy. Where I managed about 42 mpg on a test loop, the others achieved numbers in the high 40s.