With the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid on the schedule, I set myself for a week of adrenaline-free driving, scooting around the highways and byways of the San Francisco Bay Area at a comfortable pace. After a few long freeway trips I noticed the fuel gauge was still pegged at full. Was it broken? Would I be stuck on the side of the road with an empty tank?
Far from it. First of all, the average fuel economy on the trip computer read over 40 mpg. Compounding that excellent fuel economy and explaining the glacial movement of the fuel needle, a look at the specs showed that Toyota fits the Camry Hybrid with a big 17 gallon fuel tank.
At the Camry Hybrid's EPA average of 40 mpg, that means 680 miles of range. Just think how infrequently you'll be stopping at gas stations.
The Camry is Toyota's midsize sedan, a big seller in the US. For the 2015 model year, Toyota gave the Camry a seemingly big update, with completely new styling. However, the company carried over the engine options from the previous generation, keeping the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder, the 3.5-liter V-6, and the hybrid gasoline-electric drive system.
A base 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid, in LE trim, will set you back $26,790. The model I tested was the $27,995 SE trim, with tech options and destination fee boosting the price to $31,110. Meanwhile, Australian buyers will pay AU$35,490 for a car that can cover the vast distances of that continent with few fill-ups. Toyota doesn't offer any sort of Camry in the UK, and the closest equivalent to the Camry Hybrid would be the Prius, with a base price of £21,995.
The sticker for the car I tested showed the Entune Premium Audio with Navigation package, added for $1,300, but when I tried duplicating this car build on Toyota's Web site, it forced the Entune package on me. A Toyota spokesperson insisted Entune is optional on the SE trim Camry Hybrid, but standard on the LE and XLE trims. Your dealer may tell a different story.
Successful app integration
That said, I was completely pleased with the Entune upgrade. The 7-inch touchscreen in the dashboard showed navigation, hands-free phone, audio and apps, and responded quickly to all my inputs. The system showed a homescreen, and let me choose its configuration. Maps in the navigation system looked good, offering perspective and plan views. Although not as detailed as maps I've seen from Audi and BMW vehicles, the ones in the Camry Hybrid gave me reliable route guidance, complete with automatic rerouting around traffic problems.
The points-of-interest database in the navigation system lacked a free-form search, but Toyota's Entune app system made up for it. To run this system, I had to install the Entune app on my phone. Toyota offers it for iOS and Android. Then, with my phone paired with the car, I could access Bing search, Yelp, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable and iHeartRadio on the Camry Hybrid's touchscreen. The system used my phone's data connection to power these apps, and integrated them with the car's navigation system. Using Yelp, for example, I could do a free-form search and get a list of local businesses, then easily select one and set it as my destination.
Entune works very well, one of the better app integration schemes available, and while I like the current roster of apps in the system, I would like to see Toyota expand its offerings.
For audio apps, Entune include Slacker, Pandora and iHeartRadio, though I found that Pandora got a little sticky after I activated it. No matter what I tried, I couldn't change the audio source back from Pandora to any other source on my phone. That might be partly an iOS issue, as I've noticed this problem in other cars.
Other audio sources in the Camry Hybrid's stereo include HD Radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio and a USB port for drives or a wired iOS device connection. Where the stereo showed a full music library on the touchscreen for devices plugged into the USB port, the Bluetooth audio interface offered only limited control over music playback, with no ability to select music.
The Premium Audio phrase in the Entune package's name is a bit misleading, as the 6-speaker audio system that comes with this package in the Camry Hybrid SE falls a bit short of the 10-speaker JBL GreenEdge system available in the Camry Hybrid XLE model. You will definitely want to go for the higher-trim car if you want better audio.
The sweet spot
I was able to enjoy that JBL audio system when I reviewed thepreviously. But while I lauded that car's cabin tech, I wrote that the Camry Hybrid would likely be the better car. After spending a week with the hybrid model, my opinion is roundly confirmed.
The Camry Hybrid uses a gasoline-electric drive system consisting of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque, a 105-kilowatt electric motor making 199 pound-feet of torque, and a 650-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack. Toyota rates the total system output at 200 horsepower, a bit less than the Camry XLE V6's 268 horsepower.
At no time did I find the Camry Hybrid's power lacking, at least for the tasks I gave it. Its output proved more than adequate for passing and merging maneuvers, so I never wanted for the power increase of the XLE V6 model.
Like many midsize sedans, the Camry is generally not an engaging car to drive. You get in, you start it up and it gives you a completely uncomplicated driving experience. However, the Camry Hybrid is much more engaging than its pure gasoline siblings. Push the accelerator and the car determines how much power to draw from the electric motor and gasoline engine. I could game the car, using light accelerator inputs to launch on just electric power, leaving the gasoline engine off.
While under way, I could use the power flow animation to try and maximize the electric power usage, causing the fuel economy to skyrocket. An Eco mode button on the console softened the throttle response, making it easier to take off under electric power. An EV mode attempts to run the car only on electricity, but whenever I tried it, the car told me there wasn't enough juice in the battery to enable EV mode.
At stops, of course, the Camry Hybrid's engine shut down, wasting no gasoline for long red lights. On ascents the car's hill stop feature made for smoother starts, even when the engine shut down.
Ultimately, I beat the Camry Hybrid's EPA fuel economy of 38 mpg highway and 40 mpg city, coming in at 41.7 mpg for a course of driving that involved freeways, suburban roads and city streets.
While taking an interest in the hybrid system's operation and trying to maximize fuel economy was fun, the Camry Hybrid felt a little rougher than I would have liked. After a couple of drives I speculated that something might be wrong with this particular car, but before I asked Toyota to look at it, I noticed that this Camry Hybrid had the SE trim. Toyota offers the Camry Hybrid in LE, the base trim, XLE, the top trim, and SE, or sport trim. SE includes a sport-tuned suspension, according to Toyota's literature, which seems a bizarre addition to this model.
My sense is that most people buying a Camry Hybrid will prefer a comfortable ride over powering down a twisty road. And even if that were not the case, tuning the Camry Hybrid's suspension for firmer, better handling in the turns doesn't make it anywhere close to being a sports car. Yes, the steering is reasonably responsive, but the transmission allows no control over gears, virtual or otherwise. There is no ability to maximize power at the apex of a turn.
This Camry Hybrid SE proved the kind of easy driver this class of car was meant to be, a perfect commuter and errand runner, but I would have preferred the smoother ride of the LE or XLE trim versions.
Toyota made big improvements to the looks of the Camry for the 2015 model year, and other less noticeable upgrades all around. Entune app integration gets carried over, with some refinement, from the previous generation. While I would like to see more apps available in this system, what we have is very useful. I'm continually impressed how well this app integration system works, especially without a dedicated data connection in the car.
As with Entune, Toyota kept the same hybrid system for the 2015 Camry Hybrid. I suspect Toyota could have found ways to make this system even better, extracting more power or efficiency. For Toyota, however, the Camry Hybrid may be good enough, as there isn't much out there hitting similar fuel economy and power numbers. For example, theposts slightly higher EPA numbers, but comes down on power. And with its jumbo fuel tank giving it extraordinary range, Toyota might count that as a talking point for owners.
Combine pleasing style, excellent fuel economy, a flexible and useful app integration system and the everyday utility of a midsize sedan format, and the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid should be a top consideration for buyers in this segment. However, I would give up any sporting ambitions and stick with the LE or XLE trims.
|Model||2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid|
|Power train||2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, 105-kilowatt electric motor, 650-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack|
|EPA fuel economy||40 mpg city/38 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||41.7 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based radio, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||8-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$31,100|