2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid first drive review: A hard formula to mess up

A dash of new style and tech enhances a hybrid that's already among the best.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
4 min read

It might not be the most exciting car on the planet, but the Toyota Camry Hybrid absolutely excels at its intended purpose. It's comfortable, efficient and sufficiently equipped with modern creature comforts. For 2021, a smattering of nonessential updates slightly refines the formula, making a contextually excellent vehicle just that much better.

New tech, but also not

The most immediately noticeable upgrade in the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid is the addition of a new "floating" screen that replaces the one set into the dashboard. The entire middle of the dashboard is redesigned to accommodate this new display, which measures 9 inches on my Hybrid XLE tester, although lower trims make do with just 7 inches. Either way, it's prominent, and the new look still packs the same physical buttons for the climate control, which are easy to reach and use with little distraction. Charging takes place via several USB ports, but only the one under the dashboard is capable of running smartphone mirroring; the USB-A and USB-C ports in the armrest are for charging purposes.

While the screen might be new, the Entune software on it is not. It's the same familiar user interface found in every modern Toyota , and it's the same one we've been privy to for the last couple years. It's not a bad setup by any stretch, with sufficient response times and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in addition to Amazon Alexa integration, as well as an embedded nav system that looks old but functions just fine. However, nobody seemed to tell Toyota that when you start making much larger screens, you might want to upgrade the resolution, because everything on my tester's display is simply upscaled and, as a result, hella pixelated.

2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid stays a popular course

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Image quality isn't the best in other ways, either. The head-up display that comes on high-end trims is surprisingly blurry, enough so that it becomes a distraction. The backup camera is, frankly, among the worst on offer across the industry, with an image so grainy (and blown up, given the screen size) that details just disappear into fuzz. Oddly enough, the small color display between the gauges is crisp and incredibly easy to read at a glance. I don't get it.

What most buyers will appreciate, though, is the upgraded Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 Plus system, which is standard on every . While I don't feel like testing out the improved pedestrian and cyclist detection, nor the left-turn detection system that prevents me from creeping into an intersection at the wrong time, it's solid peace of mind that they're there. The adaptive cruise is updated, and I like that it now accelerates during a lane change, but the active lane-keeping assist is entirely too heavy-handed, just like it is in the updated 2021 Lexus IS that I recently drove. Leave that bit deactivated, though, and it's smooth highway sailing, so long as you can center your own vehicle.

New look, but also not

The 2021 Toyota Camry has updated styling. Can you tell? Me neither. In case you're curious, the cushier LE and XLE models get new wheels, the latter rolling on 18-inchers, which look sufficiently luxury-oriented on my tester. This Hybrid also rocks a new interior herringbone seat pattern, which actually looks the business, even though it's on the subtle side. The sportier SE and XSE variants get some lower fascia tweaks, too.

That's it. It's a Camry. More often than not, folks are buying it because it's a damned good family car. Sure, the lower grille's a little large, but the whole shebang looks handsome enough to pass muster in the valet line.

Effortless hybrid power

The 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid's powertrain remains unchanged for this year, and that's good, because it's already stellar. Under the hood is a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated inline-four that combines with a pair of motor-generators to produce 208 horsepower. While that might not seem like all that much for a midsize sedan like this, there's a good amount of get-up-and-go if I need to shoot a gap when turning onto a faster street. Once it's up to speed, it's all about balancing the throttle to maintain efficiency, something that's easy to do with the big ol' power gauge on the right side. No matter how much motive force I call up, though, the Camry Hybrid responds with smooth delivery.

2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid
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2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid

One might not consider a Camry to be all that luxurious, but the ride quality that comes at this price is very, very hard to beat.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The body is tuned similarly. In fact, it's pretty close to Lexus ' ride quality, with supple damper tuning that turns harsh roads into soft undulations. The XLE is a luxury-themed trim, and on the road, it excels at keeping occupants comfortable. Sure, it's a little nautical in the turns, but you'd spring for the Camry TRD if you wanted flatness.

The Camry Hybrid's ride isn't just effortlessly comfortable, it's efficient, to boot. The EPA rates the 2021 Camry Hybrid XLE at 44 miles per gallon city, 47 mpg highway and 46 mpg combined. My right foot is clearly government-approved, as I earn about that much in each category, perhaps 1 or 2 mpg lower, but some of that can be attributed to Michigan's drivers being, um, a sprightly sort.

Down to brass tacks

The 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid is good, but that's because the current generation of Toyota Camry Hybrid has always been good. It's comfortable, efficient and more affordable than before, with my range-topping XLE trim commanding a $33,165 price tag, down $560 from the year before. Include the fact that buyers get more bang for their buck than last year, and this car makes for an opportunity that's pretty hard to pass up.