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Don Adair: Toyota Camry Hybrid scores high for reliability, comfort and performance

We heard from a reader recently who wrote to suggest that we consider reliability when reviewing hybrids.

Like most of us, I think, our reader assumed that the complexity of hybrid systems would make them unreliable. However, the opposite is true; gas-electric hybrid technology has proven nearly bullet-proof. 

U.S.News & World Report gives today’s tester, the Toyota Camry Hybrid, its top, five-star, rating for reliability. JD Power awards the Hybrid with top ratings for overall quality and predicted reliability.

You can do far worse with numerous conventional vehicles bearing stiffer price tags.

Back in the day, before hybrids moved into the mainstream, we all assumed that highly efficient vehicles would be hair-shirt affairs. But that’s not the case; the gas-electric Camry Hybrid is as quiet, quick and comfortable as its non-hybrid siblings.

The equal of gas-only models

Cabin space and cargo capacity take a slight hit due to the space requirements of the hybrid system; otherwise, the Hybrid is the equal of the gasoline-only models.

In the Camry hierarchy, the Hybrid ($26,790) is positioned between four-cylinder ($23,955) and six-cylinder ($31,370) siblings. It’s available in three trims, the base LE, sport-oriented SE ($27,995) and luxurious XLE ($30,140). 

Standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control; keyless entry and ignition; cruise control; full power accessories; an eight-way power driver seat, with power lumbar; automatic headlights; heated outside mirrors; and a rearview camera. 

Tech highlights include Toyota's Entune Audio interface, with its 6.1-inch touchscreen, voice controls, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, and six-speaker sound system with CD player, auxiliary audio jack and USB interface. 

Strong yet efficient

Efficiency is the Hybrid’s raison d’être. Its estimated EPA ratings of 40-mpg combined (42 city/38 highway) betters the four-cylinder’s 27/24/33 and the six’s 24/21/30.

Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine pairs with an electric motor to produce 200 horsepower. The 2.5-liter four that powers non-hybrid models makes 178 hp. A 3.5-liter V-6 makes 268 hp. 

All Camrys are driven by the front wheels. Toyota’s Synergy Hybrid System (HSD) runs an electronic version of the normal belt-and-pulley continuously variable transmission, which it refers to as an e-CVT. Non-hybrid models get a six-speed automatic.

The Hybrid runs the 0-60 sprint in 7.7 seconds; four-cylinder trims run it in 8.3 seconds; the six runs it in 6.6 seconds. The Hybrid and its V-6 siblings are quicker than average in their segments; the fours are a bit slower than their chief competitors. 

“Full” hybrid system

Hybrid Synergy Drive is a ‘full’ hybrid system with two powerplants — a battery-powered electric motor and conventional gasoline engine — that can work together to power the car or be used independently. In normal operation, HSD manipulates the flow of power produced by the powerplants to attain the greatest possible combination of efficiency and performance.

When it’s running, the gas engine charges the battery; when the battery is fully charged, the system can run on battery power alone for up to 1.6 miles at speeds under 25 mph.

Because the system continually charges itself, the Hybrid never needs to be plugged in.

In the main, HSD operates transparently, with brake feel is the chief exception. The regenerative braking system captures energy normally lost as heat and feeds it into the electrical system. It often results in a non-linear, or grabby, pedal feel. 

The electrically assisted steering system communicates little to the driver, though a solid on-center valley ensures steady in-lane tracking.  

With its sport-tuned suspension and recalibrated steering, the SE is more responsive and engaging than the LE and XLE trims.

The XLE offers leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power passenger seat and Qi wireless smartphone charging (select Android phones only). It also adds Entune Audio Plus, with its 7-inch touchscreen, smartphone-based navigation, and a 10-speaker JBL audio system with satellite and HD radio.

Reliable, quick, comfortable and, most of all, thrifty to operate, the Camry Hybrid represents the state of the automobile as it moves away — gently — from the fossil-fuel era.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com, or visit www.dadair.com.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Vehicle base price: $26,790
Trim level base price: $30,140
As tested: $35,905 (includes destination)
Options: Entune Premium JBL audio, with 7-inch high-resolution split-screen display, voice-recognition, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; lane-departure alert; blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert; dynamic cruise control; automatic high-beam headlights; emergency road-side assistance, with stolen vehicle locator and collision notification; more.
EPA ratings: 38 combined/40 city/37 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified




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Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.