Toyota Camry versus Toyota Hybrid Camry

by The Car Family

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What could be a more family oriented vehicle comparison than the new Camry hybrid and the four-cylinder LE sedan? Both cars have the more aggressive new exterior look Toyota has chosen for the Camry’s and both offer rock solid reliability and drivability. So the question to be answered is it worth the $3000 (US) or more for the hybrid? The answer is, unfortunately, not that easy to ascertain. If you just want the best deal the base Toyota Camry would be a great choice. If you travel in town a great deal, occasional like to take an extended trip, and don’t want to draw attention the Camry hybrid must be considered.

Inside, the vehicles are nearly identical except for the hybrid’s engine/battery graphic in the speedometer display area and the more solid ride of the heavier hybrid model due to the weight of the batteries. The LE is lighter on its feet, quicker to react, and has more easily modulated brakes. Both vehicle stop well with four wheel disc brakes, a must for the damp roads of British Columbia where we did our testing.

Based on fuel economy alone it would take the average driver about ten years to make up the difference in price between the LE and the hybrid, albeit the latter comes with more standard equipment. But the reality is that the higher resale of the hybrid makes such a comparison a mute point, especially considering that fuel prices are going to be dearer in the future. On the negative side, the upkeep of the hybrid is more expensive. Of note is the fact that some Toyota dealers are starting to discount the hybrids as demand has fallen off. The same can be said of its counterpart, the Honda Accord hybrid. Buyers either want a signficantly better fuel mileage figure as with the Prius, or they want a non-hybrid.

So, the right car for you depends on how much you drive and where you drive. The Car Family estimates that if you travel over 15,000 miles a year the hybrid is the better deal after five years of ownership. We averaged 36 mpg in the hybrid with a low of 31 and a high of 41. We averaged 23 mpg in the LE.

Mom’s view:
The Camry reminds me of how much I like the Lexus. There is nothing wrong with the Camry, but it is so mainstream, so lacking in excitement, and so undemanding that it borders on being taken for granted. The Lexus at least coddles you with lush surrounding.

The Camry’ interiors interiors are easy to master with abundant storage areas and comfortable seats. The trunk is quite large and the liftover is fairly low. When you use the remote the trunk lid pops open an ideal amount. Every woman needs to check this feature as it becomes very irritating if the lid pops all the way open and allows rain and snow to fall into the trunk.  If it just opens a small amount you have to put your packages down and get your hands dirty trying to pry it up. Toyota’s trunk is perfect and gets the Goldilocks award.

On the road the ride is fairly quiet, there is good power in the hybrid, but the four cylinder runs out of breathe too soon. Both vehicles have satisfactory handling, but not sporty. I liked the hybrid, but cannot see spending the extra money for it unless your drive in town a great deal. The plain Jane LE was fine for daily doings, but I sure would like to see the new Solara and its more exciting persona.

Dad’s view:
Unlike the popular Prius, the Camry has no distinctive look outside of a few badges and the same carries over for the interior. The hybrid has a push button starter that works with the remote it can be set to recognize the owner and unlock the doors upon his or her arrival. The hybrid’s dash has a fuel economy readout gauge instead of a tachometer, which I didn’t find needed in the least. As much as I enjoyed the usefulness of the hybrid’s interior, I found the base Camry’s just as nice.

Overall, the hybrid is perhaps the ideal family vehicle for those who travel extensively in the city and take weekend trips to unsuspecting relatives. The electric motors propel the car pretty much by themselves at speeds under 30 mpg, but if you want acceleration or need the air conditioner to run on maximum, the gas engine steps in to provide more energy. The battery pack for the motors takes a bit of usable space from the Camry’s trunk area. Every time you come to a stop the engine shuts down to save fuel and restarts immediately when you release your foot from the brake or touch the accelerator. This feature takes a while as you tend to panic when the engine dies. But after a while it is quite calming knowing that in the heaviest traffic you aren’t wasting fuel. If you need the air conditioning on while the vehicle is stopped for a signficant time you need to turn the dial to maximum air conditioning. That tells the engine to keep running even when the car is stopped.

The hybrid’s engine is the same 2.4 liter engine as in the base Camry and the result is a much better accelerating vehicle, although you do notice when the engine cuts in as there is a slight shudder. When you reach speed and let off the gas the car feels like it would still like to accelerate. It takes a while to get used to this, but it does not deprive you from the driving experience. In reality the hybrid is a better car for the environment and a good ride. However, the base Camry is just as good and less complicated to repair and maintain. In terms of fuel mileage, the LE goes 450 miles on a tank and the hybrid 600 even though the hybrid has a smaller fuel tank. The Hybrid saves you about $500 a year in gas at current prices if you drive 15,000 miles given that the LE is going to average about 5 to 8 miles per gallon less per mile. I would go with the hybrid just for the fun.

Young working woman’s view:
The Camry is much more masculine looking this year with a boyish looks to its snout and a stouter stance. With the LE, and I strongly recommend you consider the nearly as well equipped CE, you get standard features such as power everything, front and side front air bags, and anti-lock brakes just to name a few. The cargo room of 15 cubic feet is impressive and the split folding rear seats are an advantage, but there really isn’t enough room for a family travel. Perhaps four golf bags would fill it. The hybrid’s trunk is about 30 percent smaller.

The weakness of the LE is the engine with its 2.4 liters pushing out 158 horsepower and 168 lb-ft of torque to the five speed automatic transmission. All olf that is truly needed for the 3400-pound LE if you are driving with a family onboard. Despite the engine’s variable valve timing there is clearly need for more grunt. Of course the trade off is that you are getting good fuel mileage and I averaged from 22 to 25 mpg. Toyota can easily solve the acceleration issue with the excetionally strong optional 268 horsepower 3.5 liter V6. So the trade off is obvious. If you want good fuel mileage you are going to have to sacrifice something and to me the hybrid is the best compromise.

College going male’s view:
There is a lot of competition in this price range, but most importantly Camry has left the Honda Accord in its dust by offering more features at nearly the same price. Indeed, if you shop you can get a CE Camry under $20,000 US.

I found radio reception above average, parking satisfactory, althought it had a larger turning radius than I like. My concern was the fact that the high trunk impairs the rearward vision and the large head rests also hinder your view. This is especially noticeable for shorter drivers. I definitely appreciated the CD MP3 capability and a jack for any auxiliary audio input although I suspect from the strange shape of the stereo aftermarket audio people are going to be shaking their heads.

I spent considerable time in the hybrid and came away wondering why my gas mileage seldom rose above 30 mpg. Finally it was pointed out by a family member that I was using the Camry essentially for highway driving in temperatures that seldom feel below 100 degrees. With that caveat in mind, I would go with the hybrid, but not by much.

Family conference:
Split decision, with the telling point being whether the buyer is going to be driving a great deal in town. The hybrid is excellent, but you pay for it. The base LE is competent and much less expensive, but not nearly as fun to drive. Either way, the new Camry is sure to carry on with the tradition of previous models with the largest difference being that the hybrid gives all those Prius owners a change to step-up in terms of size as well as attracting new customers as it fills a niche needed to be itched in the world’s vehicle line-up. For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

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