Now and then you run into a car that just “fits”. It’s like finding a perfect shoe, or a comfy smoking jacket. Until now I have been keeping my secret love on the down-low for several reasons. First off, I’ve always thought having a “favorite car” tends to color one’s judgment when comparing cars, so I try to avoid such statements. Secondly, my dalliance with my automotive flame was fleeting. As most of us know, one-night-stands rarely hold up to the scrutiny of a long-term relationship. And lastly, coming out as a hybrid-lover has been difficult. When folks ask me “what was the best car you drove in 2013?” and my answer is “the 2014 Accord Hybrid,” they stare at me like I have three eyeballs.
The last time TTAC took a look at the Camry Hybrid was back in 2006. For 2012 Toyota has completely redesigned the Camry from the “sporty” SE model to the refrigerator-white base model Michael Karesh took for a spin. The base model’s low price appeals to dealers while the SE allows Toyota to believe the Camry is something other than basic transportation. So what about the hybrid? The gasoline/electric Camry is aimed squarely at shoppers that want more green cred than a regular Camry can deliver and Prius shoppers looking for something more powerful and more traditional. One out of every seven Camrys sold in 2011 was a hybrid, with those numbers expected to grow it is imperative Toyota gets their baby-boomer hybrid just right.
I’m a product of the 1970s, and as a result I was just the right age to remember when Kia came on the scene in 1992 (available for sale 2 years later), the first Kias were cheap to buy but fairly cheaply made as well prompting the running joke was that Kia meant: “Korean, Inexpensive, and Awful.” Fast forward to 2011; Kia/Hyundai products are on an impressive roll, sporting competitive looks and competitive features without the sting of a large price tag. Could the new Optima Hybrid be the frugal shopper’s green alternative to the mainstream Camry and Fusion or even the Lexus HS250h? Let’s find out.