Review: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes

The last time TTAC took a look at the Camry Hybrid was back in 2006. For 2012 Toyota has completely redesigned the Camry from t he “sporty” SE model to the r efrigerator-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.

Despite looking like a mid-cycle refresh, the 2012 Camry is almost entirely new from the sheetmetal to the seat frames. Only Toyota and Volvo seem to get away with completely redesigning a product that looks exactly like the old one. But Toyota remembers a high-selling mid-size sedan that went for a dramatic new look and flopped – yes bubble-Taurus, I’m lookin’ at you. Still, boring usually ages better than “exciting.” Case in point, the curvaceous Hyundai Sonata which is stunning now, but in danger of being horribly dated in a decade?

For 2012 there are two different trims for the Camry Hybrid; LE and XLE. The LE model enables a low $25,900 MSRP (a reduction of $1,159 vs the 2011 base pricing) and includes standard niceties like: keyless entry/go, dual-zone climate control, and USB/iPod/Bluetooth connectivity. The XLE starts at $27,400 and adds: a power driver’s seat, touch-screen infotainment and some 17-inch alloy wheels. Of course, my personal mantra is “base priced be damned!” As such, our tester crawled up the luxury ladder with an eye-popping $6,320 options including $500 blind spot monitoring, $695 backup camera and alarm system, $450 Toyota Safety Connect system with 1 year subscription (ala GM’s OnStar), $1,160 leather and faux-suede seats, $915 moonroof and a whopping $2,600 for the premium JBL navigation system with surround sound, subwoofer, XM satellite radio and access to the premium XM services like weather, traffic and fuel prices. The result was an as-tested price of $34,817 after a $760 destination fee. While 35-large for a Camry sounds bad, the competition “options up” to the same ballpark with a comparably equipped Sonata Hybrid hitting $32,125 and the Fusion Hybrid reaching $33,665.

Features mean nothing if they are wrapped in nasty plastic, and let’s be honest, the previous Camry suffered from some questionable materials. 2012 brings the Camry’s interior game up a few notches with brushed-metal trim and a new dashboard that is injection molded, then stitched to create the latest in automotive interiors crazes; the faux-stitched dash. While GM may not like to have the LaCrosse compared to the Camry, the dash reminded me of Buick’s stitched improvements. Compared to the Sonata and Fusion, the Camry may be setting a new bar for luxuriously squishy dash bits.

Evolution rather than revolution has been the key to Camry design changes over the years, and the 2012’s interior is no exception. Available in muted shades of grey and tan, the only surprising feature is the busy gauge cluster. The cluster integrates four needles, three LCDs, a plethora of status lights, and an LED bar that displays your instant MPG. You might be thinking the needle showing 45MPG (above) is an instant figure, but it’s actually the average MPG gauge. Instant economy is shown by an arc of green LEDs to the right of the gauge. Yes, all the same MPG info can simultaneously be displayed on the LCD in the center of the speedo, as well as in the infotainment system. Doing so will let ensure that everyone in the car knows how green you are. While the gauges are extraordinary “blingy,” I found them preferable to the electrofluroescent displays the Prii use.

When the Camry Hybrid debuted in 2006, people bought them because they were discreetly styled, had a useable trunk and provided more rear leg room than a Prius. The cost of the traditional packaging was the Camry’s 30-odd MPG score. If the “low” fuel economy wasn’t a problem, the battery pack in the trunk robbed precious cargo room. For 2012, Toyota uses a slimmer battery pack allowing the trunk to grow to 13.1 cubic feet. This is larger than the competition, but unfortunately continues to eschew a real trunk pass-through. Instead you get a 60% folding rear seat back which reveals a small, oddly shaped portal. While you might be able to get a pair of skis in the car, other long objects are thwarted by a front passenger seat doesn’t fold.

Like the rest of the Camry line, the Hybrid sports one “sound only” system and three different touch screen navigation/infotainment systems. First up is the base AM/FM/CD audio system with 6 speakers and iPod/USB and Bluetooth integration (the only unit available in the “LE” model.) The XLE starts with the same speakers but for $1,745 adds a 6.1inch LCD “display audio with navigation” (the bundle also includes the keyless-go “smartkey”). This “base” nav system is one of Toyota’s best, as the voice commands for destinations are logical and easy to use. The system also offers smartphone integrated apps and data services meaning you don’t need an XM subscription to make the whiz-bang features work. Shoppers can also bundle this system with the 7.1 channel JBL “green” speaker and amp system which gives the Camry one of the better audio systems in the segment. If you feel spendy, you can upgrade to the 7-inch system (pictured below) which uses a totally different software interface. The up-level interface is hard-drive based and has a few more POIs built-in, allows side-by-side map displays and uses XM as the data service and not your smartphone. While the two systems offer similar features, the 6.1-inch system doesn’t need an XM subscription to do traffic so it would be my choice unless you plan on living with a dumbphone forever. To see the 6.1-inch system in action, check out TTAC’s Prius c video.

When Toyota scaled-up their Hybrid Synergy Drive system to handle the weight of the Camry (and in a desire to retain a standard of acceleration that mid-size shoppers would accept), the enlargement resulted in EPA scores of 33 city/34 highway, well below the Ford and Hyundai competition that soon followed. In addition, the Camry Hybrid wasn’t terribly swift. To solve those complaints, Toyota ditched the old hybrid drivetrain for an all-new system incorporating a larger 2.5L, 156HP Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine and more powerful motors. The new system is good for a combined 200HP (and around 200lb-ft of torque). Largely thanks to the 199lb-feet of torque the motor delivers from 0-1500RPM, acceleration is considerably better than the Prius twisting out a 6.9 second run to 60. While the system still uses Nickle based batteries instead of the trendier Lithium batteries in the Sonata, the refinements to the system lifted the Camry’s economy to 43 city, 39 highway and 41 combined. In the old Camry, I had difficulty achieving the advertised 34MPG highway numbers, but over 730 miles of mixed driving, photo shoots, stop-and-go commute traffic and a weekend out-of-town the Camry Hybrid averaged an impressive 43MPG. While our numbers were notably above the EPA ratings, as with all cars, your mileage will vary.

At 3400lbs, the Camry Hybrid is 245lbs heavier than the non-hybrid Camry and the weight gain impacts handling to some degree, however the low-rolling resistance rubber causes more of a problem with windy mountain roads. Then again, none of the Camry models are corner carvers, and although the steering is just as numb as the rest of the lineup, it is fairly average for the class which focuses more on ride than handling. The Camry is a willing and capable commuter car, providing a quiet, compliant ride and delivering an average of 44MPG on my daily commute.

For some reason, car shoppers in America buy vehicles for their “peak” load rather than their average load. In light of this the Camry Hybrid (like it’s mid-size hybrid competition) may just be the ideal vehicle for the average American delivering a solid 40MPG, seating for five and few compromises. While the Camry Hybrid may be boring, I am a “white bread and smooth peanut butter” kind of guy, and judging by the Camry’s sales numbers, so are a large number of mid size shoppers. With a 41MPG combined EPA score and 0-60 times under 7-seconds, the Camry Hybrid might just be the prefect Camry.

Toyota provided the vehicle insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: ran between 6.7 and 7.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.16 @ 92.7 MPH

Average fuel economy: 40.9MPG over 837 miles

Alex L. Dykes
Alex L. Dykes

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3 of 92 comments
  • Tallnikita Tallnikita on Apr 25, 2012

    So, 6K premium over LE at 15K/year and $5 gas makes it something like 9 years to recoup the 10 mpg fuel savings. Why?

    • Quentin Quentin on Apr 25, 2012

      $3400 is the difference on the LE trim and $2675 is the difference on the XLE trim. So, more like 4.5 years.

  • Accohen Accohen on Apr 27, 2012

    So, $8k more than a similarly equipped 4 banger for 25% better mileage. Even assuming $5/gallon gas, that's just $1500 a year instead of $2000, assuming 12k miles a year. Wow, it will only take you 16 years to make up the difference! Hybrids are useless.

  • Urlik Multi level parking garages are going to be issues as well.
  • Dartman Nice job Healy! A genuine “truth about cars” instead of troll bait.
  • Charlie Oh by the way the steering is so rusted that it actually is loose, and the transmission makes strange whirring and scraping sounds. The car is falling apart from rust.
  • Charlie 78 for my ‘09 Mercury mariner. It has 850k miles on it and leaks oil. It has 9 scratches, deformed bodywork, and severely rusted frame and suspension. When you stand on the duct taped rear bumper, the suspension creaks loudly. Also it has a loud vibration and rod knock, and the driver rear window is falling out. Ps. Don’t they normally have a roof rack and display screen? Cause mine doesn’t.
  • Honda1 More disposable junk from Hyundai.