2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE Review - That's Me, Mr. Dependable
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE
Gil’s my next-door neighbor. We live in very similar homes, we share a fondness for canine companions, and we would both happily live on pizza alone.
But Gil and I couldn’t be more different. Gil is cool, you see.
Gil’s young; I’m not not as young as I used to be. Gil can change the alternator on an old Ford Explorer in mere minutes; I can change a lightbulb if given time. Gil goes out on Friday nights; I have little children to put to bed.
And while I spent the last week driving a basic version of the outgoing 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid, Gil pulled his Suzuki Katana out of storage. Yes, Gil drives a motorcycle. I drive a silver Camry Hybrid LE.
But who does Gil call in the middle of a workday when his Suzuki breaks down?
Camry Man, naturally. Mr. Dependable.
It was a beautiful Tuesday afternoon, the first truly warm and sunny day in Nova Scotia this year. Unbeknownst to me, Gil was home from work because of a motorcycle-related “illness.” From my basement office, I heard the 2001 Katana 600 start up with a roar and ran outside to see who was stealing the Suzuki from Gil’s backyard. (What was I going to do if the bike was, in fact, being stolen? Hop the fence and assault the perpetrator with my keyboard and mouse?) Seeing that Gil was simply enjoying some leisure time, I went upstairs for lunch. Half an hour later, a text.
Gil, 1:23 PM: “I think I’m stuck on Caldwell rd bike won’t start.”
Tim, 1:25 PM: “I’ll come get you. Where at?”
After inhaling another chicken finger, Mr. Dependable shows up on Caldwell Road 15 minutes later in a silver Camry Hybrid LE — not the most popular Camry, but surely the most Camry-ish of all Camrys, and surely Mr. Dependable’s ideal car.
Channeling hundreds of thousands of pragmatic Toyota drivers, I wore on my face that pitiable look all Camry owners shower upon the disheartened owners of 16-year-old motorcycles. Aloud, I say, “What’s the plan?”, but my face smugly says, “Why don’t you just marry the fiancée, settle down with your Kia, and have a couple of kids already?”
Gil says nothing about this week’s hot new ride, preferring instead to discuss the least expensive ways to get the Suzuki home from Cole Harbour (home of Sidney Crosby) to Eastern Passage (home of, well, Gil and me). I won’t get a pickup truck off the east coast press fleet for another two weeks. Somehow, we know people who own pickup trucks but aren’t really good friends with pickup truck owners, and we’d still need ramps — or a trailer — if we did have truck-owning friends. A tow truck is going to cost a fortune. Hum haw hmm.
As Gil ponders, I step back to take a picture, chronicling this moment in the name of journalistic integrity. The story was obvious to me from the moment I received the first text. A 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE parks behind a 2001 Suzuki Katana after rolling to a stop in such a silent EV mode that Gil didn’t even notice when we first arrived.
The road to Gil’s breakdown point is one of the best in the city. Freshly paved a few years ago, it’s no longer a joint test of ride quality and handling, but the corners are unique, there are plenty of mid-corner elevation changes, and traffic is rarely a problem. It’s twisty enough that you don’t need to risk jail time to have fun. Granted, I didn’t make it to Gil in record time in the Camry, but with the shifter slotted into B rather than D, the current-gen Camry continues to be a surprisingly willing companion.
Though boring to look at inside and largely uncommunicative and numb, the Camry is far from incompetent. The steering is nicely weighted, turn in is quick enough, and power from the 2.5-liter/hybrid combo embarrasses a Prius and allows the Camry to fulfill your demands. Clearly not a sports sedan, not with this much body roll on pillowy 205/65R16 Bridgestone Blizzaks, the Camry Hybrid’s dynamic repertoire is nevertheless sufficiently well rounded. Ride quality is exemplary.
Gil, still entirely unaware of the fact that there’s even a car parked behind his motorcycle, checks the Katana’s fuel tank. (The gauge is broken. Camry fuel gauges never fail, I mutter under my breath, eyes rolling.) You can see a modest amount of gasoline swishing around. Gil succumbs, and we’re waiting for a tow truck now, anticipating a charge of at least $80.
He knows the Suzuki has a choke issue; the idle has never been smooth. Even now, the Suzuki will start, but it won’t keep running.
“Roll down the slope to start it,” I tell him, “and if it keeps running, just gun’er for home.” He can call the tow company later.
Seconds later, we’re a couple of miles farther down Caldwell Road and Gil is pushing the pace, evidently thrilled that his bike is going to make it … wait a second.
I put the Camry’s four-way flashers on, depressing a chunky button surrounded by other massive buttons you would have no trouble operating while wearing multiple layers of Gore-Tex gloves. This interior is simple, in so very many senses of the word. There’s some heinous plastic, most obvious in a storage compartment flip panel just ahead of the shifter. The driver’s seat lumbar support wasn’t lined up for the spines of humans. There are no heated seats in this base Hybrid LE, none of the extra Toyota Safety Sense equipment, either. But the Camry does feel unbreakable, structurally sound, and thoroughly refined in every aspect aside from a gruff stop-start system.
I’m thinking of that legendary Camry invincibility as I slowly pull to the side of Caldwell Road behind a Suzuki that isn’t going to get Gil home. He calls the towing company to alert them to his new location. “The driver’s almost there,” the dispatcher says, an apparently mandatory response used by every towing company dispatcher in history. Half an hour later, a friendly gentleman instructs us on the method we are going to use to get the Suzuki onto the tilt deck in exchange for $115, and 10 minutes later Gil and I get in the Camry to make the short journey to our Eastern Passage homes.
“Oh, very spacious,” Gil says of the Camry interior, laden with child seats that seem a mile away in the vast rear seat. I explain the regenerative braking, we discuss the Corolla S, I tell him about the Camry Hybrid’s 40 mile per gallon observed fuel economy.
The Camry feels old to the touch, not just because 2017 is the outgoing Camry’s seventh and final model year, but because of the interior design (or lack thereof) and the wheel covers and the dearth of kit. But the Camry’s focus on outright comfort is missing in too many modern cars, and it’s the lofty comfort quotient that helps make the Camry America’s best-selling car.
The comfort and the dependability. Camrys aren’t cool. Camrys don’t go out on Friday nights. But Camrys aren’t known to break down on the side of Caldwell Road.
Come to think of it, neither do 2001 Suzuki Katanas. After spending a few days considering his options, Gil texted me late Friday night.
Gil, 8:16 PM: “How big is your jerry can?”
Is that some kind of euphemism Mr. Dependable won’t understand?
Gil, 8:18 PM: “I had an epiphany. It crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe I don’t have enough fuel.”
I scrounged around in the darkness of my shed for my jerry can, poured the surplus fuel into my lawn mower, and Gil took two jerry cans down to Irving to fill up with supreme.
Gil’s Suzuki is running just fine now, thanks for asking. And yes, the origins of this story began steps away from a gas station on Caldwell Road.
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