QOTD: Who Buys a Mainstream 'Sport' Hybrid?

qotd who buys a mainstream 8216 sport hybrid

I spent a good chunk of Monday evening tooling around the city in a new, mainstream midsize sedan, but let’s park that jealousy at the door right now, folks.

This car was a modern twist on the “sensible sedan with a sport package that’s nearly all appearance flourishes” we’ve all become used to. The Camry SE Hybrid takes most of the standard SE’s looks — spoiler, side sills, complex grille and all — then throws in a few optional goodies as standard kit for good measure. It also makes the “sporty” Camry arguably sportier.

A Twitter discussion broke out later that night, centered around a question that nagged me my entire time behind the wheel. Who buys this particular trim?

Not this former Camry owner, that’s for sure. It’s no secret I’m drawn to sedans that fall on the conservative side of the styling spectrum, and would happily choose a compliant ride over a sport-tuned experience in anotherwise mainstream car. We’re not talking Lexus IS or Audi A4 here. It’s Camry Time.

While the SE Hybrid allows Toyota to carve out a new Camry trim level in the midst of its hybrid range, the car’s drivetrain and its image remain at odds with each other. At its very core, a mainstream hybrid’s role is saving the owner money at the pumps, thus rationalizing a pricier window sticker. In this case, it’s quite a jump — a 14 mpg improvement on the combined cycle, according to the EPA.

Cool, fantastic. Achieving 46 mpg in a 3,500-pound car sounds like a good tradeoff for the $4,300 price bump. And there’s extra convenience and comfort features to sweeten the pot. The issue is this: the standard quartet of drive modes (unavailable on the SE) contains a Sport setting, encouraging sudden weight gain in the driver’s right foot.

Suddenly, this model becomes much thirstier than the cheaper LE Hybrid, retailing for 1,700 fewer dollars. Of course, that’s if buyers actually choose to leave a fingerprint on the Sport button. Maybe it’s a big if.

I’m not sure about you, B&B, but I have a hard time imagining a speed-obsessed buyer lying awake in bed, driving gloves on, Dramamine tablets ready to go, counting down the hours until his four-cylinder, CVT-equipped Camry hybrid arrives. Is this a sedan for faux environmentalists who love the tree-hugging social capital a hybrid bestows on its driver but hate garnering attention from suspicious cops? Or, is this a commuter carriage for timid motorists looking for a smidge of visual aggression and a few added luxuries from their economy car? Does the first buyer even exist?

Would you shell out for one?

[Image: Toyota]

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4 of 75 comments
  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Mar 13, 2018

    Odd that bemoaning "appliance" cars is typical for motorheads, and then they lose sleep over a sporty hybrid. But they don't seem to fret about whole lines of sporty performance cars like Porsche's hybrids, or F1 cars being hybrids. Nor do they seem concerned about all the performance suv's, which even with their conflicted low profile tires and lowered suspension can never have the handling of performance cars.

    • 9Exponent 9Exponent on Mar 14, 2018

      The truth behind it all is that they’re an old boy’s club, and not accepting applications for membership.

  • Ricky Spanish Ricky Spanish on Mar 14, 2018

    14 mpg for $4,500 So I'm saving what, $350/year in gas? Only 13 years to break even!

    • Vulpine Vulpine on Mar 14, 2018

      That depends. How much do you drive? If you only drive 10K - 12K miles per year, you're right. There are others who drive 4x that much and will break even in roughly 3 years.

  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.