Still fresh from a substantial mpg- and power-boosting upgrade for 2012, Toyota’s 2013 Camry Hybrid continues forward with nary a change to speak of.
As the gas-electric version of what has for most of the past decade been “America’s top-selling car” you can call it how you see it: Maybe Toyota is resting on its laurels this year; maybe Toyota knows it does not need to mess with success having outdone itself last year.
The 2011 Camry Hybrid offered a decent 33 mpg combined EPA estimate, but the base 2012 LE version beat that by a tremendous 8 mpg, promising 41-mpg, and somewhat more luxurious XLE version was rated at 40-mpg combined. And, while more thrifty at the pump, they also managed to find 13 extra horsepower (see 2012 video near end of this article on how Toyota did it).
Without a doubt, the market rewarded Toyota’s overachieving, midsize, five-passenger sedan during its inaugural year, and the Camry Hybrid was restored from a lagging sales position to class leader. It also found itself again ranked second-best selling hybrid among all makes and models.
Specifically, Brand T sold 45,646 units of the redesigned car in 2012 – pretty close to the 50,000 units Toyota had projected it would from its press launch in late 2011.
This result was more than double the numbers achieved by the next closest competitors from Hyundai and Ford respectively, and clearly showed Toyota has a winner – and a loyal following helping its market status too, no doubt.
The Prius c and Prius v are doing well also, but the only other hybrid of any type that outsold it was another Toyota, the Prius Liftback, which as the king of hybrids, sold 147,503 units in 2012.
Recipe For Success
As you might have inferred, you could learn almost all you need to know about the 2013 Camry Hybrid by reading the 2012 model’s review written just after the press launch, but to recap with an extra detail or two, the seventh-generation Camry in hybrid form builds on the strength of an evolved Hybrid Synergy Drive System.
This is Toyota’s name for its computer controlled gas-electric powertrain architecture first introduced in the Prius in Japan in 1997, and now holding strong in various configuration in a growing family of Toyota and Lexus-badged models.
In the Camry Hybrid’s case, its four-cylinder, 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve Atkinson-cycle engine with alloy engine block and cylinder heads contributes 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque at 5,700 rpm and 4,500 rpm respectively.
Laced into the power output is a seamless marriage of electric power from a permanent magnet AC synchronous motor delivering 105 kilowatts (141 horsepower) at 4,500 rpm and 199 pound-feet of torque between 0-1,550 rpm. A 6.5 ampere hour / 650 volt maximum power sealed nickel metal hydride battery pack concealed in the trunk powers the electric motor. The battery is recharged by regenerative braking.
Because the gasoline and electric sources merged into one achieve peak power at different operational speeds, Toyota calculates peak horsepower at 200 and peak combined torque is not disclosed.
Channeling the semi-mysterious quantity of energy to the front wheels through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, the combination provides more giddyup power than the conventional four-cylinder Camry and is nor far behind a six-cylinder Camry.
Acceleration is 0-60 mph in the mid-7-second range for the LE weighing 3,417 pounds, and the same essential performance is achieved by the 3,441-pound XLE. Real world fuel efficiency ranges from a low of around 27 mpg – for heavy footed, jack-rabbit starting drivers who like to speed – to upwards of 58 mpg we observed during very sedate and smooth driving.
It’s an amazing formula for a car that delivers enough power to maintain parity in today’s frenetically paced (read: aggressive) driving environments found in various parts of the country, but with efficiency capable of knocking on the Prius’ back door.
Officially, the EPA says the regular-grade fuel burning Hybrid LE achieves 43 mpg city / 38 highway / 41 combined, while the XLE is rated at 40 mpg city, 38 highway and 40 combined.
It’s been said “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and given all the photos packed in here, you have thousands to peruse so we won’t waste digital ink on the obvious.
Commenting on the Camry Hybrid’s visual presentation, however, we’ll note it looks just like the regular Camry except for discrete Hybrid badging and a blue background instead of black for the front and rear Toyota logos.
Yes, it’s conservatively styled, and this is no accident. Toyota’s demographic studies reveal the average Camry Hybrid buyer is 64, and many of these are part of a staunch fan base. So, Toyota upgraded many details but took care not to alter the appearance greatly from 2011 to the 2012 update – and 2013 carrying forth.
It’s a handsome car however, if a bit plain, with a tendency to blend in – not trying to stand out like the Prius does. Many people like it that way, and don’t want the Prius’ look-at-me-I’m green persona, or swoopier lines, as found on competitors such as the Hyundai Sonata.
No, the Camry Hybrid simply delivers with quiet functionality – literally. It may not look like a boy racer, but its aerodynamics are enough to make a BMW M car take note, having a coefficient of drag of 0.27. The powertrain is well muffled, and sound deadening, sound-resistant glass, tight door seals, and lack of extra bits to whistle and hum all contribute to a hushed ride.
The main benefit however to lack of wind drag is better fuel economy, and thereby reduced emissions. As road speeds increase, aerodynamic drag increases exponentially, so cutting resistance was crucial to minimizing power required to keep the vehicle rolling along.
Inside the Camry Hybrid, a form follows function ethic continues with the interior design and layout. Gauges and instruments are clear and well positioned; a mix of analog and digital displays tell vital data such as speed, extra data such as power consumption, and optional data such as from available navigation and infotainment displays.
The ergonomic layout is comfortable as are the seats – front and back – with adequate leg room for most commonly sized humans with contours suitable for long days in the saddle. This is a good thing, given fuel capacity is 17 gallons, and estimated range is over 650 miles. The seats have optional heating as well, and as we found gratifying in our well-equipped XLE, their variable controls can range from comfy to almost cooking.
Also welcome is the quality of materials throughout. Toyota even used real stitching on the soft-touch leather-look plastic dash covering, and softer feeling, higher quality plastics are used throughout in place of harder materials from the previous generation. Our XLE came with a $1,160 Leather Package with smooth leather seat edging and perforated ultrasuede middle sections. Very attractive, and these are electrically adjustable as well.
In redesigning the car, Toyota mildly amplified interior room with tricks such as hollowing out the door panels and the back of the front seats. The trunk space also was enlarged with help from a shrunken battery pack, and by locating the DC-to-DC converter under the hood.
The trunk also offers a release knob to let the back seat fold down with an access hatch into the rear seating area to slide long items through. On one shopping trip, we managed to stash some 60-inch roof rack bars, and this arrangement would work fine for items like a couple pair of skis as well.
Oh also, we mentioned nary a change for this year. Here they are: the Hybrid LE now has Display Audio as standard equipment. The turn signal control stalk now comes standard with a lane-change feature where one tap on the control stalk creates a three-blink sequence. All Camry models will receive updated door trim. Leather-equipped models get updated stitching accents on the door panels.
Sampling the Camry Hybrid in a variety of driving environments from back road to highway, to stop-and-go, to in-town, we can say with confidence while it’s no sports car, it is no slouch either, and is competent where ever you’re likely to roam.
The car utilizes traction control, and with acceptable but not velcro-like grip from its Goodyear Assurance low rolling resistance tires, the yellow traction control light to the left of the steering wheel would light under hard throttle on wet roads, or even dry roads while turning at low speed. This means we were spinning the front tires under aggressive acceleration, so this eco Toyota outdoes the Prius in this respect.
Entering highways is thus no cause for concern; 60-plus mph comes up on the analog speedometer right quick when you pin the accelerator.
This said, being part of the Hybrid Synergy Drive family, the Camry Hybrid was designed to reward sedate drivers, and offers three modes including Toyota’s fuel-saving Eco mode and EV mode which allows short stretched of all-electric driving below 25 mph under mild throttle.
Full power is always available with a firm foot to the floor however, so you are never handicapped just for the sake of saving fuel. And equally important, the transition from electric to gas and back is seamless. You would have to be very sensitive to notice, and in fact, a back-to-back test drive between the Hybrid and regular gasoline Camry would reveal very little if any perceptible variance in smooth drivability.
As for what happens when roads get twisty, the Hybrid does display a normal amount of body lean if pushed, but its four-wheel independent suspension keeps the tires’ contact patches on the tarmac, and allow for far more than a sedate pace, if desired.
If one were so inclined – and did not mind sacrificing a couple miles per gallon – the car could be equipped with stickier tires, and perhaps a couple aftermarket suspension tuning tricks, and this would be an even better sporty sedan – albeit with CVT transmission. Even stock it is reasonably capable and soaks up bumps and pavement irregularities while gallivanting about back roads at a plenty brisk rate.
Similarly, braking action is rewarding enough. Gone is the wooden feel of the previous version equipped with regenerative braking. The power gauge on the dash indicates when one is in regen mode, sending juice back to the battery. A shifter setting called “B” that’s an alternative to D will let you increase regeneration as well, if desired.
In short, for a car meant to be a fuel-efficient family driving appliance, the Camry Hybrid leaves very little to be desired even if pushed beyond normal and responsible bounds.
As mentioned, the Camry Hybrid enjoyed top billing last year, but Toyota really cannot rest too much on its laurels for long, as competitors are vying for its place.
One of the most outspoken companies trying to dethrone Toyota’s hybrids on several fronts is Ford. The Fusion Hybrid is advertised with Camry Hybrid beating numbers of 47 mpg for city, highway, and thus combined. The jury is out at this point whether this is an overstatement, and Ford has actually been sued for alleged misrepresentation. It is a nice car though, borrowing some design cues from formerly Ford-owned Aston Martin, and seemingly well put together, even if its efficiency is possibly overstated by a few mpg.
Another strong contender is the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, a stylish car that in 2012 offered an EPA rating of 34 mpg city, 39 highway, and 36 combined. Unfortunately this company too has been taken to court, and has offered a fund to compensate drivers who cannot achieve claimed efficiency numbers.
Late in 2011 at Toyota’s Pacific Northwest press launch, HybridCars.com’s Larry Hall got the low-down on some of the ways Toyota radically improved the 2012 Camry Hybrid which is now carried forward unchanged for 2013.
What’s more, Hyundai – and the also competitive Kia Optima Hybrid – have been placed in time out. Both these as 2013 model year iterations are on hold as of the second week of February 2013. It’s late for them, but we’re told the Korean engineers will release improved hybrids, so these may be worth waiting to see.
It’s been rough times for the Camry Hybrid’s two main would-be competitors, to be sure, however another one worth looking at is Volkswagen’s new compact-class Jetta Hybrid. The company previously shied away from hybrids, touting clean diesel as superior, but VW is now in the running with the first of more hybrids to come boasting a Camry Hybrid beating EPA rating of 42 city, 48 highway, and 45 combined.
It is smaller car, but part of a line that has a solid following, and available also with plenty of power, a dual-clutch, six-speed transmission, and sporty road manners for which these cars are famous.
And there are others too. For a quick look of all alternative-fueled models, scan the list of our sales Dashboard.
But if you come back to the Camry Hybrid, you’ll certainly have lots of company. The car’s suggested retail price was cut for 2012 even after they packed in the extra value, but it was raised by 0.6 percent for 2013 – yet still lower than 2011’s MSRP.
The LE starts at $26,140 – up $150 from $25,990, and the XLE starts at $27,670 – up $170 from $27,500. A destination charge of $760 will be tacked on top.
And if you think the car is worth going for, Toyota stands ready to lure you into supersizing your order. Including the leather package, our XLE was packed with $7,000 in accoutrements such as a $500 blind spot mirrors, $695 Convenience Package, $2,600 Premium HDD Navigation System with Entune and JBL, and $915 power moonroof plus a few other goodies. It netted out to $34,598 including destination fee.
Is the Camry Hybrid a good value? The market says so, and you could spend this kind of money on many other cars that do not offer the mpg and reliability record this one does. You can decide whether the premium for the hybrid option makes sense for you: The base 2.5-liter regular gas Camry LE starts at $22,680, the four-cylinder XLE begins at $24,855 and their mileage is rated at 25 city, 35 highway, and 28 combined.
The two Camry Hybrid versions do everything the non hybrids do for a couple or few thousand dollars more and get 12 more mpg and deliver more power as well. It’s a respectable trade-off, and a big part of why the Camry Hybrid is the class leader by more than a two-to-one margin.