Toyota knows the Camry’s strengths and weaknesses; it knows competition is becoming more intense, and the extensively revised 2015 model is its answer.
Officially, it’s being called a mid-cycle refresh, as only three years ago the Camry was overhauled inside, out, and under the hood. This time around the model line, including the hybrid we drove, got nearly a total makeover, but they left engines essentially untouched.
One of the Camry line’s strengths is it’s been America’s best-selling car for a dozen years. One of it’s weaknesses is some people have found it about as exciting as oatmeal – it hits the spot, satisfies the need, but there are tastier alternatives.
A competent car it is, but competitors have been encroaching. Officially, Toyota does not concede this is why it went above the usual mid-cycle refresh scrapping and replacing one-third of the 6,000 or so parts that comprise this car.
But we see a trend where the company wants to up the cool factor in its top models. As a case in point, next year Toyota also plans to revise its king of all hybrids – the Prius – into a more sporty and fun car. The thinking here is to prove economy and entertaining need not be mutually exclusive.
In advance of that, the Camry’s nearly 2,000 new parts include all new sheet metal except the roof, more upscale interior, slightly stiffer chassis, widened track, new sport-oriented trims, and more. In short, it’s closer to being sporty and fun but it’s still very efficient.
The new Camry also bridges a design gap with the new Corolla and top-shelf Avalon. Speaking of hybrid competition, there is that specter of Honda’s 47-mpg super-duper Accord Hybrid, the sleek Ford Fusion Hybrid, and the new more-efficient Hyundai Sonata Hybrid coming next year. The Camry Hybrid’s sales – counting fleet sales when others like Honda do not so pad its numbers – handily surpass the Honda, Sonata and Kia Optima hybrid. The sporty Fusion however is pecking at its heels with 33,000 sales this year through November to the Camry Hybrid’s 37,000. That’s close.
But now the Camry is more sporty-ish, including a new sport-oriented SE trim to add to the LE and XLE.
So, what else did Toyota do to try and stay on top of the heap? Let’s find out.
Toyota’s Prius-derived Hybrid Synergy Drive is the one thing the engineers left alone. Its fuel economy remains the same 43 mpg city, 38 highway, 41 combined for the LE; the SE/XLE is rated 40 mpg, city 38 highway, and 40 combined.
This is up to 13 mpg better than the non-hybrid four-cylinder Camry, and the electric-assisted hybrid car scoots a bit quicker.
The hybrid uses a four-cylinder 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve Atkinson-cycle engine with alloy engine block and cylinder heads. Output is 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque at 5,700 rpm and 4,500 rpm respectively.
Adding to the mix is a permanent magnet AC synchronous motor with 141 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 199 pound-feet of torque between 0-1,550 rpm. A 6.5 amp-hour / 650 volt maximum power sealed nickel metal hydride battery pack concealed in the trunk stores the juice – replenished by regenerative braking and a motor generator.
Because the gasoline and electric sources achieve peak power at different operational speeds, Toyota calculates peak horsepower at 200. Peak hybrid system torque is top secret – or at least Toyota doesn’t tell, but it feels like low 200 pounds-feet range in the 3,500-3,600 pound car.
Power is routed through a continuously variable transmission with three drive modes – hybrid, ECO, and EV for low-speed, short-range electric propulsion.
While humans only get older, Toyota says the Camry is “getting younger.” This seeming impossibility contrived by marketers refers to styling which is said to be more “bold” and “expressive” – and despite Toyota’s suggestive verbiage, we think it is.
The sportiest Camry model is the XSE non-hybrid which can come with a V6, but speaking of the hybrid, it shares the new panels and creases, a 0.4-inch (10 mm) wider track to back up the look, and 150 spot welds in the door opening flanges.
This allowed the engineers to re-tune the Macpherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension to make this the “best-handling and most comfortable-riding Camry ever.”
More Contemporary and Refined
Toyota’s goal was not to make a full-on sports sedan, but just to take the road manners and classiness factor up a notch.
The new look is sharper, more aggressive even. There are sportier cars out there in the non-hybrid world, including the Mazda6. But when talking hybrid, if you want style, the Ford Fusion Hybrid is still sharp but has been around for a few years, and if you want economy and function, Honda’s Accord released last year still has our full attention.
The 1.8-inch longer Camry is better though. The face looks more purposeful, less conservative and can be augmented with available LED low and high beams with auto static leveling, and integrated front turn signals and LED daytime running lights.
Materials used now include more soft-touch plastics to add to the upscale feeling. The centerstack feels more functional, not that the previous car was especially lacking.
Roominess, not a problem before, is slightly improved, and the car is a comfortable place to spend time.
Infotainment including the new and effective Entune system employs a bevy of connectedness to integrate with your smartphone and offers functions like SiriusXM satellite radio. The hybrid isn’t offered with an optional 7-inch touchscreen, but the 6.1-inch standard screen works fine.
New also is an enclosed bin in front of the shifter with 12-volt power port, USB port and available is a wireless charging system compatible with certain smart phones.
The gauges include a new 4.2-inch TFT display and overall, the car’s interface keeps drivers apprised of most any info and features one could want, including audio, navigation, warnings and communications and tire pressure monitoring.
The car has 10 airbags, and available is a plethora of advanced safety features including Pre-Collision System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Auto High Beam Lane Departure Alert, and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
How it all Works
Everything we’ve come to expect from the Camry Hybrid has been improved except the fuel economy.
That remains the same and we saw high 30s driving in a hurry, and the EPA numbers are not exaggerated, and can be beaten when moderate or greater care is taken. With extraordinary care, we’ve seen as high as 58 mpg with the 2012 model that uses the same drivetrain.
All else about the new Camry Hybrid is a tad more upscale and enjoyable. Inside, the ergonomics feel nicer with the higher quality dash and other surfaces. Noise level has been reduced – Toyota says 30-percent more sound deadening has been added, and body lines and outboard mirrors were designed to minimize wind noise.
Acceleration to 60 feels a bit quicker than Toyota’s 7.6-second estimate and Motor Trend did get the car to hit that all-important benchmark in 7.2 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.5 seconds. That’s not pokey, and this also means it’s an admirable highway car with good passing power, and on-ramp acceleration.
Cornering and bump attenuation has been mildly improved. The car feels composed in bends just as it does in a straight line, and the extra chassis rigidity and suspension tweaks contribute to taking the car up a notch.
Body roll is controlled, and steering feel is predictable. The vehicle accepts quick steering transitions without fuss and while it’s always been a capable car, it is now more engaging.
Low rolling resistance tires are not the grippiest on the road, will break loose if you punch it from zero taking a turn, and can protest at the limits of adhesion, but they stick respectably in all normal situations.
Brakes can be a bit grabby, but can be gotten used to.
Worth A Closer Look?
Toyota may not specifically declare the Camry was refined to make it more hip against a sea of competitors that are in ways better, but it gives it all away in its own marketing copy.
“Expressive. Athletic. Exciting. Yes, It’s a Camry,” says the automaker.
That says it all. Toyota knew the Camry’s reputation wasn’t renowned for those attributes, and implicitly admits it needed an updated identity.
On nearly all points, we’d say it succeeded. We would have liked to see the hybrid system updated to match the new Accord Hybrid which itself is knocking on the back door of Acura refinement and costs a few thousand more too.
Getting these two side by side would be interesting. Compared to the 42 mpg Fusion Hybrid, the longest-on-the-market Camry Hybrid is a stronger competitor, has a good reliability record and resale value.
We’ll see how the revised and supposedly more efficient Sonata Hybrid is next year when they release it.
All told, Toyota has taken what some have panned as an “appliance,” and given it more personality.
Attractiveness is a subjective call but we think it looks better and in any case the car is better. It was never bad to begin with, and actually is so effective, it has been a car of choice for taxi fleet duty.
But Toyota would no doubt like to keep the selling streak going. The market never stands still, and competitors are increasingly ready to take its place.
This update should help keep America’s best-selling car – and hybrid sedan – ahead for another couple years or more until a full overhaul which will include a new hybrid system after next-year’s Prius gets its updates first.