Well, another chance came up to test out some of the most interesting cars on the road today, so who am I to turn that chance down? This time out, the rental rat is a 2007 Camry Hybrid. Certainly one of the more interesting (but frustrating) cars I have driven for a while.
First off, you can check out my review of the regular 2007 Camry. I loved it. Amazingly large car, comfortable seats, neat control layout, and it was damn good on gas as it was. Everything I had been told about the Hybrid was that it was everything that the regular camry was, plus a whole bunch better on gas.
Well, after about 700kms in the 2007 Camry Hybrid, my only conclusion is that there is such as thing as too much of a good thing.
First off, let’s start at the rear, specifically the trunk. The batteries have to go somewhere, so much of the space in the trunk is lost. It is still a big trunk, but the regular model is a mafia special 2 body size, this one is more like a single body deal. You won’t be seeing Hybrids on the Sopranos, that is for sure. I still got a fair bit of stuff back there, but the space isn’t as useful as it could be, and the previously long flat floor is turned into a few bucket shapes and large bump taking out a ton of space.
The rest of the car, at least appearance wise, is pure new Camry, which is to say inoffensive and very functional. Some people don’t like the heavy looking slab sided drawn with a crayon look, but I am a fan so no problems there. Interior is the same deal as the regular car, although this one is dressed up a bit with such things as the bluetooth phone connection with voice command, and controls for the radio on the steering wheel. There is also the display button that cycles you through the various reports on how well you are doing at saving gas.
The auto door lock feature is kind of weird. You never take the keyfob out of your pocket, just walk up to the car and it unlocks. Ditto for starting the car, you don’t have to take the fob out, rather just put your foot on the brake and put the start button. The video game turns on and you are ready to visit Mario land… or drive down the road, I guess.
There are plenty of writeups out there about how the hybrid works, I won’t waste your time here. Let’s just say that the Toyota system is apparently one of the best, but the reality is that it still isn’t exactly ready for prime time. Jerky engagements, weird acceleration curves as the electric motor gives way to the regular gas engine, which then uses the electric to help out, and very touchy weird brakes that feel like they are doing a lot but are really doing very little… the dynamics of the driveline are more what you would expect from a mid 70’s Ford, not a Toyota.
The brakes are a real issue, especially considering that this hybrid is a porky car, and you can feel every extra pound. The brakes are used to regenerate power to the battery, so unless you push a certain distance down the brake pedal, the only braking you are getting is from the force of induction, not actual brake pads squeezing a rotor. As a result, there is a weirdish step when you suddenly engage the full brakes… up until that time, the electric generator and the heavy weight of the car conspire to make normal in traffic braking a royal pain in the ass.
Up sides? The car works well overall. No complaints taking it down the highway, the extra weight actually makes the car a pretty solid ride down the open road, just don’t ask it to turn or anything. This is the first car in a long time that I found myself consistantly running wide on the exit of corners, because I wasn’t turning hard enough to make up for all the weight.
This became double apparent as I backed this run up with a return run (of a similar distance) in a Chrysler 300 (more on that later). Yes, 1400-1500kms in a single day makes for some pretty solid impressions on two very different cars.
The true upside on the Camry is fuel mileage, as I didn’t have to add any gas to run 700kms, and the gas light had not yet come on. I was told by someone who has run one for a while that with careful driving you can push 800-850kms out a tank. With gas up to a shocking $1.18 per litre locally, that is starting to sound like a very good thing.