2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid
2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
America's best-selling car is all-new.
Toyota is introducing an all-new Camry for 2007. Gone is the Camry criticized as stodgy and plain. The new one features aerodynamic new styling that shows more vigor and life than we've come to expect from a car many have labeled, and not kindly, Japan's Buick.
The 2007 Toyota Camry is thoroughly revamped, re-worked and upgraded from the tires to the roof, from the front bumper to the back, from the dashboard to the trunk. Inside is a new, airy interior. The engines are more powerful, the transmissions more diverse. And across the line, the new models are more fuel efficient.
Models range from the surprisingly well-equipped CE to the near-luxury XLE. In between are the LE, a modest step up from the base CE, and the SE, decked out with suspension, tires and trim to please the sporty crowd. Also new for 2007 is the Toyota Camry Hybrid with a combination electric motor/gasoline engine fitted with a new, super-efficient, continuously variable transmission. While the federal government's fuel economy ratings are just estimates, the Hybrid's range from 37 to 43 mpg.
All Camry models are five-passenger, four-door sedans. (The Camry Solara convertible has not been redesigned.)
Almost from its debut in the U.S. 23 years ago as a 1983 model, the Camry has been a quality car, a solid design, well built and with almost unmatched durability. For eight of the past nine years, the Camry has been the best selling car in America. Today, the Toyota Camry defines the midsize four-door sedan. It's the standard for the segment all the others are measured against.
The 2007 Toyota Camry comes in four trim levels plus the new Hybrid model. All four trim levels, CE $19,520), LE ($19,925), SE ($21,140), and XLE ($24,900), come standard with the 158-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A 268-hp 3.5-liter V6 is available for the LE ($23,540), SE ($24,815), and XLE ($28,020). Then there's the Hybrid ($25,900).
The entry-level Camry is the CE, but it comes standard with air conditioning with pollen filter, cruise control, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, six-way adjustable driver's seat, the usual array of power accessories, a multi-function driver information display, a 160-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers and P215/60R16 tires on steel wheels. The CE comes standard with the five-speed automatic.
The LE adds an eight-way power driver's seat, remote keyless entry and, when the V6 is ordered, chrome tips on the dual exhaust. Options include a JBL sound system with a six-disc, in-dash CD changer, eight speakers and Bluetooth capability; power tilt/slide moonroof; alloy wheels; and electro-chromatic rearview mirror with compass. The LE comes standard with the four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual gearbox, but can be upgraded with the five-speed automatic ($20,975) or to the V6 with the six-speed automatic.
The sporty SE comes with a firmer and beefier suspension, unique interior and exterior trim, and P215/55R17 tires on aluminum alloy wheels. The SE's option list includes leather interior trim with heated front seats, a power moonroof with rear seat reading lamps, programmable remote opener system, a DVD-based navigation system with touch screen integrated into a JBL sound system with a four-disc, in-dash CD changer and all-season tires. The SE comes with the four-cylinder and manual, with the five-speed automatic optional; also available is the V6 with six-speed automatic.
The XLE includes dual-zone climate control, engine immobilizer with alarm, Bluetooth-capable stereo with steering wheel-mounted controls, eight-way power driver's seat and four-way power front passenger's seat, heated outside mirrors, power moonroof, rear seat reading lamps, 40/20/40 split and reclining rear seat, manual rear window sunshade, cargo net, fog lamps and 16-inch alloy wheels. Leather interior trim is standard with the V6 and optional with the four-cylinder. Also optional are the programmable remote opener system, heated front seats (only with leather), the navigation system and, exclusive to the XLE with the V6, the Smart entry system with keyless entry and push-button start. The XLE comes standard with the four-cylinder engine and the five-speed automatic; the V6 with six-speed automatic is optional.
The Hybrid comes with the most complete list of features. Other than the power moonroof, the navigation system, the leather interior and the heated front seats (available with the leather trim), the Hybrid comes fully loaded. It's fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels. The moonroof, navigation system, leather seats and heated front seats are optional.
Safety features on all models include the required frontal airbags, upper body-protecting side-impact airbags for the front seats, head-protecting side air curtains for front and rear seats, and a driver's knee airbag, which better positions the driver for controlling the car and for avoiding injury from the steering column. A tire pressure monitoring system comes standard. Also standard are antilock brakes (ABS), which aid steering control during a panic stop, Brake Assist, which applies the brakes more quickly and consistently when it senses the onset of a panic stop, and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), which balances brake application front and rear for optimal stopping distance.
Vehicle Stability Control with Traction Control is an optional active safety feature for the CE, LE, SE and XLE, and we recommend getting it.
Boring and bland are out. Flash and dash are in. Well, maybe not quite, but the 2007 Toyota Camry design is more laid back, less boxy.
The front end is fresh, with sharp points, curving cut-lines and entertaining surface planes. The hood dips broadly across the middle, pushing visual heft out over the bold front fenders. The grille wears a Toyota emblem prominently above softly slanted, horizontal slats. The one-piece fascia blends all the diverse elements into a smooth aero-look that's several steps away from the pro forma, overly inoffensive, just-another-midsize-car-from-Japan look.
The side aspect is less fashionable, somewhat bulky looking with a high beltline, symmetrical windows and square doors, graced with a barely discernible character line running through flush-mounted door handles. The wheel openings are circular, which on a car with a lower profile might suggest sporty intentions, but on the Camry draws attention to the vast expanse of sheet metal between them and instead whispers, 'sedate.' An odd, but increasingly popular, miniaturized rip on the BMW 7 Series squared-off trunk lid finishes the side profile.
That bustle-like hump gives the trunk's trailing edge a minimalist aero-lip that invites the inference it's there to reduce rear lift at high speeds. The SE boosts this inference with an honest spoiler. An oversize Toyota emblem perches atop the license plate recess. Proud taillight lenses mirror the headlights' outline, angling down and inward across the trunk lid seam to end in sharp points that stylistically mesh with the curved lower lip of the license plate indent, again closely tracing the pattern set by the headlights and grille. The bumper wraps around the back end, seamlessly capping the corners beneath the taillights and sweeping over and under to a soft, horizontal indentation that, on the V6-equipped models, finishes in cutouts on each end for the chrome-tipped, dual exhausts.
While the outside of the 2007 Camry has been touched with a splash of pizzazz, the inside has been brushed with shades of elegance. The treatment is not quite up to, say, Lexus-level luxury, but especially in the top-of-the-line XLE, the new Camry definitely raises the bar on mid-price, midsize sedan interior polish.
Everything about the new Camry's interior speaks refined function. Speedometer and tachometer are large and circular, easy to scan, save for brief periods at dusk and under certain types of street lighting, when the luminescent instruments on all but the SE can wash out to the point they're almost unreadable. Those in the SE, which are black on white, avoid this eye-straining fade.
Controls for audio and air conditioning are easy to control, clearly labeled and logically positioned in the center stack, with audio above and climate below. A welcome touch is separate on/off switches for the audio and navigation system. This is a departure from most other systems today, which have a single on/off switch, meaning if you want the nav system but no audio, you have to crank the volume all the way down.
Cup holders and assorted covered bins and cubbies are located conveniently about the center stack and console. A large glove box spans the lower dash between the center stack and passenger door. Only the front doors get map pockets, which are fixed, hard plastic. A similar material forms the magazine pouches on the backside of the front seatbacks. A covered storage bin in the fold-down center armrest in the rear seat doubles as cup holders; on the SE and XLE, it conceals a pass-through to the trunk. Despite a fully finished trunk, there are no pull downs inside to spare fingers the grime and grit that can accumulate on auto bodies in winter.
The cabin is trimmed in a brushed metallic finish in the CE, LE, SE and Hybrid. Real-looking wood grain is used inside the XLE, including surrounds for the inside door latches. The fabric upholstery combines breathable, waffle-texture insets with smooth bolsters and backing. The leather upgrade isn't quite kid glove, but it does feel expensive. Seat bottoms are markedly short on thigh support, however. And the mouse fur-grade headliner disappoints.
Much of the two inches added to the wheelbase of the 2007 Camry over the '06's has been translated into more room for people, although not necessarily in quantifiable, industry-standard measures. On paper, rear seat legroom is up by only half an inch, but a redesign of the rear seat floor space and of the base of the front seats has delivered more usable foot room. Front seat legroom is up a miniscule tenth of an inch, but front seat travel has been increased by more than a half-inch. This may not sound like much, but it's a couple clicks on the manual track, or a tap or three on the power button and that makes a big difference in our sense of roominess. The dash has been pushed away from the front seat, giving the cabin a more airy feel.
Rear seat passengers in the XLE enjoy a luxury heretofore unheard of in the class: reclining seatbacks. This latter feature exacts a cost in trunk space, which in the XLE drops by more than 2 cubic feet from the '06's quite respectable 16.7. The 2007 Camry CE, LE and SE models offer 15 cubic feet of trunk space.
Tempering the feel of roominess in the new Camry are direct comparisons with the competition. Today's midsize sedans are roomy vehicles. In headroom, for instance, the new Camry betters only the Chevrolet Malibu in both front and rear seats; it matches the Ford Fusion, but trails the Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata by almost an inch and a half in front. Camry loses to all four in front seat legroom. Camry offers more rear legroom than the competition, however; only the Malibu tops it and only by a fraction of an inch. Camry is mid pack in hiproom, about equaling the Accord and Fusion, beating the Malibu but trailing the Sonata. In trunk capaci.
We're trying not to gush over the new Camry, but only the four-cylinder automatic left us wishing for better. Lengthy sessions with four-cylinder manual and V6 automatic models seriously impressed us. We drove LE, SE, XLE and Hybrid models. We were impressed not only with the overall packaging, but also with the clear distinctions among the different models, both inside and underneath.
The LE with four-cylinder and automatic was competent if short of inspiring. Performance-wise, this is not surprising, given the mass burdening this class-trailing powerplant. The four-cylinder engine is buzzy, and we felt some torque steer, under full throttle the steering wheel is lightly pulled this way and that, a common phenomenon with front-wheel drive. There's noticeable body lean in corners. Wind and road noise were audible. Fit and finish were Toyota grade, which means very well done, with zero buzzes, squeaks and/or rattles, and tight tolerances between panels and parts.
The SE, on the other hand, was a fresh and welcome departure from the Camry's heretofore conservative legacy. Finally, a Camry that's fun and entertaining to drive. The manual transmission shifted cleanly, if not with sports-car crispness. Clutch engagement was smooth and easily managed. Foot brake and gas pedal are closely enough juxtaposed that heel-and-toe shifting is doable, although again, not with sports-car ease. The V6 eagerly spins all the way up to its programmed limiter at 6500 revolutions per minute, although we could feel the power drop off some beyond the 6200-rpm redline. It lugs without stumble from 1000 rpm in top gear. Steering turn-in could be a bit more precise, but cornering is markedly solid and stable, with little body lean. The sequential-shift automatic won't upshift when in manual mode, even with the engine bouncing off the rev limiter, but it will downshift if pressed. We're still struggling with the proper shift lever direction in these manu-matics. In some, pushing the lever forward feels right for downshifting, in others, the same feels OK for upshifting. In the SE, for whatever reason, we wanted it to go opposite the way that it does, that is, forward to go down a gear and rearward to go up one. But whatever, shifts were smooth but reassuringly certain. And while we never doubted the stopping power, brake pedal feel and travel were sedan-grade, too soft and too long, that is, for our preferences.
If there's any vestige of Buick-ism to be found in the new Camry, it's in the XLE. More than just the entry-plush interior, in ride and handling, too, the top of the line '07 was more soft and floaty than firm and planted. Not wandering or imprecise, mind you, as we were entirely comfortable and assured piloting it leisurely along gently curving two-lane byways and on lightly traveled or rush hour-packed, multi-lane highways. But the XLE is more of the set-it-and-forget-it mode of transport than one actively inviting driver participation in the task. Which, in its place, we found imminently enjoyable, along with the great sound system.
The Hybrid tucked right in between the LE and the XLE, in performance, especially, although the instantaneous torque from the electric motor at times delivered acceleration that felt equal to, if not quicker than the V6. And compared with the Honda Accord Hybrid, the transitions between just the electric motor powering the car to full hybrid, with motor and engine together, were much smoother. Not invisible, but more heard than felt, whereas in an Accord Hybrid we had driven a couple weeks earlier, the transitions sometimes felt like an almost-missed shift. But in terms of ride, handling and interior comfort, were it not for the graphic display of the hybrid's status, the substitution of a welcome, real-time, fuel economy gauge for the tachometer and the unique, abbreviated shift gate, we easily could have believed we were driving an XLE. The hybrid system combine.
Inside and out, the all-new 2007 Toyota Camry has new energy and style. More powerful and livelier engines, new transmissions. Yet another version of Toyota's hybrid technology. A thoroughly remodeled interior. People expecting another Japanese-brand Buick are in for a major surprise.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Ojai, California.
Toyota Camry CE ($19,520); LE ($19,925); SE ($21,140); XLE ($24,900); Hybrid ($25,900).
Georgetown, Kentucky (Hybrid: Tsutsumi, Japan, until fall, then Georgetown).
Options As Tested
vehicle stability control with traction control ($650); 16-inch alloy wheels ($410).
Toyota Camry LE ($20,975).
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