2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Smooth, safe midsize sedan.
The Toyota Camry is America's best-selling midsize sedan. Toyota claims the Camry is the safest, quietest, most fuel-efficient car in its class, and we have no reason to doubt those claims.
Camry was completely redesigned for the 2012 model year and carries into the 2013 model largely unchanged, though the 2013 Camry does benefit from some additional equipment upgrades. Bluetooth wireless phone connectivity is standard across the 2013 Camry line. The Blind Spot Monitor adds a rear cross traffic alert function and is available on more models for 2013. 2013 Camry Hybrid models now sport the same soft-touch inner door panels as the non-hybrid Camry models. Leather-equipped 2013 Camrys feature accent stitching on the inner doors.
This seventh-generation Toyota Camry is an attractive car, with clean sides and nice edges. It's about the same size as the 2007-11 models. Benefitting from the latest impact energy management engineering, it's built on a rigid chassis using a lot of high-strength steel and ultra high-strength steel.
The interior is nice, the leather dashboard neat and stylish, the instrument panel pretty and functional. Storage spaces are well thought-out, and a 60/40 split rear seat is standard.
Five models of the 2013 Camry range from the stripped-down Camry L to the sport-tuned Camry SE to the environmentally friendly Camry Hybrid.
Camry offers a choice of four-cylinder, V6 or hybrid power. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder makes 178 horsepower. The 3.5-liter V6 produces 268 horsepower. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated City/Highway 25/35 mpg with the four-cylinder, 21/30 mpg with the V6.
We were impressed with the smooth and responsive acceleration from the four-cylinder as well as the fuel economy. Toyota boasts a range of almost 600 miles.
The tuned suspension in the sporty Camry SE might be too firm for some; we didn't find the Camry SE uncomfortable, but we did find the softer Camry XLE more relaxing around town. We preferred the SE's tighter steering in all circumstances.
The Camry Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter Atkinson Cycle engine, with more horsepower and electric power than in previous generations. It feels like a totally different car than other models, as it slows everything down and makes the vehicle feel bigger. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2013 Camry Hybrid LE at 43/39 mpg City/Highway, Camry Hybrid XLE at 40/38 mpg.
The 2013 Toyota Camry comes in five models. The base-model Camry L ($22,235) comes standard with air conditioning with filter, fabric-trimmed front seats with seatback pockets, six-way adjustable driver's seat; four-way adjustable front-passenger seat, Bluetooth phone connectivity, 6.1-inch Display Audio screen, power windows and door locks, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with USB port and iPod adapter, cruise control, 60/40 rear folding seats, overhead console, projector beam headlamps, manual front seat adjustment, 12-volt power outlet, 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission are standard.
Camry LE ($22,680) upgrades with steering wheel audio and Bluetooth controls, remote keyless entry, an additional 12-volt power point, auto on/off headlights, and variable-intermittent wipers. Rocker panels get a chrome insert, and armrests are color-keyed, not black as on the Camry L. Camry Hybrid LE ($26,140) is equipped similarly.
Camry XLE ($24,855) upgrades further with dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, power front seats, wood-style interior trim, lighted vanity mirrors, rear reading lamps, rear air outlets, power moonroof, foglamps, heated outside mirrors, more chrome trim, 17-inch alloy wheels. Camry Hybrid XLE ($27,670) is equipped similarly. A power sunroof ($915) is available on the Camry Hybrid XLE.
Camry XLE V6 ($30,465) comes with the 3.5-liter V6 engine, and adds leather seats with heated front seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and HomeLink, a rearview camera, and dual chrome exhaust tips, with touch-screen navigation; SiriusXM and HD radio; Toyota Entune, which encompasses a range of mobile applications and data services.
Camry SE ($23,400) and SE V6 ($27,260) start with standard LE features but feature a sport-tuned suspension, sport mesh body-colored front grille, halogen headlamps with black bezels, rocker panel extensions, rear and underbody spoilers, SofTex-trimmed sport seats, paddle shifters, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift know, silver-grain interior trim; 18-inch alloy wheels on the V6, 17-inch on the I4. Camry SE V6 also comes with touch-screen navigation; SiriusXM and HD radio; and Toyota Entune.
Safety equipment standard on all models includes 10 airbags, electronic stability control with traction control, ABS with Brake Assist and Brake Force Distribution, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Rearview camera is optional; Blind Spot Monitor System with Rear Cross Traffic Alert is optional.
This latest-generation 2012-13 Camry looks significantly different from the previous-generation Camry (2007-11). The body was completely redesigned and the new one is slightly more aerodynamic with an impressive 0.27 Cd. The Camry look svelte, with no lumpy cladding and almost no chrome.
Though about the same size as the previous-generation version, the current model did lose weight in the re-design, 150 pounds (220 pounds for the Hybrid). It might all be under the skin, but no matter, it's all good. What Toyota calls aero-corner design enhances this image. Hips and shoulders tucked in.
Wheels help distinguish the trim levels. Camry LE uses wheelcovers over 16-inch steel wheels, Camry XLE uses 17-inch alloy wheels, Camry SE uses 17- or 18-inchers. All three styles successfully avoid cookie cutting, with the LE's 20-spoke titanium-tinted wheelcovers ironically being the most ambitious and eye-catching, if not the classiest.
The roofline angles the windshield steeply. There's a nice character line under the windows slanting slightly up to the rear deck, where there's a small spoiler lip on the SE. Windows are outlined in chrome, but no more, except for a thin strip at the rocker level on the LE and XLE. Body-colored door handles on all models.
The face of the Camry SE is tweaked, for the better, with body color over the black mesh grille, and more aggressive air intakes in the valance under the bumper. Headlamps are outlined in black, angled, narrow and sleek, with a neat little notch in the line at the bottom.
Interior dimensions for the seventh-generation (2012-13) Camry are within fractions of an inch of the sixth-generation (2007-11) models. There's a bit more backseat legroom, with 38.9 inches on a flat rear floor decent for a midsize car. Some interior parts have been thinned to create more eye, knee and elbow room: A-pillars, control panels on the doors, front seatbacks, center console.
Interior materials are different on different trim levels. Camry L, LE and XLE use a nice fabric, while the Camry SE uses a combination of fabric with SofTex synthetic leather trim. Real leather is available on Camry XLE, with leather-trimmed ultrasuede available on the SE and XLE Hybrid.
The fit of the front buckets is good on the Camry LE and XLE, with more bolstering on the SE. The Camry Hybrid has its own material, more like the SE. Trims are different too: LE is silver, XLE wood, SE silver grain, and Hybrid a metallic tech grain.
We found the driver's position comfortable, with thoughtful padding for the driver's right leg against the center console, and high armrests. Decent door pocket, great cubby forward in the center console, big glovebox with light.
Steering wheels differ on the different models, with LE a four-spoke urethane, XLE four-spoke leather, and SE four-spoke leather. They all work well enough, no inconveniences noted in driving all four models.
Camry LE feels quiet, solid and firm; but the XLE with optional leather and a grander display screen feels markedly uptown.
It's hard to make a dashboard not boring, because after all it is a board, but the Camry succeeds. The standard leather is overlapped in an arc with neat stitching, for a saddle-like effect; new passengers will compliment it and maybe run their hands over the seam. The little window for the clock up at the top looks like a hood scoop.
Instruments on most models are in 3D. The instruments themselves are the same, the only difference is in the rings around the gauges, chrome or satin.
The Hybrid's panel is the same only prettier. It has Optitron meters with white illumination, blue metallic printing, and white lighting pointer. Three gauges, with clear dials and numbers that glow up at you in crystal clear white. We like it. Cargo space in the Camry Hybrid is 13.1 cubic feet, a decent-size trunk.
Trunk space on all other Camry models is a roomy 15.4 cubic feet.
The manually operated climate control has big dials and easy buttons on the Camry LE. The automatic climate control on Camry XLE uses a 6.1-inch LCD touch-screen also used for radio tuning and navigation. The screen grows to 7 inches with upgrade systems.
In pursuit of fuel mileage, the Camry runs a numerically low torque converter ratio, to reduce the revs at freeway speeds and make the car quieter inside; at 70 mph you can't hear the motor. But you can hear the tire noise. Low-rolling-resistance tires are loud on the pavement.
There's the optional JBL Green Edge sound system, which uses up to 58 percent less power and is 27 percent lighter; and Entune, which does Bing searches and allegedly enables you to buy movie tickets while you're driving into the city on a crowded freeway in a hurry at night, and stuff like that. Safely and simply they say, and we say don't believe it. It can all be bundled with navigation and satellite radio and voice recognition, and controlled on the 7-inch touch screen. Have fun, good luck, and don't crash.
Ironically, after driving four models of the current Toyota Camry, we think the model we didn't drive might be the call. That would be a Camry SE with the I4 engine, rather than our V6. That's because the Camry SE is tighter than the Camry XLE or LE; and the 178-hp I4 is quick, silent and smooth, no matter that the 268-hp V6 is faster.
On the Camry XLE, using the lighter 6-speed for the I4, we noted good ratios, smooth upshifts and invisible kickdowns around town. With the I4, to get 30 mpg with that kind of performance is great. Toyota boasts a range of almost 600 miles, at 35 highway mpg.
Four-cylinder and V6 models use a 6-speed automatic that on the Camry SE comes with paddle shifters and normal and sport modes. No problems with the way the transmissions were programmed; both 5th and 6th gears in the V6 transmission are overdrives, with 6th being super overdrive at 0.608:1, for highway fuel mileage. There's a big leap between 1st and 2nd gears, but the 248 foot-pounds of torque in the V6 can make it.
The even-keel Camry SE suspension might be too firm for some; we didn't find it uncomfortable, but did find the softer Camry XLE more relaxing around town. We preferred the SE's tighter steering in all circumstances. Either way the brakes felt good too, sensitive with good feel.
The Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter Atkinson Cycle engine that was new for 2012, with more horsepower and electric power than before. It feels like a totally different car than the I4 or V6. It slows everything down and it feels bigger; even the seats feel wider. Don't expect much from acceleration, cornering, or quick response, though it's quicker than the previous-generation model.
Braking is regenerative and sensitive, sometimes diving the nose. It's quieter, when you're not straining at the throttle, but the tire noise on a rough freeway is still there.
Eco mode reduces the throttle opening, slowing the car way down, although Eco defaults to Power mode when you need more speed. EV mode with a good charge couldn't get us out of the parking lot. It wouldn't even run the air conditioner with the car at a standstill. The Hybrid is more slippery in the wind, with underbody fairing panels lowering the Cd, but a small blue badge is the only visible difference.
The Camry XLE Hybrid is rated at 40 combined mpg, and even with 12.5:1 compression the Atkinson cycle allows the use of regular gasoline. We actually saw 45 mpg on our test run, probably because we were aghast at the idea of booting it.
The 2013 Toyota Camry is a superb midsize sedan, with the latest chassis engineering and sleek styling. Camry powertrains are so different you should consider your needs or drive them all before you choose. The four-cylinder engine is exceptional, with good smooth response and excellent fuel economy. The 6-speed automatic transmission is smooth. The suspension is comfortable and the interior clean and convenient. Upper level models with infotainment options move the Camry upscale. Camry SE has a firmer ride and sharper steering response. Camry Hybrid keeps emissions low but doesn't offer the responsiveness of the four-cylinder and V6 models.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from the Columbia River Gorge.
Toyota Camry L ($22,235), LE ($22,680), SE ($23,400), SE V6 ($27,260), XLE ($24,855) XLE V6 ($30,465), Hybrid LE ($26,140), Hybrid XLE ($27,670).
Georgetown, Kentucky; Evansville, Indiana.
Options As Tested
power driver's seat 8-way ($440).
Toyota Camry LE ($22,680).
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