Is it possible for car companies to actually lower prices when introducing a new model? Yes, sometimes! In the case of the new 2012 Camry, Toyota lowered the price by a whopping $4,320 compared to the 2011 Camry Hybrid, despite offering more power and better fuel efficiency.
A lot of savvy consumers have already twigged to the new Camry's great value story, particularly the hybrid. It's currently the top-selling intermediate size sedan in Canada, and almost 40 per cent of them are hybrids. Toyota already leads the auto industry in hybrid product availability, production and sales (over two million globally) and it's astutely guiding this key market advantage to a new level of popularity.
At the core of every Toyota hybrid is its Synergy Drive system. Refinements to the 2012 Camry Hybrid include a slightly larger and more powerful, 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder new gasoline engine. A more compact nickel-metal-hydride battery, which comes with enhanced air cooling, plus repackaging of other components, allow more cargo space in the trunk.
The new engine helps the hybrid system achieve 200 horsepower, which is a 13 horsepower increase on the 2011 edition. The drive system is also noticeably smoother in transitions between its power sources and, best of all, more fuel efficient. Toyota claims a 39-per-cent city fuel economy improvement.
A new EV Drive mode, in addition to an Eco mode, allows it to be driven by the electric motor alone for up to 2.5 kilometres at lower speeds (below 40 kilometres per hour). It's a very nice fuel economy feature to have in slow moving traffic and it can also be used in situations where low noise operation might be beneficial.
The new Camry Hybrid comes in two trim levels, LE and XLE. The main upgrades to XLE include 17-inch alloy wheels (16-inch steel on LE), an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, leather steering wheel and shifter, Bluetooth hands-free phone connection and fog lights. These items also add weight and there's a slight increase in fuel consumption.
Our test Toyota Camry Hybrid was the higher XLE trim without any options. Its total price (including delivery, etc.) before taxes came to $30,690, which is lower than the start price of most of its direct competitors.
Smoother, quieter and more powerful, the improvements made to the hybrid powertrain will be immediate to last generation Camry Hybrid owners. It's so slick that I found myself checking the display graphic in order to see what was happening under the hood. The new EV (electric drive) mode is activated by a button on the console.
In addition to traffic jams it's a handy feature for drive-in operation and underground parking situations. There are a number of situations, however, where it will automatically fire the gas engine, such as low state of battery charge, windshield defogger activation or if the car encounters a steep incline. For those concerned about higher maintenance costs - fear not! The gas engine doesn't work as hard, so should last longer. The brakes are regenerative, which greatly extends the life of friction pads and rotors. There's no starter, alternator or belts to replace. And all hybrid components (including the battery) are covered by a separate and longer warranty.