I'm losing my favourite whipping boy; my many diatribes against all things hybrid may be coming to an end. Long have I lambasted their monumental lack of return on complication — my new copyrighted term denoting the futility of car makers adding more gizmos to little effect — with hybrids providing me the fodder to offend tree-huggers and ridicule Hollywood celebrity shills alike.
But there's a new hybrid in town and, imagine my surprise, it actually generates real-world fuel economy gains at a price that might even promise long-term savings. That car is, wait for it … the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid. The reason for my change of heart is simple: the electrically assisted Camry is a real, full-sized family saloon with the fuel economy of a subcompact. Actually better than a subcompact, because at the end of my week-long test, the onboard computer was displaying one phenomenal number: 6.6.
That's the number of litres per 100m I averaged over my almost 2,000km test. That may not be the 4.9L/100km some official numbers boast but, remember, I am a lead-footed gearhead and those 6.6 litres are less than I have achieved with any car of even remotely equivalent size/performance. I actually reset the mileage meter numerous times, so sceptical was I that the onboard computer was lying. The end result, despite that leaden foot, was always the same, the electrically boosted Camry averaging 6.6L/100km. It is simply the most impressive instance of fuel-sipping stinginess I can recollect.
The biggest surprise of the 2012 Camry's performance is that its high-speed motorway fuel economy — at, say, 120kph or higher — was excellent. Hybrids have long eked out some in-town fuel savings but floundered on the open road, their electric motors having little or no effect at sustained elevated cruising speeds.
And yet, the Camry Hybrid regularly posted 6.0L/100km fuel economy at a steady 120kph and barely over seven while cruising at 130. The Camry Hybrid regularly racked up more than 850km from its 64L tank before needing refuelling.
What's perhaps more surprising is that there's been no radical rejigging of its inner workings. Most of the tricks improving the highway fuel economy are garden-variety internal combustion upgrades. The intake and exhaust manifold plumbing has been improved, there's lighter weight oil in the crankcase (for reduced drag) and the engine is now beltless, ie the air conditioning system, power steering et al are now powered electrically. And Toyota has also resorted to the oldest trick in the book - this model is almost 120kg lighter than the old one.
The other alluring piece of the puzzle is that the new Camry Hybrid is actually semi-enjoyable to drive. Despite that big boost in fuel economy, Toyota actually increased the displacement of the Camry's petrol engine from 2.4L to 2.5L, bringing with it an increase to 156hp and 211Nm of torque. Combined with the Hybrid Synergy System's electric motor, Toyota claims a 200hp total output; that means the Camry is now the hot rod of the hybrid set, sprinting — OK, jogging really fast — to 100kph in just 8.1 seconds.
Even the Camry's comportment has been improved. Toyota still uses one of those infernal continuously variable transmissions (they are more efficient) that normally has small four-cylinder engines droning on long with the endless monotony of a funeral dirge. But thanks to the extra torque, the Camry Hybrid doesn't start sounding busy until the throttle is matted for maximum acceleration.
There's also a surprise in the pricing department. My normal criticism of hybrids, as I have mentioned, is not only their usually paltry fuel economy gains but also the relatively large price hikes all their electronics engender. Well, the new Camry flips that equation on its head as well, offering the fuel economy advantages I've detailed above yet costing $26,990 (Dh99,500) in my native Canada.
In the end, this hybrid does what no hybrid before it was capable of. It delivers superior real-world fuel economy at an affordable price in a package that is as enjoyable to drive as a conventional saloon. Numbers don't lie and, in my estimation, 6.6 is a very powerful number indeed.
Base price N/A
Engine 2.5L / Synergy system electric motor
Power 200hp (combined)
Torque 481Nm (combined)
Fuel economy, combined 6.6L/100km