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Reducing emissions and improving fuel efficiency is what a hybrid is all about. Competing with each other is what auto journalists do. Bringing them together was what Toyota did at the Camry introduction, pitting teams of journalists over a course laid out at their plant in Bangalore (which included a slalom!) in a fuel efficiency competition. Cue the tricks and games. One journo revved the pants off the car to charge up the batteries before his three laps (turned out to be a smart move). I forgot to do that and so in panic I switched off the air-con, kept the windows firmly rolled up to maximise aero efficiency and tickled the throttle in the most gingerly fashion possible. We had to complete the course in a set time so couldn’t drive very slow either. However I forgot to start the stop watch. Anyways, driving gingerly, using the batteries for as much of the lap as possible, conserving speed and attacking corners as fast as possible I got a remarkable, and utterly shocking, 26.6kmpl. Of course I exceeded the set time so adding the penalty my fuel efficiency still came to a remarkable 19.6kmpl. And that’s what the Camry Hybrid is all about. It will puff out far fewer noxious fumes than your regular luxury saloon and (assuming a real world fuel efficiency of around 13kmpl) won’t pinch you at the pumps either. I don’t know how many customers actually care about saving the environment, and sales figures of the Civic Hybrid and Prius don’t hint at any reasonable demand, but what they will care about is fuel efficiency and on that front the Camry delivers while being more silent and refined than any diesel-engined car in this segment (or even the petrol carsfor that matter).Provided the batteries are juiced up the Camry Hybrid will start on electric power alone. However with the motors developing equivalent of 140bhp and the near instant torque that electric motors deliver, take off is smart and brisk. And quiet, eerily so. Keep speeds under 40kmph and it will continue to run on electric power alone but when the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine does kick in it barely registers. In fact you need to look at the display to know when the engine has cranked up, such is the refinement and silence of the power train. In Eco mode, performance and throttle responses are suitably dulled to extract the best possible efficiency but switch it off and there’s a combined 202bhp on tap that results in energetic progress. The CVT transmission is refined but when stretched has that whiny rubber-band effect that, along with the front wheels tugging at the steering wheel, effectively kills all sporty notions.The hybrid drivetrain adds 150kg to the weight, equivalent to two passengers, but doesn’t adversely affect dynamics. It is a low-slung car and care needs to be excercised over nasty speedbreakers considering the long wheelbase but overall the ride quality is nothing short of excellent. The handling too is tidy though this isn’t exactly a car to be savoured from the front seat.
The best place in the Camry is the rear seat. Lets go one step further and confirm that this is the best back seat in this segment. It is brilliantly plush: wide, spacious, soft of leather and with its own climate control. The hybrid also gets excellent reclining rear seats (by eight degrees), the front passenger head rest can be flipped forward so the boss has a good view out front and there’s even an additional air-con vent for the boss. The only complaint I have is the grab rail behind the front seats that, if bossman isn’t strapped up, will definitely re-arrange his nose if the brakes are stood on.
At ` 28.9 lakh it isn’t cheap, and the Toyota badge might not have the cache of the Germans, but what you do get is a super-plush car: quiet as a cathedral, lovely of ride, and thanks to the hybrid drivetrain with running costs not that much more than equivalently priced diesel saloons. A sensible and relevant hybrid.