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We spend a couple of days decoding intelligent technologies in Toyota’s luxurious green saloon – the Camry Hybrid
Two years ago, our transport ministry expressed its desire to move to 100 per cent electric vehicles by 2030. A goal that was ambitious but utterly unrealistic. With the future of the Indian automobile industry in the fists of self-appointed economic and automotive experts, this announcement sent shockwaves around the country. This would not only affect millions of jobs but also put a question mark over the billion-dollar manufacturing plants set up for ICE cars by Indian and foreign brands. Thankfully, our netas introspected and another announcement followed soon after, diluting the target by a significant margin. From 100 per cent electrification of passenger cars to 30 per cent by 2030.
The shift to EVs is fast approaching and there’s no running away from that. But the quantum leap from internal combustion engines to pure electric powertrains is a bit too much to adapt to, in such little time. More time is essential for buyer sentiment to change while EV makers and local governments work in tandem to set-up adequate charging infrastructure. Even developed nations like the UK and France don’t plan to phase out ICE vehicles before 2040, so expect India to take even longer. So, what is the next logical step? Hydrogen fuel-cell tech is still in its development stages and plug-in hybrids need proper infrastructure. Self-charging hybrids are our best bet at the moment!
Not so long ago, I attended a session on hybrid powertrains at the Toyota Kirloskar Motor manufacturing facility in Bidadi, about 40km from Bangalore. The session was an eye-opener on how various emission-friendly powertrains suit different countries. This depends on the nature of charging infrastructure, source of electricity generation (over 70 per cent via thermal powerplants in India) and government subsidies, among a number of other factors. At the end of the session, it turned out that self-charging hybrid technology, like the one on the Toyota Camry Hybrid, is a great solution for India. With this conclusion drawn, I had to get behind the wheel of the Camry Hybrid to see what it felt like.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to drive one of the best-selling Toyotas in the world, in and around the NCR. As I stepped out of my flight after landing in Delhi, I got a shocking glimpse of what one of the world’s most polluted cities looks like just before dawn. There was a thick layer of smog, the densest I had ever seen, and most people had their anti-pollution masks on. Winter is coming and so is stubble burning season, which transforms this city into what looks like an open gas chamber. Thankfully, I found solace in the fact that I was going to drive the Toyota Camry Hybrid that would certainly protect me from this pollution while leaving a negligible carbon footprint. It also drove home the fact that switching to cleaner tech is the need of the hour.
The same afternoon I picked up the Camry Hybrid, elegant in its ‘Attitude Black’ colour scheme. All-black saloons are my weakness. Especially long, low slung ones and this one with its 2825mm wheelbase hit the spot. Also, the Camry carries this attire very well. The full-width trapezoidal front grille adds character to the car and the significant snout that sweeps low gives it a graceful road presence. This combined with its three-layer LED DRLs and LED headlamps make the Camry Hybrid eye-catching and you know that Toyota’s designers have done a great job in making the Camry Hybrid stand out. No wonder that the saloon turned so many heads on the streets of Delhi.
As soon as you step into the cabin, you realise that you’re sitting in a car meant for top-level executives who wish to be driven in luxury. There are plenty of soft-touch leather materials on the dashboard and the overall driving environment reminds you in a number of ways that this is a green car. The eight-inch multimedia touchscreen and the MID in the instrument cluster displays numerous infographics about the hybrid drivetrain. There’s also an EV mode that lets you drive on pure electric energy when the battery is fully charged. And lastly, the Eco mode alters the characteristics of the hybrid drivetrain for maximum fuel economy.
Now if you’ve read this article till here, I’m sure you want to know how the Camry Hybrid drives. But before I get to that, here’s a short brief on what lies underneath the saloon. Under the hood of the Camry sits a 2.5-litre, four cylinder, naturally aspirated petrol engine that functions on a high expansion ratio Atkinson cycle. This basically means that the engine squeezes more work out of every millilitre of fuel, extracting every last bit of power from the combustion process. It is purpose built for high efficiency and low emissions. And yet this engine produces a healthy 176bhp and 221Nm of torque. All of which gets delivered smoothly via the CVT.
It’s a well-known fact that Toyota leads the way when it comes to futuristic drivetrains. And one of its best home-grown technologies is fitted into the Camry Hybrid. Apart from the petrol engine, the hybrid drivetrain consists of an 88kW (118bhp) electric drive motor, a power control unit, a 245V nickel metal hydride battery, and a generator. The power control unit is the brain of this hybrid system, integrating the petrol engine and the electric motor in a way that is both seamless and achieves the highest level of performance. The electric motor can send as much as 202Nm of torque to the front wheels while the role of the generator is to charge the battery and supply power to the high-output electric drive motor. The particularities of this drivetrain might make this system seem complex, which it is to an extent but the combined output and way it balances performance and efficiency is unique.
Once you’re in the driver’s seat, the Camry Hybrid pleasantly surprises you in multiple ways. It takes off on EV mode, and the only noise I ever heard at idle and at low speeds was of the mild hum from the electric motor or shutter-bug Sachin’s high decibel blabbering on how pathetic the air quality was outside. Even other motorists at the traffic signal looked in awe as the saloon took off silently. The petrol engine comes to life as you build up speed and the transition is buttery smooth. No vibrations, no jerks, just a seamless shift. Thanks to the excellent refinement of this engine and a well-insulated cabin, this lack of perception of a switch from electric to petrol gives you the impression that the Camry is an extremely clean car.
The Camry Hybrid is a long car, at 4885mm, but when it comes to performance, it’s no slouch. It spurs to a ton in close to 10 seconds and if you’re craving speed. Sport mode also alters throttle and steering characteristics to better suit enthusiastic driving. And it does so without compromising on efficiency. The brake energy regeneration tech charges the battery by converting kinetic energy to electric energy while the on-board computers feed you information on which motor is powering the wheels, when the battery is being charged, whether the engine is charging the battery or brake regeneration tech is and there are plenty of charts that analyse the performance of the powertrain.
The Camry Hybrid masters efficiency and luxury in equal measure. The rear seat of the Camry is easily one of the best in its class and Toyota has provided some smart gadgetry for rear passengers to completely relax. The seats are ventilated and there’s an intuitive touchscreen on the rear armrest that lets you electronically recline the seats, control the rear sun blind, adjust the audio and even set your preferred temperature. Moreover, if you wish to stretch your legs, the co-driver’s seat can be pushed ahead via easy access buttons on the side of the co-driver’s backrest. Toyota has made sure that the Camry Hybrid’s occupants will have no reason to fret. Top notch features like the 9-speaker JBL audio, 10-way power adjustable driver and passenger seats with lumbar support, heads-up display, wireless charger, three zone climate control amongst many more, make it a proper luxury offering.
If you’re not ready to give up on ICE’s but there are too many guilt-inducing climate change protests making you want an EV, then the Toyota Camry Hybrid offers the best of both worlds in one hard-to-resist and opulent package. If fuel economy is your concern, that too is taken care of as the Camry Hybrid gave us as much as 25kmpl at one point, that too in stop-and-go city traffic (it runs on electric mode at low speeds), putting many small capacity fuel-economy oriented hatchbacks to shame. Also, you know that you’re doing your little bit to help polar bears and humans co-exist. And when it comes to long-term reliability and durability, then there’s no need to think twice. It is, after all, a Toyota.