Best of all worlds

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid increases power, drops weight, improves MPG

Toyota redesigned the entire Camry line for 2012 to some lukewarm reviews. And while the standard Camry showed only a moderate improvement over previous models, the Hybrid version is head and shoulders above than the 2011 model.

The Camry is one of the most iconic sedans in car history. It’s a perennial top seller. When Toyota introduced the Camry Hybrid in 2007, it was an immediate success, finishing second in hybrid sales to only the Prius. But since 2010, the Camry Hybrid has fallen to middle of the pack in sales among hybrids. You can chalk some of this up to stiffer competition from the likes of Hyundai, Kia and Ford, but it was clear that Toyota needed to make adjustments to the Camry Hybrid.

Upgrades to the exterior design go beyond aesthetics. A sleeker design means better aerodynamics. Toyota made minor tweaks to its Hybrid-Synergy Drive System and pairs it with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. There is also an electric motor that aids in propulsion and starting and stopping. Upon ignition, the engine is whisper-quiet. Combined overall power is 200 horsepower, a net gain of 13 HP from last year’s hybrid.

Despite the gain in power, the Camry Hybrid actually improves its fuel economy — by a lot. EPA estimates are 40 city and 38 highway, which is about 8 MPG better than other Camry Hybrid models.

In a week’s worth of regular — and sometimes heavy- footed —, driving, I still averaged 38 MPG. I was pleasantly surprised to achieve the EPA estimates and never once felt like I was underpowered or couldn’t drive the way I like to drive.

Gains are noticed in the interior, too. And while those improvements are strictly aesthetic, they do contribute to driving experience. Softer, improved touchpoints are found on the dashboard material and door panels. Better stitching exists on the leather seats, which are quite comfortable.

Other extras are dual-zone climate control, telescopic steering wheel and Toyota’s new Entune entertainment system. All of these bring the Camry up to or beyond the level of its competition.

Despite the Camry being nearly 250 pounds lighter this year (a big contributor to the gain in fuel economy), road and engine noise are neglible, thanks to double door seals and felt-like material lining the wheel wells.

My tester was the XLE, which is one of two models offered and the higher-end model of the two. Optional equipment on my tester included blind-spot detectors, integrated backup camera and a power tilt/slide moonroof.

Base price of the XLE Camry Hybrid is $27,400 and total price with options of my tester was $34,480.

Toyota brings its best-selling product to market with a hybrid option that gives consumers the best of both worlds — more power and better fuel economy.

Jimmy Dinsmore is the Wheels editor at the Dayton Daily News and may be reached at (937) 225-2115. Follow him on Twitter @wheelseditor

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