2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid

October 21, 2011

With the coming of electric cars, hybrids have become commonplace, and they no longer garner double takes and questions from strangers. While the novelty might be gone, I was still impressed by the 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid and how well it handled hauling my family of four. This car had me smiling as I passed one gas station after another.

I'm always amazed by just how quiet hybrids are when driving in battery-only mode, and the Camry Hybrid didn't disappoint. In this car, it wasn't just the hybrid engine that was silent. With my two kids in the backseat, the cabin was quiet because they had plenty of room to chill out. There were no complaints from the kids. Silence is golden.

The Camry Hybrid doesn't scream hybrid. My test car was sleek looking with Magnetic Gray paint and small, inconspicuous badges that designated it as a hybrid. This hybrid is a sleeper, if you will.

I don't mean "sleeper" in the typical automotive jargon, meaning cars that are specially tuned and super fast but don't look like it. The Camry Hybrid wasn't quite like that. I enjoyed driving the Camry Hybrid because its four-cylinder gas engine had a good amount of power when I wanted it, and it can run only on battery power at low speeds. Its handling at any speed was responsive and ready for anything.

The 2011 Camry Hybrid starts at $26,400. The Camry Hybrid I tested cost $32,453 because it had the Leather Package, a navigation system and several other options that bumped up the price.

EXTERIOR

I know I said the Camry Hybrid's a sleeper, but that doesn't mean it's sleepy looking. It's a good-looking car with a touch of sportiness. While it has the Camry's looks, the hybrid does have a unique grille. It's a little more streamlined than the regular Camry grille and it's a nice distinction.

The Camry Hybrid sports cool taillights that jut out from the car's body. They add a little drama to the rear end, which makes me happy because so often a car's back end gets left in the design-process dust.

As for family friendliness, the hybrid is great. The kids got in and out of the car without any problems because the step-in height was manageable and the doors weren't too heavy. Even younger kids could open and close the doors with relative ease. I also liked that I could open the trunk with a key instead of a key fob or a button inside the trunk.

The Camry Hybrid has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's coupled with an electric motor making a combined 187 horsepower. The Camry Hybrid gets an EPA-estimated 31/35 mpg city/highway. That's not nearly as impressive as the Camry Hybrid's sibling, the Toyota Prius, which gets 51/48 mpg, but certainly an improvement over the gas-powered Camry's 22/33 mpg.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some-Good Times

INTERIOR

One of the things I like about hybrids is that most of them have gone through a rigorous process of trimming the fat. Most have all the things you want and nothing you don't. I like this idea because so many vehicles tend to have features that require a year of ownership just to customize and get used to. When I sat down in the Camry Hybrid I appreciated that I didn't have to mess with too much to get on the road.

My test car was equipped with leather seats, but the standard fabric in the Camry Hybrid sounds interesting. It's treated with the Fraichir process to give it a softer, silkier feel. Toyota says the fabric is "coated with a naturally occurring component called Sericin that has been extracted and refined from silkworm cocoons. This substance contains a natural moisturizing component." Boy, I'd hate to spill cherry limeade all over that fancy fabric.

The Camry Hybrid's center stack is intuitive as is the touch-screen navigation system and stereo controls. In the instrument cluster, the Camry Hybrid has an efficiency gauge that adjusts accordingly when your driving efficiency goes up or down. While the efficiency gauge is cool, I really liked the car's animated display on the instrument cluster's little screen that illustrates where the car's regenerative energy is coming from. This is probably my favorite feature of the Camry Hybrid.

My family of four easily fit in the Camry Hybrid. That's such a relief in a sedan, especially with taller family members. Everyone had plenty of legroom, with no seatback kicking issues. Maybe that's just because I've become a hard-core disciplinarian if someone kicks my seat.

Also a relief is the car's plentiful storage. No, the Camry Hybrid doesn't have ginormous bins and gaping cubbies, but there's a center console that will fit your gadgets and some tissues or a small pack of baby wipes. There's also a large cubby below the center stack that can house more gadgetry. There are little bins on the sides of the center stack where you can stash gum, lip balm, garage door openers and the like. Lastly, almost all the storage is covered, so no one has to know whether you're a slob or not.

The trunk in the Camry Hybrid is not terribly large, but it holds a good-size grocery trip or some luggage for a longer trip. There's a pass-through from the trunk to the backseat if there's anything long you need to carry.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair-Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

SAFETY

The 2011 Camry Hybrid's lower Latch anchors are well-marked and easily located. The tether anchors are a cinch to use. However, the seat belt buckles are a little tricky for smaller kids. They're somewhat recessed in the seat, so you need to keep hold of them while buckling up.

While the seats in the Camry Hybrid were comfortable, there was a bit of a fit issue with my kids' boosters. We had to find the sweet spot on the seats because they're a little bolstered. A forward-facing convertible should fit in the backseat without any problems, but parents with children in rear-facing car seats should test them in the car during a test drive.

The Camry Hybrid's standard safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, stability control, traction control and seven airbags such as a driver's knee airbag, side-impact airbags for the front row and side curtains for both rows.

[KickingTires Highlights (2)]

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