The 2012 Toyota Camry is dollar for dollar, pound for pound, gallon for gallon the best hybrid money can buy. The Camry doesn’t match Toyota’s Prius for miles per gallon, but it is roomier, has much better visibility, is much quieter, has better acceleration, and more standard features… all for about the same price as a Prius III. Yes, you give up about 8 miles per gallon in the city with the Camry hybrid as opposed to the Prius but in my opinion, it is well worth it.
But there’s more, the Camry handles better, has better steering response and a far superior interior when compared to other hybrids. Instead of being surrounded by ugly hard plastic like the Prius, the Camry envelopes you with a soft touch, luxurious interior that would be at home in a car much more expensive… are you listening BMW, Infiniti, Audi, Mercedes and, most of all, Lexus?
Redesigned in 2012 the Camry hybrid was intended to be a game changer. Toyota made extensive use of customer input to determine what consumers liked about the Camry and what needed to be improved. Standard with the Camry hybrid is Toyota’s Smart Key System; it allows the driver to enter the car by merely pushing a button on the door handle and then start the car with the push of a button on the dashboard; no more groping around in the dark trying to find the ignition keyhole. Also standard is a dual zone automatic climate control… but if you want rear-seat vents you’ll have to upgrade from the LE hybrid to the XLE. The Camry’s exterior styling has also improved; it doesn’t seem as boring as it has been the past few years. While the exterior styling changes may seem relatively minor, they add up to a much better looking car.
Driving the Camry hybrid is a joy. The steering is nicely weighted, easy to turn, but not too easy. The car is very quiet and the seats (although manual in the LE model) have lumbar support and can be easily adjusted and are very comfortable.
One of the nice things about the Camry hybrid is the driver can easily understand the gauges. Many hybrids try too hard and end up with information overkill. Their gauges provide so many optional displays that they become almost impossible to understand. The Camry’s gauges are very straightforward and provide needed information at a glance.
The Camry has the best acceleration I’ve ever felt in any hybrid and its quiet acceleration, it doesn’t sound like the engine is being overworked. Another important factor for me has always been visibility and once again the Camry excels. The visibility is much, much better than the Prius, and somewhat better than two of its direct competitors, the Hyundai Sonata hybrid and the Ford Fusion hybrid.
When it comes to value the Camry hybrid is very hard to beat. Even fully loaded with leather seats and a sunroof the Camry costs only $2000 more than the cheapest Lexus (the CT200h hybrid) and is in every way a far superior car. Note that even though the Lexus CT200h is a smaller car, it gets virtually identical gas mileage to the Camry; both average 43 mpg city, but the CT200h gets 1 mile per gallon more on the highway. Just adding leather seats to the CT200h will put you over 35 grand and you still won’t have a sunroof. A better comparison to the Camry hybrid might be the Lexus ES hybrid. While the Lexus ES is virtually identical in size and fuel efficiency with the Camry it starts at over $38,000.
Moving down from the rarefied heights of the Lexus ES you can, for just $1,510 over the Camry hybrid’s base price of $25,990, move up to the XLE and get a touch-screen radio with music streaming capability via Bluetooth® (even the base radio has a USB port with iPod connectivity), leather trimmed steering wheel, fog lamps, heated outside mirrors and 17” alloy wheels (instead of the 16” steel ones). I drove the LE and frankly did not miss the upgrades. Both radios have 6 speakers for decent sound. The main thing I noticed was the Camry, unlike the Prius, is so quiet that you’ll be able to really appreciate the radio or simply holding a conversation with your passengers.
One area where the Prius has an advantage, other than gas mileage, is cargo space. The Prius has 21.6 cubic feet compared to just 13.1 cubic feet with the Camry. Also, the rear seat in the Camry hybrid cannot fold down. However, if you live in the Midwest, Northwest or Northeast you might appreciate the fact that the Camry has higher ground clearance than the Prius, 6.1” versus 5.3”. I’ve always found the higher the ground clearance the better chance your car has of plowing through heavy snow. The extra weight of the Camry shouldn’t hurt either.
If it sounds like I was blown away by the Camry hybrid, I was. It is simply an outstanding car. Is it really the best hybrid ever? Well, it is this year. With the new Ford Fusion hybrid coming out next year the Camry may have to relinquish its title. I’ll keep you posted.
If you have any questions about the Camry hybrid, feel free to leave a reply. I try to answer questions within 36-hours, often sooner.