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The Mercury Cars Guide : April 10th 2010
8--- Classifieds 62 300 400 • carsguide.com.au Saturday, April 10, 2010 Toyota's stealthy green machine The Aussie-made Camry hybrid proves that for the average motorist, petrol- electric technology has finally come of age COME OF AGE: The battery in the boot balances weight distribution in the Toyota Camry Hybrid. The interior is roomy and a display screen feeds information. email@example.com with KEITH DIDHAM SILENCE, they say, is golden. But it can frighten the beejesus out of pedestrians. I found that out this week, after nearly skittling a jaywalker who simply didn't hear the battery-powered Camry Hybrid heading her way. Scary stuff for the startled walker --- and me. Of course this silence was planned by Toyota. The Camry switches from petrol to battery power when the car is being driven slowly --- or switches off completely when stopped --- as a clever way of saving fuel. For someone bought up on a diet of thumping V8s and rumbling sixes, all this silence seems weird. But the hybrid Camry goes about its business of saving fuel --- and the environment thanks to lower exhaust emissions --- without fuss. To go, push the accelerator, life is restored, and the car silently moves off until eventually the petrol motor cuts in. Welcome to the world of hybrid driving. Toyota already has the hybrid Prius, but the new hybrid Camry opens up a whole new market for the market leader. The Prius has been a tried and tested entree for buyers to the technology. At first Prius was considered too radical --- a car designed for those greener than green but it slowly won the hearts of middle Australia, giving buyers who want to save running costs a real option. With the pioneering work largely done and dusted by the Prius, worldwide recalls aside, the market is now ready to accept a larger family-sized model. That's why I reckon the Aussie-built hybrid Camry will work wonders for Toyota, as it aims to capture Falcon and Commodore buyers who are downsizing. The hybrid looks like a regular Camry and it isn't complicated to drive. It's just eerie when you push the start button nothing seems to happen --- but the word ''ready'' on the computer display is the signal all is well to go. And pricing isn't too bad either. There are only two models, both automatics. The base sells for $36,990 --- that's in the same pricing territory of a base six-cylinder Falcon or Commodore but the Toyota uses about a third less fuel. However it is about $3000 more than the conventional Camry Sportivo with which it shares many features --- so its going to take a few years for the savings in running costs to compensate the price premium. The luxury version, which I have been driving, is $39,990 plus on-road costs. That's the same price as the normally aspirated Camry Grande so the price penalty disappears. And as for the true fuel saving? Toyota makes some bold claims: over 20,000km a year you can save about $14 a week from the family fuel budget, compared to a larger car and based on petrol being $1.30 a litre. on the road In a week of city running the typical driving duties for the average family sedan with plenty of urban miles commuting to work and the neighbourhood shopping centre. And I made no conscious effort to save fuel. I wanted the car to return an honest consumption. I was more than surprised: using 7.8l/100km or less than $20 of fuel for the week. My motoring colleagues have got that figure down to 6.5l/10km without trying too hard. Toyota's own consumption figure is 6l/100km for a mix of urban and city driving. And fuel consumption is very much to the forefront when you are behind the wheel --- the hybrid has four separate gauges to tell you if you are being green friendly. The hybrid's downsides? The only negatives I could find was an initial lacklustre performance from the CVT auto (there's no manual sequential shifting with this transmission), poor brake feel, a much smaller boot than the average Camry and you can't tow, not even a box trailer. I also found out the hard way that the floor of the boot, made from hardboard, is easily broken. I got my first flat tyre in more than 25 years and managed to accidentally break the floor panel trying to lift it (you have to remove a central securing bolt first). And yes, I should have read the handbook first. The hybrid marries two engines --- a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol motor with a 650V electric motor/generator. The nickel metal hydride battery pack is topped up by capturing energy normally lost under braking or deceleration and if you really want to impress your passengers there's a nifty display on the dashboard that shows where the power is coming from or going to. The petrol engine uses an Atkinson cycle design (longer power stroke than compression stroke) which promotes lower fuel consumption but at the cost of performance. The petrol motor is good for 110kW while two power sources combined produce about 140kW. The petrol contributes 187Nm of torque; the electric motor is rated at about 270Nm but Toyota is reluctant to give a proper figure because of the complexities of quantifying the torque. Torque is important because the Camry needs lots of it to shift the hybrid's extra weight. Driving the hybrid is a better than expected experience, albeit the ride is on the softish side. When you start off there's a whirring sound, akin to an electric trolley bus. Eventually the petrol engine cuts in with a slight vibration. You need a decent push on the acceleration to get the car up and running. The ride is excellent thanks to the extra weight of the battery in the boot, which balances out the weight distribution, and while the new electric steering is effortless, it is also lifeless. There's a little bit lacking in outright performance and some hesitation between pushing the accelerator pedal and forward movement but nevertheless the car is very liveable and without any major vices. For the money, the luxury version of the hybrid Camry lacks for little: it has all the necessary safety features including stability and traction control, you get much-needed park sensors and rear-view camera for backing into tight spaces. The hybrid also features luxuries like push- button starting, leather upholstery, a decent audio system, power adjustable front seats and dual air conditioning. The cabin is comfortable, roomy, quiet and a good place to tackle the daily battle of commuter traffic and I suspect, would also be an enticing
March 27th 2010
April 17th 2010