Technology, when expensive, has often been hard to sell in cost-conscious markets such as India and the brave effort of Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) pioneering this space is commendable. TKM and fellow Japanese automaker, Honda Cars India (HCIL), have offered hybrid models in the past, all of which were imported in limited numbers, insulating the company from any risk of losing investments.
Late last year though, the company took its commitment towards environment to a new level by localising production of the Camry Hybrid. The vehicle is presently manufactured on a separate assembly line at the company's plant in Bidadi, Karnataka. The decision of local assembly in a way reflects a strong confidence by the company on its product. We took the Camry Hybrid for a drive to find out if the technology at its price can convince buyers to pay the premium.
The Camry Hybrid features a powertrain based on Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) architecture, combining a petrol engine with an electric motor. The 2.5 l beltless petrol engine works in tandem with the electric motor, developing a combined output of about 203 hp. The battery pack draws its power from the engine, partly acting as a generator or utilising the energy created during deceleration and braking.
The electric motor can also power the vehicle entirely under limited conditions such as starting-off and constant driving at low speeds. The range, however, is limited and can be used only for short distances with the speed not exceeding 40 km/h. The addition of the electric motor also ensures that ample torque is available at low engine speeds too.
The engine responds well to throttle inputs, making it easy to drive in traffic or on the highway. Another impressive bit in the powertrain is the Electronically Controlled Continuous Variable Transmission (E-CVT), which is largely devoid of the rubber band effect, which is seen on most CVTs. There is very little lag from the unit and speed builds up in a linear manner at a quick pace.
During our test, we were deeply impressed with the NVH capabilities of the car, which at times makes it almost impossible to believe that the car is actually moving under its own power. The most impressive bit about driving this car is the HSD technology, which works extremely well to ensure that the switch between the two power sources or their combination is seamless. Unless, one is viewing the energy display, it's hard to tell what configuration the system is operating in.
Talking of efficiency, the hybrid system is claimed to produce carbon emissions of just 122.8 g/km, making it the segment leader. This brings us to the most important deliverable of the hybrid technology – fuel efficiency, also one of the key buying parameters in our country. Our test, comprising of close to 80 % city running and the rest highway, returned a system indicated fuel-efficiency of 11.4 km/l, with the fuel-efficiency going as high as 16.5 km/l during one of the short runs.
Our overall impression of the hybrid system turned out to be quite positive as the system works in such a smooth manner that one would be hard pressed to find any differences in terms of driving feel and feedback, when compared to a similar petrol-engine car.
The Camry Hybrid doesn't look distinctly different from its petrol sibling, but Toyota has given it enough changes, which on closer inspection reflect its unique identity. The new grille design, along with fog lamp surrounds, distinguish its front section. Other changes include Hybrid badging on the front side and rear panels along with a different alloy wheel design.
The lack of distantly recognisable looks shouldn't matter consumers since people opting for the Camry styling would be believers in subtlety over flair. Choice of opting for a green technology further justifies the case for the discreet and elegant styling of the Camry.
Interior & Features
The premium one pays for the Camry Hybrid also entitles one to enjoy some additional convenience features in the cabin. To start off, the hybrid model's cabin is not much different from the petrol model. The user experience though is considerably different. Beyond the benefits of the acoustic glass, which reduces noise levels in the cabin, one gets access to luxury features at par with European luxury cars in slightly higher price segments.
The material quality is good all round but at places the design of the AC buttons and the touch screen itself along with its control feels a little dated for a car with futuristic technology. The overall dashboard design is simple and elegant, in line with the car's design language. The front seats offer good cushioning and under thigh support but lack shoulder support, which becomes more evident, when driving through turns at high speeds.
At the rear, things are even better, with ample legroom, headroom and shoulder room. The rear seats can also be adjusted for backrest angle, increasing the comfort for people of all heights and body structures. The rear armrest integrated audio controls are a nice addition and in our opinion a better control layout than the fiddly remote, generally seen in this segment of cars.
Ride & Handling
The Camry Hybrid's suspension set-up comprising of McPherson struts upfront and dual link set-up at rear, both stabilised by bars, offers a supple ride quality at low and high speeds over uneven surfaces. Most undulations are dealt with in an appreciable manner, with the cabin being relatively unaffected.
Handling of the Camry Hybrid is exactly what one would expect of such a car – stable, compliant and predictable. The car is stable in a straight line at high speeds but is reluctant to make turns and the body-roll too is bothersome. That said, going fast over corners isn't what this car is supposed to do and once into a corner at decent speeds the balance from the chassis and the grip from the Yokohama tyres is good.
The Camry Hybrid, despite local assembly and reduction in prices, will not become a volume seller. Even then, with younger heads getting at helm of things, there is increased awareness and sensitivity for environment today. Even though small, this number is fortunately travelling north. It is for such people that the Camry Hybrid would make perfect sense. It's a great family car, a well-rounded business cabin and a comfortable drive over long distances. In short, the Camry Hybrid is a futuristic car with green credentials and delivers brilliantly on every parameter it was made to cater to. At Rs 29.75 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, the Camry Hybrid fares well against similarly priced cars with conventional powertrain.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay