Emma Jayne Williams

Toyota Camry Hybrid returns for 2018 with the same makeover as the Camry

By EMMA JAYNE WILLIAMS

Special to the Star-Telegram

The Toyota Camry Hybrid – essentially the same midsize sedan as the best-selling Camry, with comfortable seating for up to five, quiet interior, and unassuming performance, but with electrons – has been completely redesigned for 2018.

Notable changes include improved fuel economy, sleeker styling, and additional standard safety features.

An updated version of the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor (208 total horsepower, ECO, Normal, Sport and EV drive modes) powers all three hybrid versions of Camry, with tweaks providing a jump in fuel economy and a small increase in power.

All 2018 Camrys have a new stylish exterior, a visual departure from previous generations. Hybrid versions are distinguished only by badging on the edge of the front fenders and the trunk lip, and blue and chrome “Toyota” badges on the grille and trunk.

Three new exterior colors are offered – Wind Chill Pearl, Galactic Aqua Mica and Brownstone – along with Super White, Celestial Silver Metallic, Predawn Gray Mica, Midnight Black Metallic, Ruby Flare Pearl ($395), Blue Streak Metallic and Blue Crush Metallic, all depending on the trim chosen.

Technology improvements include an updated seven-inch version of Toyota’s Entune interface, and advanced driver-safety aids such as now standard adaptive cruise control and forward collision mitigation. A new suspension ensures a smoother ride, even over broken pavement.

Available hybrid trims are the base LE ($27,800), the sporty SE ($29,500) and the luxurious XLE ($32,250). An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with sequential shift mode is standard.

LE models come with a lithium-ion battery pack for the hybrid drive system, and the best EPA fuel-economy ratings: 51 mpg city/53 highway/52 combined. SE and XLE models have a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, with lower fuel economy ratings of 44 city/47 highway/46 combined.

My tester was an SE in Galactic Aqua Mica (medium teal) with Sport fabric SofTex-trimmed seats in Ash, riding on 18-inch black machined-finish alloy wheels with five “V” spokes.

The front fascia is bolder for 2018, with large, deep-set side vents, a wide, cross-hatch lower grille with matte-black trim, and a wing-shaped, body-color upper grille with a blue “Toyota” badge and matte-black blade.

A deeper lower side crease emphasized the SE’s dynamic sporty appearance. The sharper rear fascia featured faux vents below the wrap-around taillights, a high trunk lid, and a wide, creased bumper with a single exhaust featuring dual chrome tips.

A power tilt/slide moon roof lightened up the interior and added $900.

Wide doors made getting in and out easy for everyone, with ample head and knee room. All passengers had plenty of space, especially in the front.

Finding a comfortable driving position was quick and easy, with a six-way power adjustable heated seat and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel with a wide range of adjustment (audio, Bluetooth phone, voice command controls, and shift paddles). There was lots of room for feet in the pedal box, and elbows between the door and center console.

All seats were wide and flat, accommodating all passengers comfortably. The rear outboard seats had plenty of room for child safety seats (I haven’t needed one for a long time), with easily accessible lower anchors and deck-mounted tether points, all under easy-to-open plastic covers. Rear door locks and rear window lockout also protect children.

Visibility all around was excellent, thanks to the large greenhouse and good-sized mirrors – inside and out. The rearview camera with projected path lines was a bonus. A Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert ($600) also helped take the guesswork out of lane changing and backing out of parking spaces.

A Convenience Package ($325) upgraded to an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, and a universal garage/gate opener.

The interior was simple but attractive and inviting, with silver trim on the doors, vents, steering wheel and dash. The trim flowed from the instrument panel, beside the central controls, across the lower center stack to the opposite side of the center console. Trim also flowed from the passenger side air vent, back to the lower center stack to join with the longer trim in an unexpected, eye-catching display.

Entune 3.0 Audio with Connected Navigation and App Suite is standard on all trims, and includes a seven-inch touch-screen display, voice command (Siri Eyes Free, Google), three USB ports, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, and a six-speaker sound system with CD player, AM/FM, MP3/WMA playback, and auxiliary audio jack. A voice-command setup menu analyzes individual voice patterns to help make the system more effective.

App Suite includes iHeartRadio, Pandora, Yelp, NPR One, Slacker Radio and Scout GPS Link with moving maps: real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, stocks, and sports.

Controls and on-screen menus were easy to use with a few minutes of study. Navigation is controlled with Toyota’s Scout GPS Link app with a smartphone connected via Entune App. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available. An Audio Package ($1,080) added Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging.

All Camrys have dynamic radar adaptive cruise, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, and automatic high beams. Lane departure became annoying on our narrow neighborhood country roads, as it didn’t have an off button and was constantly reacting.

A standard Star Safety System included enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and Smart Stop technology.

Ten air bags are standard, including front and rear seat-mounted side air bags, front knee air bags, and front and rear side-curtain air bags. Whiplash-injury-lessening seats are standard in the front.

An energy-absorbing collapsible steering column, front and rear energy-absorbing crumple zones, and side-impact door beams add an extra layer of safety. In case of the unavoidable, collision, sensors will deactivate the high-voltage hybrid battery to help protect first responders.

ToyotaCare is a no-cost maintenance plan that covers normal factory scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles. Twenty-four-hour roadside assistance is included for two years, regardless of mileage. ToyotaCare includes oil/filter changes, tire rotation, multi-point inspection, and fluid levels. Roadside assistance includes jump start, lockout protection, fuel delivery, tire service, towing and winching.

Camry Hybrid is hardly distinguishable from the gasoline-only version – power is plentiful, steering is accurate and light, and body roll isn’t excessive, although my Camry did bob up and down a little (not roughly, though) on our bumpy roads.

Of course, the electric takeoff was quiet, and there wasn’t much wind or road noise at highway speeds. Transition between regenerative and mechanical braking was noticeable in stop-and-go traffic.

The interior was nice, a step up, but with very little cabin storage. The trunk was full-size, just like a standard Camry, with a generous opening and low liftover height.

My Camry Hybrid SE managed an average of 45 mpg with a mix of highway and neighborhood driving.

The Camry Hybrid is very attractive, easy to drive, and very economical, without shouting “hybrid.”

With $895 delivery charge and $2,900 in options added to the $29,500 base price, my Camry Hybrid SE delivered for $33,300.

The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at emmajayne1948@gmail.com.

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