2019 Toyota Camry Hybrid First Drive Review

    Authors Image

    Sagar Bhanushali

    Toyota Camry [2019-2022] Exterior

    What is it?

    Why I would buy it:

    Refinement, lots of equipment, improved looks

    Why I would avoid it:

    Uninspiring drive, cabin plastics not up to the mark 

    It’s a more fuel efficient and polar bear-friendly version of the Toyota Camry – a car that has always been a rational choice, chained in a sea of mid-size offerings from Germany. Now in its eighth generation, the Camry Hybrid has made a comeback to the Indian market and it’s off to a strong start, with Toyota receiving well over 100 bookings so far. Armed with plenty of clever tech and a sharp new look, the 2019 model makes for an attractive proposition. Here’s what has changed and how. 

    The new Camry is wider and lower than its predecessor and the surprisingly aggressive stance is hard to miss. Unarguably, the most striking piece of design is upfront wherein you will find a sharply sculpted bumper with a lot of bling. On top of it are the beautifully detailed LED headlights with triple-layer daytime running lights that are unique to this car. 

    The 18-inch wheels, too, are brilliant to look at. Sadly, there is nothing happening at the rear – it appears dull and restrained, despite the broad LED taillights and the lip spoiler. Overall though, the Camry Hybrid has a well-balanced look and there is no denying that it is a big car. As a matter of fact, it’s the longest in its segment and its 2825mm wheelbase isn’t too far off the mighty Skoda Superb.

    How is it on the inside?

    Step inside and you will find that the button-laden and frankly old-school dashboard of the previous gen model has made way for this much more inviting look. The minimalistic design of the dash is appealing and the rather unusual Y shaped centre stack not only looks great but also works as a strong divider between the driver’s cockpit and the rest of the cabin. The changes add up to a new cabin that doesn't seem stripped-out in the way the one did. The Superb and the Passat feel more Euro chic but the Camry’s dash is ergonomic and now a little bit classy as well. The new display screen sits flush and looks premium. However, there are hard plastics all over the dash and door pads which detract from what is otherwise a vastly improved cabin. Most of the buttons, the window switch panel and the door handles lack that sense of ultimate solidity that you get from the Germans. What’s more, the UI and fonts for the infotainment system and the MID are far from slick and appear dated.  

    Space up front is good with lots of knee room and adequate thigh support, although, what’s even more impressive is the excellent visibility thanks to the large glass area, door-mounted wing mirrors and slim A-pillars. Where the Camry is a big winner is the rear seat comfort, which is among the best in any entry-level luxury sedan. Both the seatback and the base are extremely supportive with perfect cushioning and bolstering, giving the rear bench an arm-chair like feel to it. Those at the back get treated further with electric recline function and a touch-sensitive control panel for the audio system and AC. 

    When it comes to equipment, Toyota hasn’t cut any corners. You get electrically adjustable front seats, head-up display, paddle shifters, nine-speaker JBL audio system, three-zone climate control, wireless smartphone charging, electrically adjustable steering column, nine airbags, ABS, traction control and plenty more. 

    How does it drive?

    Under the hood you will find not one but two sources of momentum – a 2.5-litre 176bhp/221Nm four cylinder petrol engine that’s partially assisted by an electric motor that takes the combined power output to around 220bhp. Not earth-shattering by any means but it’s enough for most situations this luxury sedan is likely to find itself in.

    Around town, the Camry Hybrid gets up to speed in an incredibly smooth manner, with ample pace. You have a dedicated EV driving mode which allows you to move forward using electric power alone, however, the battery can run the car for a kilometre or so before it’s out of juice. It works best in stop-and-go traffic wherein you tend to spend a lot of time without covering a whole lot of distance. Now, as you would expect, the Camry is dead silent at slow speeds. In EV mode you could even sneak up on other motorists, it’s that silent. With both the motors working together, performance is strong with a good surge of power around the midrange.

    It goes without saying that the Camry gets up to highway speeds with ease. The effortless acceleration, in fact, goes well with the laidback, comforting nature of the car. As for the gearbox, the CVT has been tuned in line with the relaxed nature of the car. As a result, it is a little slow to react and not exactly engaging when you are up for some fun behind the wheel. The engine also becomes a little loud under hard pulls but once you are up to speed, it settles into a quiet hum, barely heard even above triple digit speeds. What’s audible though is the distant rumble from the economy-biased tyres but it’s not bothersome. 

    Our time with the car was mostly restricted to the wide and smooth tarmac of the Outer Ring Road, Hyderabad. Even so, we found out that it rides in the typical luxury car way – extremely compliant and insulated at slow speeds but wallowy over a highway, especially over dips and elongated humps. Meanwhile, the electrically assisted steering is surprisingly quick, too, but the sensation doesn’t last as it tends to become vague off centre. We have no gripes with the braking performance though – stopping power is strong and the pedal feel is consistent as well despite regenerative braking.

    Should I buy one?

    The new Camry Hybrid makes a compelling case, certainly when you consider how feature-loaded and comfortable it is. It’s also no longer frumpy looking or old-fashioned and even at the price its sold at, it’s great value. Sure, the Superb represents even better value and the Passat is more luxurious, however, the big Toyota does what a luxury sedan ought to without any fuss. All in all, it’s a little dull to drive and that continues to be a drawback, however, there is no denying that the classy new look and the long equipment list would appeal to many.  

    Where does it fit in?

    The 2019 Toyota Camry is priced at Rs 36.95 lakhs, ex-showroom. It’s significantly cheaper than its direct rival, the Honda Accord Hybrid which can be had for Rs 43.44 lakhs. The Camry also competes against a range of petrol-powered sedans including the Skoda Superb, Jaguar XE and the Audi A4. 

    Pictures by Kapil Angane

    Click here for our review of the new Toyota Yaris

    Click here for on-road prices and pictures of the entire Toyota India range 

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