Toyota has a rock-solid reputation as a car company in India because it has one of the best service set-ups and its cars, like the Corolla Altis, Innova and Camry, are built to last. While the first two have been runaway successes in India, the flagship sedan - the Camry - has never really managed to make inroads. Don't get us wrong - the Camry is one the most successful cars in the world. However, in India, the Japanese car maker has been a bit slow in ensuring the car's evolution. With sales dwindling, the obvious move would have been to plonk a diesel engine into the Camry and let it sweep people off their feet. Instead, Toyota has taken a bold step and given it a hybrid engine. Now, that is an interesting spin. But will it help Camry become a serious contender in its segment?
To get the best out of this hybrid car, one needs to know what it is capable of and how it can be achieved. The Camry comes in three different modes - EV, Eco and regular. Understanding the dynamics of these modes is very important as it helps you decide how to tackle different traffic challenges. The 2.5-litre petrol engine is powered by both a battery and a 6.5 amp motor. With 202 bhp under the bonnet, manipulating the power for optimum use is more a question of analysing the driving conditions and then conquering them.
If you are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, then choose the EV mode, in which the car basically runs on the battery and motor to save every drop of precious petrol. In this mode, it does not emit carbon gases either. There is a strange sensation when the car goes into this mode. The vehicle becomes very quiet and you only hear the electronic purr, rather like the gentle noise of the Metro rail. The vehicle's interior noise-vibration-harshness is bereft of outside noise. To master this mode, ensure that the battery is fully charged. The on-board battery pack recharges itself with the heat created when the car brakes. But it's good to remember that the EV mode has its limitations, including the fact that it is functional only up to a speed of 40kmph, which is what you would expect in rush hour traffic.
The second environmentally friendly option is the Eco mode. This is where the electric motor and the petrol engine combine forces and provide the ideal driving dynamics, especially in the mid-range level. If you are not too sure of what the car is up to, then the entertainment centre's touch screen panel will show you the current battery charge, the energy levels and also reveal how efficiently the hybrid system is working. All it takes is a little practice, after which you don't even have to steal a glance at the information centre. The Eco mode is the most practical option as it perfectly balances both the performance of the petrol engine and the high fuel economy of electric power. So when you step on the gas, the acceleration is smooth yet calculated. There is no burst of excitement, rather a polite performance at optimum level. This driving mode is best for your commute in everyday traffic or for taking a spin within city limits.
The regular mode is all about the petrol engine taking over and marginalising the electric motor to some duty during start-stop action. The Camry Hybrid is no tug boat as it accelerates from standstill to 100 km in a mere 8.8 seconds. But refinement is its standout feature, and the E-CVT gearbox complements the engine though the response time is not as instant as we would have liked.
The hybrid's cabin is nothing short of a luxurious lounge. While the rear passengers get pampered in reclining comfortable seats, the arm rest comes with controls for adjusting the seat, air conditioner, rear sunshade and audio functions. The interiors, as expected, are spacious and the dual-tone cabin with wooden panelling on the dashboard adds some class.
We are now down to the final question. How practical is the Camry Hybrid? It actually does a lot of things right - like the practical driving modes that are truly green. When it comes to the luxury quotient, the car has everything as expected. If offers a brilliant ride as the suspensions are set up perfectly for Indian conditions. But then there is its understated looks, which don't quite give the Camry the snob value expected of a Rs 29 lakh-plus luxury sedan. So if technology is all that matters and not the badge, then the Camry Hybrid fits the bill. Otherwise go for a traditional diesel, keeping in mind that the regular sedan will come nowhere hear the new Camry as a frugal fuel drinker.
Engine: 2.5-litre petrol, 6.5 amp electric motor
Mileage: 19.4 kmpl (ARAI)
Price: Rs 29.12 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)