Does the Camry hybrid – vs. the regular Camry – make economic sense?
Or is it an emotional (and political) thing primarily – as in: Hey, look how much I care about the environment?
Hmmmm . . .
On the one hand, the Camry hybrid will cost you $3,460 more to buy than an otherwise equivalent non-hybrid Camry LE. That sum buys a lot of gas – even at the current appx. average of about $3.20 per gallon.
On the other hand, the hybrid saves a lot of gas – 43 city, 39 highway.
That’s a pretty epic improvement over the non-hybrid/four-cylinder Camry’s 25 city, 35 highway – especially the city figure.
An 18 MPG difference is no small difference.
In fact, it’s big enough that you’ll probably make up the $3,460 extra you spent up front after about 3-4 years of driving (assuming you drive about 10,000 miles annually).
And after that – once you reach “break even” – the savings really begin to add up. Compared with the non-hybrid/four-cylinder Camry, your fuel bills should be one third to one-half lower.
There are of course other things to consider about the Camry hybrid – mostly good (and very little that’s bad).
Let’s have a look at them now.
WHAT IT IS
The Camry hybrid is exactly that – a hybrid version of Toyota’s perenially-popular mid-sized family sedan. Base price is $26,140 (vs. $22,680 for the otherwise similar, non hybrid Camry LE) with a top-of-the-line XLE topping out at $28,625.
Cross-shops include the hybrid versions of the Honda Accord (base price $29,155) Ford Fusion (base price $26,270) and Hyundai Sonata (base price $26,000).
The Toyota’s not the most gas-sippy of these hybrid sedans – that honor goes to the new Accord hybrid, which is the first hybrid other than a Prius to be awarded a 50 MPG rating (city) by the EPA.
Nor is it the least expensive hybrid sedan in this class – that would be the Sonata hybrid (although just barely). And it hasn’t got the most front seat legroom – the Ford Fusion beats everyone on that score.
But it’s a much better deal than the new Accord hybrid – which starts at almost $30k.
It’s also more efficient than the Sonata hybrid.
And it’s quicker than the Fusion hybrid.
With more backseat legroom – and a larger trunk – than all of them.
In other words, while it may not be luminously exceptional in any one respect, it’s pretty damn good at everything.
An SE trim has been added to the mix, which includes sportier bucket seats (same as in the non-hybrid Camry SE) and exterior/interior trim, as well as larger (17 inch) wheels, which sharpen up the steering response and handling a little but which also reduce the car’s fuel economy potential (due to the increased rolling resistance) and will aslo increase your tire replacement costs down the road.
Anticipating just-enacted federal requirements, all 2014 Camry hybrids come standard with back-up cameras.
Hybrid Camry is quick!
Soft, quiet ride; easygoing nature.
Roomiest trunk in class – most backseat room in class.
Hard to do better, resale value-wise.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
If it’s excitement you’re after, look elsewhere. This is the girl you bring home to meet mom.
Toyota’s comprehensive warranty is still just three years/36,000 miles. The hybrid-specific components such as the electric motor/battery pack are covered for longer (eight years, 100,000 miles) but the coverage on the car itself is on the skimpy side.
The Camry hybrid is pretty muscular – as hybrids go.
Combined output of the 2.5 liter gas engine and electric motor/battery pack is 200 hp – more than the base-engined/non-hybrid Camry (178 hp) and top of the class relative to its hybrid rivals (the Sonata hybrid comes in second with 199 hp; the new Accord’s a close third with 196 – and the Fusion hybrid is way back there, with just 188 hp on tap).
Performance is excellent: The hybrid Camry does zero to 60 in about 7.6 seconds through the Continuously Variable (CVT) automatic transmission. This is almost a full second quicker to 60 than the non-hybrid/four-cylinder-powered Camry (8.4 seconds). And remember – the hybrid’s in-city mileage is 18 MPG better than the non-hybrid Camry’s fairly wretched 25 MPG.
The new Accord hybrid is quicker than the Camry hybrid – but only just barely: Zero to 60 in about 7.5 seconds, an imperceptible difference.
Not so imperceptible is the Accord hybrid’s stunning fuel efficiency – 50 city and 45 highway. The Accord’s highway number is actually better by 2 MPG than the Camry hybrid’s city number.
Very, very impressive.
The Accord hybrid is however priced about $3,000 more to start than the Camry hybrid – and that negates much of the Honda’s over-the-road efficiency advantage. Not to mention makes it harder to buy.
A more serious threat to Camry comes from Ford.
The Fusion hybrid’s mileage – 47 city and highway – is significantly better than the Camry’s in either category. And unlike the Accord, the Fusion hybrid is priced very competitively.
It is, however, on the slow side.
The Ford needs about 8.5 seconds to get to 60.
So, by the way, does the Hyundai Sonata hybrid.
That 1 second difference may not sound like much, but in real-world driving, it’s a major margin. I’ll get into that more below.
Like the Prius, the Camry hybrid is capable of moving forward on its batteries alone – for short hops, about a mile or so – at speeds up to about 20 MPH. This set-up is ideal for stop-and-go city driving and if that sort of driving constitutes the majority of your driving, you’ll find the Camry hybrid’s cost-benefit equation much more favorable – and favorable sooner. But even in mixed-use (city/highway) driving, the Camry hybrid’s average mileage is very good. I achieved an average of 33.7 MPG during the week I test-drove the car – and that was with me driving 75-80 for probably half the time.
Unfortunately – or not, depending on how you run the numbers – Toyota doesn’t offer a plug-in version of the Camry hybrid (as Ford does with the Fusion hybrid). The advantage of the plug-in layout is you can charge up the car’s battery pack without running the gas engine. In a regular hybrid, the only way to recharge the batteries (other than recapturing some of the energy of deceleration via regenerative braking) is by running the gas engine – which acts as an on-board generator. That, of course, uses gas – and that lowers the car’s overall economy of operation.
However, the additional cost of the plug-in equipment – typically, several thousand dollars more than the cost of an otherwise-the-same hybrid – has made plug-ins a difficult sell. Toyota’s not-so-encouraging experience with the plug-in version of the Prius is probably why Toyota isn’t rushing to get a plug-in version of the Camry hybrid on the market.
The Camry hybrid has power to spare – vs. just barely enough power to keep up with traffic. Which matters when you roll up behind a slow-moving RV and have only so much time (and so much road) to bust a move around it. Or when you’re trying to merge with unfriendly highway traffic that doesn’t have time to accommodate slow-pokes.
To me, this extra juice is worth losing a few MPGs over.
The Fusion is a nice car – and its mileage is laudatory. But it’s right on the cusp of being too-slow-for-comfort under ideal conditions (flat road, just the driver on board). Put two passengers in it – and task it with passing a dawdler on an uphill grade – and you’ll probably find yourself agreeing with me that maybe a using a little more fuel is worth having a lot more power/performance.
The Sonata’s a nice car, too – but not only is it also on the slow side, it’s also on the not-so-fuel-efficient side: 36 city (vs. 43 for the Camry) is no great shakes . . . especially when you’re also looking at 8.5 seconds to 60.
A big difference, Camry-wise vs. its rivals, is the Toyota’s cush rather than sporty ride. This is most noticeable when you drive the new Accord hybrid and Camry hybrid back-to-back. It’s not that the Accord’s a rough rider. It isn’t. But it’s definitely firmer-riding than the ultra-posh Camry.
On the other hand, the Camry’s steering and handling are not as tight-feeling as the Accord’s. It also has a lower threshold of lateral grip. Toss both cars into a curve at car journalist velocity and the Camry’s tires will squeal first, its TCS will intervene sooner.
The question is – or should be – do you drive that way?
If not, the Camry’s high-speed cornering attributes are probably irrelevant – whereas the noticeably posher everyday ride is an everyday plus.
AT THE CURB
The Camry hybrid – like the others it competes with – does not announce its hybridness to the world. It looks pretty much like any other Camry from the outside – except for subtle differences like the “blue halo” around the Toyota badge in the grille. And on the inside, the differences are limited to a hybrid-specific gauge cluster with a “charge-ECO-power” meter in lieu of a tachometer to the left of a conventional speedometer and an energy transfer monitor and mileage tracker display in the LCD screen in the center stack. Otherwise, it’s pretty conventional – including the normal/conventional console-mounted gear selector instead of the geeky toggle thing in the Prius.
This is a sensible shoes car. It’s not a man’s car – or a woman’s car. Not an old person’s car. . . .
You get the idea.
Yeah, it’s pretty vanilla. But that is one of the secrets of its enduring appeal. It’s a car anyone can feel comfortable in because it doesn’t make an issue of itself. Its controls are all immediately comprehensible and easy to operate. It drives pleasantly, hits you with no surprises. This is a Ten Year Car – one for the long haul.
Camry’s rivals are beginning to muscle in on one of the Toyota’s historic selling points – its generous interior space. The new Accord, for instance, has 42.5 inches of front seat legroom vs. the Camry’s 41.6 inches. The Fusion ups the ante to 44.3 inches. And Hyundai says let’s get nuts with an astounding 45.5 inches (four inches more than a full-size Mercedes S-Class!).
But the Camry still has the roomiest second row – 38.9 inches vs. 38.5 for the Accord, 38.3 for the Fusion and (here’s what happens when you get nuts) 34.6 for the Sonata … which is four inches less than the Camry.
The Toyota also has the most trunk space – though (being hybrids) all the cars discussed have comparatively small trunks (the batteries eat up a lot of space). Still, Camry’s 13 cubes beats the Accord hybrid’s 12.7, the Sonata’s 12.1 and the Fusion’s 12.
The non-hybrid Camry’s trunk, incidentally, measures 15.4 cubic feet.
The Camry hybrid’s economics hinge on how you drive – as well was what you buy. Take note of the fact that ordering the optional 17 inch wheel/tire package (standard on the new Sport trim as well as the luxury-themed XLE trim) noticeably notches down the mileage – to 40 city, 38 highway. That’s what increased rolling resistance will do for you.
It will also firm up the ride – which kind of runs contrary to the Camry’s grain. If sporty is a big issue for you, the Accord hybrid might be the better choice for you. Pick the Camry for its virtues; don’t try to make it into something it’s not.
I’m surprised Toyota continues to get away with its paltry 3/36 comprehensive warranty – but it goes to show you just how blue chip the brand is. People trust Toyota. And until there’s some reason not to trust Toyota, they’ll probably be able to sell cars hand over fist – whatever the warranty.
GM could learn from this but probably never will.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Though the competition is nipping at its heels, the hybrid Camry hybrid’s still got “just right” covered better than they do. The new Accord hybrid is impressively fuel efficient – but its high price makes it a harder sell . . . if you care about saving money as opposed to just saving gas. The Fusion is a very nice car, a very economical car – and very attractively priced. But it’s also very slow – and that eats into its fun to drive.
The Sonata hybrid’s mileage, meanwhile, is mediocre . . . and its back seat is medieval compared with the others in this class.
Which leaves – yup – the Camry.
It’s efficient, but not overpriced. Quick – and comfortable. Plus, it’s the safe bet. Odds are it’s not going to turn out to be a lemon – or worth half what you paid five years from now.
That’s an intangible, of course. But it’s a big part of the reason why Toyota sells nearly half a million Camrys each year. And thus, it might be more important than any of the tangibles.
Throw it in the Woods?
Eric Peters is a veteran car/bike journalist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs. Twitter handle: LibertarianCarG (they would not let me have LibertarianCarGuy).
If you like what you’ve been reading here, please consider tossing EPautos.com a couple bucks. We’re a reader-supported outfit and depend on you to keep the wheels turning.
Our donate button is here. For those not Pay Pal-inclined, you can mail us at the following:
721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079
I talked to a couple of Prius taxi drivers here at the airport after I parked my SUV. Both of them said that the Prius is extremely reliable and saves a lot of fuel in city driving because of the re-generative braking charging the battery. On the highway the advantage over a regularly sized non hybrid is not that great.
Hybrids excel in that environment (low-speed, short range). In that context, 50-plus MPG is very doable – I know, having “done it” myself. And given that in most urban/city areas, even unleaded regular is still close to $4 a gallon, a hybrid vehicle that delivers a 20-something MPG advantage over a conventional vehicle can save you a great deal of money, even factoring in the higher up-front costs.
Now, for someone such as myself – who lives in the country and who drives fast (70-plus) regularly – a hybrid makes much less economic sense.
For me – if gas mileage – is the object – a diesel would be the ticket.
One more point: all hybrid cars that use motor generators on the drive wheels (all the above reviewed) will realize very significant maintenance bonuses for brakes and rotors.
In the case of the Prius, there are additional maintenance bonuses, possibly partially offset by the eventual costs of battery replacements.
In practical driving, the Prius has adequate acceleration for every situation I’ve encountered in 65K miles of driving, and represents an incredible cost/performance ratio, especially in 2 or 3 trim. For guys who have “another” car for working out on the curves and/or tracking, I heartily recommend the Prius of all-around transportation. Can’t beat it, really, although I did look at the Camry and Accord hybrids. Honda also offered a Civic Hybrid, as I recall, that I also test drove several years ago, but it failed the cost benefit test for me.
DR (Two Prius owner, also a Dodge Ram V10 and a Viper RT/10 V10)
Just posted a review of the new Accord hybrid… curious to get your reaction….
Sorry to break this to you, Eric, but your math is off on the Toyota Camry Hybrid article. There’s almost no real-world scenario where the hybrid is likely to save you money.
I teach math for a living. So, let’s take this assertion and run the numbers:
“On the other hand, the hybrid saves a lot of gas – 43 city, 39 highway.
That’s a pretty epic improvement over the non-hybrid/four-cylinder Camry’s 25 city, 35 highway – especially the city figure.
An 18 MPG difference is no small difference.
In fact, it’s big enough that you’ll probably make up the $3,460 extra you spent up front after about 3-4 years of driving (assuming you drive about 10,000 miles annually).”
Even if you trust the government’s numbers, these are roughly the breakeven points for just the gasoline for the hybrid versus the non-hybrid:
You drive exclusively on the highway: 400,000 miles to break even on gas.
You drive 50/50 split between highway and city (most people do something approximating this): 150,000 miles to break even on gas.
You only drive in the city: 100,000 miles to break even on gas.
This ignores the fact that eventually all those very expensive batteries will have to be replaced. Or the lost interest / opportunity costs of having that extra $3,000 tied up. Or that most people only own a brand new car for a while before trading up to a new car, and that the resale value of a hybrid versus a non-hybrid isn’t going to be that much after a while.
The only way I could see these numbers allowing you to save money is if you let some enviro-wacko buy this hybrid, and then 5 or 10 years later buying it used for a tiny bit more than the cost of a non-hybrid, and hope the battery pack doesn’t fail for a while. Then the numbers pan out.
I used to think so, but don’t anymore.
In the regular (non-hybrid) Camry, I burn through a tank in four days. In the hybrid, I am able to go the entire week without filling up. The Camry’s gas tank (regular and hybrid) holds about 17 gallons. At the current (my area) $3.20 a gallon, a fill-up costs me about $50. So, about $200 a month to drive – $2,400 a year – for the regular (non hybrid). With the hybrid, I can skip one fill-up each month. Thus, $150 a month for fuel – $1,800 a year. I save $600 on fuel annually. At that rate, I reach break even about 5.5 years down the road. And from that point on, the savings dramatically increase because you’ve amortized the higher up-front cost of the hybrid.
Keep in mind, also, that in some respects it costs less to maintain a hybrid. For example, oil change intervals are longer because the engine accrues fewer “hours” of use over the same mileage driven, vs. a non-hybrid.
But the finger on the scale that has caused the economics to tip in favor of hybrids is the cost of gas.
Were we still paying less than $2 a gallon for gas, I’d agree with you completely that the over-the-road savings would be too small (and too long coming) to justify the higher up-front costs of the hybrid powertrain.
But at $3.20 (and that’s cheap; I was in the DC area earlier this week and gas was 50 cents a gallon more expensive) the math works out more favorably – and much sooner.
It is a price controlled manipulated dynamic like healthcare. About 3 years ago I did a full lifespan comparison between a new Corolla (about 32-35mpg) and an equivalent Prius, including resale. The two cars broke even with each other at about 70,000 miles with $2.00/ gallon gas as I recall. Although I did not factor in a replacement battery or engine/ trans.
These comparisons are best done using cars that come in gas and hybrid versions. This eliminates all sorts of factors that can’t be held constant even for comparing two gas models against each other.
I have used the Honda Civic for my comparisons and the break even point is long after the cars would be past down to teenagers and thrashed. I think I did it with $4 gasoline.
Now Lincoln throws a curve by offering gas and hybrid versions at the same cost. Unless there’s some sort of standard equipment gotcha then there’s a place where break even doesn’t have to be worried about. My guess is that Lincoln is taking a margin hit on one and perhaps upping the margin on the other.
Then again for simple A to B driving I have a ’94 Geo Metro that gets nearly 50MPG and is worth about $1,500. If it dies or gets crunched I will just leave it on the side of the road and let the Highway Patrol deal with it. 🙂
Checked my math, and it was off by some, so the case for the hybrid isn’t quite as bad as I thought — IF the government numbers for the hybrids are accurate, which I have heard they are not, people have been complaining that the fuel savings are less than promised.
Let’s do a walkthrough for the best case scenario — you drive exclusively in what the government classifies as city driving.
You’re driving the hybrid Camry in city driving, and go for 43 miles. You’ve burned one gallon of gas. If you had been driving a regular 4 banger Camry at 25 MPG, you would have burned 43/25th of a gallon of gas, or 1.72 gallons. So, in the hybrid, 43 miles of city driving saves you 0.72 gallons of gas. That means to save a full gallon of gas, you would have to drive 43 X (1/0.72) miles, or 59.7222 (call it 60 miles).
MSRP purchase price difference of a hybrid means $3,460 you’re trying to make up in fuel savings. (Let’s ignore whether you’d be paying a premium for a hybrid at a dealership, for simplicity’s sake. Based on the price of gas here in Austin year round, that’s roughly 1,000 gallons of gas, though that would vary depending on where you live.
So, 60,000 miles in this scenario to pay off the extra purchase price in exclusively city only driving (screwed up the calculations first quick and dirty pass and got 100K miles — my bad.) Quicker than that if you’re paying exorbitant fuel prices greatly exceeding $3.46 a gallon on average. Seems like maybe this might pay off if you drive the car more than 60K miles. But, if that battery pack for the hybrid fails at 100K miles, making the car’s value plummet to zero (versus my existing Camry which is has about 140K miles on it and is still reliable), you would lose the entire resale value of the car at that point, which might be several thousand dollars, which means between 60K and 100K miles you’d have to save enough in gas to cover that loss in resale value — plus the lost investment interest on the $3,460 extra you paid upfront. So, depending on how long before battery pack failure, you might — MIGHT — eke out a little bit of savings on a hybrid Camry if you never leave a big metropolitan area.
Let’s take the highway only driving scenario. 39 HWY hybrid, 35 MPG conventional. After driving 39 miles on the highway, the hybrid has used 1 gallon of gas. The conventional car has used 39/35th of a gallon, or 1.114 gallons. So, to save a gallon of gas in the hybrid, you’d have to drive 39 X (1/0.114) = 342 miles. Round it off to 340 miles. To make up the purchase price difference in gas savings alone, you’d have to drive the hybrid about 340,000 miles. Obviously, this is invariably going to be a losing proposition.
Finally, a more likely real world scenario of roughly 50/50 city versus highway driving. Add the city and hwy MPG and divide by two (the more accurate math is more complicated, but this is just back of the envelope stuff to get a rough idea). 41 MPG average hybrid, 30 MPG conventional. Drive the hybrid 41 miles, and you save 0.367 gallons of gas, so it takes you 41 X (1/0.367) = 112 miles (call it 110 miles) to save a gallon of gas, and so 110,000 miles of driving just to recover the extra purchase price premium in fuel savings — at which point the battery pack dies and your hybrid is worthless. Again, numbers just don’t pan out.
Buying a hybrid is fine if that makes you feel all virtuous and happy, or if driving a hybrid helps you get into the pants of that crunchy-granola chick you want to bang — economics is not just about money, but about how to get what you want — but from a sheer money-saving accountant’s perspective, it’s a bad idea.
Let me walk you through
Of course, your mileage may (and will) vary!
Much depends on how you drive – and how much you drive.
For some people, a hybrid might not reach break even for 7-8 years; perhaps even longer. For others, it might arrive much sooner.
I can vouch – from personal experience – for the fact that Toyota hybrids can exceed the EPA’s numbers… if you drive them in such a way as to optimize the layout (the car actually coaches you to do this via real-time displays). On the other hand – and I can vouch for this, too – your mileage may be less than the EPA’s numbers if you drive it in such a way as to not optimize the layout. I’ve done that to several press car Priuses – and the result was average mileage in the mid-30s.
But I’ve also seen 50-plus, so I know it’s doable.
After hearing the various POVs here, I’d say that whether owning a Camry hybrid is an economically viable proposition for a large market niche comes down to one thing — how long do these battery packs last?
If they typically last 200,000 miles or so, then the economics would work out for almost any driver who drives quite a lot in stop and go city driving, since the resale value of these cars will reflect the durability of the battery packs.
OTOH, if these battery packs typically fail at around 100,000 miles or so, then this will start being reflected in the resale value of these cars when they near that mark, and only a narrow niche owner would financially benefit from a hybrid Camry — those who drive almost solely in stop and go city driving, and who will hang onto their cars until the battery packs fail and the car has to be junked because it costs more to fix it than the resale value. Those niche drivers would save enough on gas over 100,000 miles or so of driving to cover both the higher upfront costs of buying, plus the truncated resale value when the car gets older, and still turn a profit.
That being said, I think most hybrids are being bought by people who are bad at economics and logic and thus mistakenly think they are saving the planet by buying a hybrid when they are really doing net environmental harm, and/or are trying to impress dates with their “green-ness” and thus are deriving non-monetary value.
Just curious. Does the brisk 0-60 acceleration that Camry and Accord Hybrids have continue into higher speed ranges…..let’s say 65 to 85mph? Or does the electric motor boost tail off?
The Camry hybrid’s acceleration is good throughout the usable spectrum (0-80 or so). Over 80, it gets noisy/thrashy – at WOT – but that’s mostly because of the CVT. It still pulls pretty strongly, and will reach very illegal speeds if you keep your foot in it. It shows no signs of strain holding 80 at steady-state cruise.
A former coworker has the Fusion Hybrid. It’s a *very* nice car – lots of legroom both front and rear, and it’s got European handling (not “European-inspired”). The quality of the materials in the interior is also first-class.
His commute has periods of 60+ mph, interspersed with stop-and-go traffic backups (Austin has horrible traffic – don’t move here), so he’s doing pretty good with the mileage – high 30’s to low 40’s, depending. He also has a Jetta TDI, so he’s used to getting good mileage from his cars.
He also test-drove the Camry hybrid, and the styling is what really made him go with the Ford. The Fusion is just way more attractive than the snooze-fest Camry.
I like the Fusion a lot also. But it is a little slow – and that (for me) takes away from the driving enjoyment.
I’d also – personally – take into account the likely resale value of the Toyota vs. the Ford.
I do, however, agree 100 percent on the styling.
When I purchased my latest car in 2013 I looked at the Hybrids. I mandated a tow rating on my car as without that the warranty becomes void, Hybrids never have tow ratings. Hybrids as you noted are also not only more expensive by several thousand but more prone to problems. Family purchased a Prius a few years ago and when the car reached just over 100,000 miles the battery died. No problem and an easy fix…….until Toyota hit them with an almost $6,000 bill for the battery and labor. Saving gas costs a lot…..lol