It wouldn’t take a mandate – or subsidies – to get people to buy an electric car that could go almost 700 miles, that could get going again in just a few minutes, that could carry a family comfortably and only cost a little bit more than $28k.
There is such a car.
It is called the Camry hybrid.
Yes, it’s not entirely electric. But electric cars aren’t entirely “zero emissions,” either. Tailpipe emissions-free not being the same as zero emissions.
Besides, what good is a “zero emissions” car – assuming it is one – that only a relative handful of people can afford to buy and which isn’t practical for most?
What It Is
The Camry hybrid is a part-time electric car that’s basically the same car as the Camry, Toyota’s popular mid-sized family sedan.
It’s almost the same price, too.
The regular Camry stickers for $26,220 to start; the same thing with a part-time electric drivetrain stickers for $28,355. A top-of-the line Camry hybrid XSE stickers for $33,795 – vs. $31,520 for the non-hybrid Camry XSE.
What’s New for 2023
An updated Nightshade package is available. It bundles 19 inch matte-bronze finished wheels with special paint/trim.
Range, cost to buy – and drive – put EVs to shame.
Family car practical.
What’s Not So Good
Vehicles like this one – that work, that people can afford – aren’t being encouraged anymore.
The hybrid Camry has a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine, like the non-hybrid. Neither is turbocharged and both tout about the same power – 208 horses for the hybrid vs. 203 for the non-hybrid.
The difference is the hybrid’s engine is augmented by an 88 kilowatt electric motor and lithium-ion battery, very similar to what you’d find in an electric car – just not entirely responsible for moving the car.
This is how a hybrid eliminates the range-recharge-waiting issues that beset electric cars. The motor/battery work in tandem with the engine, which is also not entirely responsible for moving the car.
The system cycles the engine off when it’s not needed to move the car, as when coasting/decelerating or just sitting.
This saves a lot of gas that would otherwise be burned.
Thus the hybrid Camry’s stupendous 51 miles-per-gallon in city driving and an even better-than-that 53 miles-per-gallon on the highway – averaging out to 52 miles-per-gallon.
That’s about 20 miles-per-gallon better, on average, than the non-hybrid. It’s also better than the slightly more pricey ($31,895 to start) Honda Accord hybrid’s 46 city, 41 highway. (It’s about the same as the Hyundai Sonata hybrid’s 50 city, 54 highway; the Hyundai is also just a little bit less expensive ($28,100) to start.
It can travel 699 highway miles on 13 gallons of fuel – that latter being about three gallons less than the non-hybrid’s 15.8 gallon tank holds. The Toyota can roll hundreds of miles farther down the road than any electric car can go under ideal conditions. If it’s very cold (or very hot) out, EVs often go less far than the advertise because batteries aren’t as efficient in the very cold and EV batteries draw power to prevent them from getting too cold (or too hot) which reduces the amount of electricity available to power the car.
This also means you will never have to sit around waiting for a charge.
Its batteries are never run down to the EV equivalent of “empty” because the system prevents that from happening. A purely battery-powered car must run itself down to nearly empty to travel as far as its manufacturer claims it will go.
Unless, of course, you stop for a “top-off” mid-way through your trip.
This is more than just an inconvenience. It is also a problem.
Heavily discharging any battery is bad for it – in terms of reducing its capacity to retain a full charge. Heavy discharge/recharge cycles – especially if the charging is done with high-voltage “fast” chargers – do just that.
But you almost have to do that, if you drive an EV more than about half as far as it can go on a full charge.
This is one of the Catch-22s you buy into when you buy an electric car. It is one that doesn’t exist with a hybrid car, which you can drive as far as it will go on a tank without giving the battery a hard workout.
There are some additional – subtler – advantages to partial electrification. The first is that a car like the hybrid Camry doesn’t need a huge, hugely heavy – and hugely expensive – battery pack. The hybrid weighs 3,480 lbs. That’s only 170 lbs. more than the non-hybrid Camry. A Tesla Model S sedan – which is just slightly larger than a Camry – weighs 4,561 lbs.
Almost all of that difference being the weight of the latter’s batteries.
Being heavy is at odds with efficiency. And big batteries are at odds with affordability. The main reason electric cars cost so much more than other cars is because their batteries cost so much, which they do in part because they are so huge and to make them requires a huge amount of expensive raw materials.
And – Catch 22, again – they have to be huge (and so, expensive) in order to be able to store even half the energy-equivalent of enough gasoline to power the car for a couple hundred miles of driving. For an EV to be capable of traveling as far as the Camry hybrid can go, it would need an even larger, even heavier battery pack.
And it then it would cost as much as two or even three Camry hybrids – which many EVs (including the Tesla S) do.
On The Road
Not since the government out-regulated VW’s TDI diesel engines has there been a car that goes this far that only costs this much.
I had a trip planned that would have taken me 247 miles down the Interstate and back again. Only a deer prevented this trip from happening.
Contrast this with the Genesis G80 electric and the Benz EQE 500 electric cars I test drove the week before the Camry. Neither of those two could have made it one way, or maybe just barely. And once having made it there – if they did – I would have been obliged to wait before I could go anywhere, again.
This is hardly the luxury car experience, though both the G80 and the Benz EQE are luxury-branded (and priced) cars. The Camry hybrid gives you the experience without the brand.
Or the hassles.
Or the cost.
For half the price of a mid-sized electric luxury car like the EQE 500, you can drive a car that not only goes almost 700 miles before it needs a little gas, it also has cushy leather seats with heaters, a superb JBL audio system, headlights that turn with you in the curves, a big LCD screen – if you’re into such things – as well as a bird’s-eye view camera system to help with parking, a Heads-Up Display just like the six figure boys and most of all the rest.
It is not, of course, as quick as electric cars – but that’s just the point. Or rather, it ought to be. If the point of all of this is to build a car that uses less energy in order to produce fewer unwanted byproducts and so on, then quickness ought to take a back seat to those values. If it doesn’t, then it’s a fatuity as well as an absurdity. What’s the point of high-performance energy-hog EVs that only a few can buy, no matter how “zero” their tailpipe “emissions”?
But is it quick enough?
That depends on how you define “quick.” It goes zero to 60 in about 7.4 seconds. That’s about two seconds less quick than the Genesis G80 and the Benz EQE. But it is also about as quick as the typical mid-sized/mid-priced crossover, which is what most people who aren’t driving luxury-performance cars are driving. It is also quicker than most of the V8 muscle cars of the ’70s.
Granted, that was 40 years ago – but the point’s valid.
It has enough power – and more usable power – than entirely electric cars. Like them, it has the immediate propulsive thrust that electric motors deliver. Not quite as much, but of a piece. The difference is you can use all it’s got as often as you like and there’s no cost – other than maybe having to stop for a little more gas, a little bit sooner.
The hybrid attributes aside, this is also still a Camry – which means it is one of the most easygoing and pleasant new cars available. It is why Toyota sells more Camrys than almost everyone else sells EVs – combined.
It doesn’t pester or pre-empt you with pushy “assistance” technology. It doesn’t enervate you with over-teched controls. For example, while it has an LCD touchscreen, also has buttons you can touch (by feel, without looking) and knobs – including one for the tuner as well as the volume.
It is a get in and go kind of ride that is analogous to a favorite pair of casual shoes.
At The Curb
There aren’t many cars left on the market – and fewer that are still selling well. The Camry is one.
The why is obvious – leaving aside the hybrid stuff.
It is, first of all, not a small car. Note that there are almost none of those left on the market. The why is obvious. They aren’t big enough to serve as other than a single person’s car, a second car or a commuter car. Since many people cannot afford multiple cars – and need a car that is big enough inside to serve a family – they buy a crossover, instead. Even the small ones usually have room for 4-5 adults and their things. Most small cars don’t.
Many large luxury cars don’t.
On top of that, they are expensive.
The Camry isn’t – and it has room for 4-5 adults plus enough space for stuff in a reasonably-large (15.1 cubic foot) trunk. The rear seats have 38 inches of legroom, which is about two inches more than is typical (e.g., the Sonata only has 34.8 inches of backseat legroom) and that makes a big difference. It’s as comfortable in the back as it is up front and that makes it a road-trip car for a family, too.
Plus the thing is as close to being an “investment” as any new car is – because unlike many it holds its value exceptionally well and that is a function of it having a gold standard record for being worth something even after 15 years and 150,000 miles. These things are durable and reliable and thus, valuable.
Another desirable thing about this car – based on the fact that hundreds of thousands of people buy one each year – is that it isn’t polarizing in terms of how it looks. Maybe you don’t love it.
Kind of like vanilla ice cream. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
In addition to the hybrid set-up, the Camry is just about the only new family-priced mid-sized car still available with a V6 engine. If you’re interested in that you may be interested in this.
The Bottom Line
It’s a shame more love isn’t directed at hybrids, which do everything better than electric cars except go as quickly, briefly.
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