2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid First Drive
Make no mistake: The 2015 Toyota Camry is a major refresh on a car that's just three years old. Toyota says there are more than 2000 new parts on the car, but it made no changes to the powertrain. That's a bit disappointing, as it's a missed opportunity.
Toyota won't admit that this refresh is in response to the big advancements made by the competition over the past few years, but it's clear the old car was falling behind in some areas. In the case of the Hybrid, the recent launch of the new Accord Hybrid shines a light on some of the Camry Hybrid's weaknesses, the foremost being refinement. Power delivery comes in surges, first from the electric motor's torque, then from the gasoline engine when it kicks on. When you're moving, the gasoline engine's engagement is smooth and seamless. If you happen to be sitting at a long red light when the gasoline engine restarts, you'll feel an unmistakable shaking in the chassis.
The Camry Hybrid's brakes still need improvement. They're very grabby, throwing your forward against the seat belt if you give them anything but a gentle squeeze. Once they're engaged, the pedal feel is strange and completely unrelated to the stopping power. The feedback isn't linear at all, as the amount of braking increases without any change in feedback. The handoff from regenerative to mechanical braking is likewise uncomfortable.
The good news is that because Toyota didn't change anything under the hood, we know exactly how the new Camry Hybrid will perform. Toyota says the new car will weigh about the same as the old car, so looking at the old car's test results is instructive. The last Camry Hybrid we tested, a 2013 XLE, weighed 3460 pounds and hit 60 mph from a stop in 7.2 seconds. It needed 15.5 seconds to complete the quarter mile at 91.5 mph. Stopping from 60 mph -- bad brake pedal feel aside -- took 128 feet. On the skidpad, the old Camry Hybrid pulled 0.78 g average and lapped our figure-eight test in 28.0 seconds at 0.61 g average. Likewise unchanged from the old car are the fuel economy estimates, which come in at 43 mpg city/39 mpg highway/41 mpg combined for the base LE and 40 mpg city/38 mpg highway/40 mpg combined for the SE and XLE trims.
What has changed is just about everything else, and for the better. Though the new car isn't likely to perform much differently on our test track, that isn't to say it doesn't drive better. Toyota has retuned the suspension and greatly increased the body control, seriously reducing body roll in corners and bouncing over bumps. The result is a car that feels more confident and capable to drive, without sacrificing ride quality. It's no sports sedan, but it's a better car to drive than it was.
The new moves are matched by new looks. Every body panel save the roof has been reshaped, and the result is a more mature and more modern-looking car. If it were me, I'd go with the new SE trim on the Hybrid. Not only do its grille and wheels look better, but I prefer its more buttoned-down ride to the LE and XLE, which are a little more floaty and bouncy over bumps.
I'd make a similar recommendation when it comes to the new interior as well. The base LE trim leaves something to be desired in both materials quality and design, with cheaper-looking soft touch materials, no accent stitching, and fake wood trim that isn't fooling anyone. Go for the SE or XLE and enjoy better materials and better-looking metallic trim. Regardless of which you choose, you'll enjoy a more modern design, even if it's conservative compared to the exterior. In all, it's a nice place to spend time, with ample passenger space, comfortable seats, and very little road or wind noise thanks to extra sound insulation. The standard Entune audio, information, and (optional) navigation system is simple and intuitive to use, and the touchscreen responds instantly to your inputs. For some reason, you can't get the larger 7-inch screen on Hybrids, but you probably won't miss the extra 0.9 inch. The lack of a cooled seat option is more disappointing given the price point.
Unquestionably, the 2015 Camry Hybrid is a better all-around car than the one it replaces. It looks better, it's more comfortable, and it rides better. It's just a shame Toyota didn't also take the opportunity to make some small but meaningful improvements to the powertrain and brakes. Still, if you're in the market for a Camry Hybrid, you'll find plenty to like about this one.