Drive

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid a handsome handler

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid

• Type. Four-door, five-passenger midsize sedan

• Engine. 2.5-litre four-cylinder with electric motor (156 hp gas only, 200 gas/electric combined)

• Transmission. CVT, (continuously variable)

• Price. $28,410 base, $34,500 as tested

Once considered so exotic that you could almost stop traffic by driving one, gas-electric hybrids are now commonplace. And while cars like Toyota’s Prius still scream, “I’m a hybrid!” there are now many conventional-looking versions, including the Camry Hybrid.

Both the Camry and Camry Hybrid have been extensively updated for 2015, with new interior and exterior styling that is a considerable improvement on the previous bland design, plus tweaks to the suspension for better ride and handling.

The Camry Hybrid uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that’s mated to an electric motor and an automatic, continuously variable transmission (CVT) that contains belts and pulleys instead of gears.

The system seamlessly switches between gasoline-only operation, electric-only, or a combination of the two, depending on what’s needed at the time.

And you don’t plug it in. Instead, the battery recharges by capturing the energy generated when you’re slowing down.

When you come to a stop, the gasoline engine shuts off, so you’re not using fuel or creating emissions while waiting for the light to change. Don’t worry: The climate control, stereo, lights, and other essentials stay on.

The Camry Hybrid comes in three trim lines, starting with the LE at $28,410 and going up to my top-line tester, the XLE, at $34,500. That’s $3,710 more than the conventional four-cylinder XLE, and as with any hybrid, it will take a while to make up the difference in fuel savings.

Combined ratings for the four-cylinder Camry are 8.4 L/100, while the hybrid is rated at 5.9.

Overall, the Camry’s improvements are impressive: It drives better, with quicker steering response. And while the hybrid’s ride is a little harsher than its gas sibling, it’s still comfortable.

The interior is roomy (although the battery chews up some of the trunk space), and the XLE throws in such upscale features as navigation, heated leather seats, and a blind-spot monitor.

If you want hybrid performance with traditional looks and features, this one’s a must on the test-drive list.

Market position

While the Prius lineup has expanded with a wagon, plug-in and subcompact models, the Camry remains focused on buyers who prefer their hybrids to look and feel more like conventional cars.

Points

  • In the top XLE trim, the hybrid costs more than the gas-powered four-cylinder XLE, but slightly below the six-cylinder model.
  • All trims include Bluetooth, rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlamps, and a power driver’s seat.
  • Selectable Eco mode reduces power and climate control to boost fuel efficiency.

Interesting features

Low-speed electric-only driving mode, standard rearview camera, available text-to-speech capabilities, blind-spot monitor, cross-traffic alert, and wireless phone charging.

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