2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Road Test

Remember when the Camry was the poster child of mobile conservatism? Its sole mission was to provide roomy, comfortable,
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The Camry’s grille is hardly short on size or style. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
reliable transportation to people who purposely wanted to attract as little attention as possible.

Camry owners can’t fly under the radar anymore. The only four-door sedan in the mainstream volume sector with a more conspicuous grille is the slightly larger Toyota Avalon that shares much of the Camry’s componentry, but the mainstream family sedan’s flashy new attitude doesn’t appear to have eroded sales.

Last year the Camry remained number one in its class in both the U.S. and Canada, and by a considerable margin. Certainly sales in the mid-size family sedan segment have been slowing in recent years, the Camry falling victim to crossover SUV growth that includes the ever more popular Toyota Highlander, a mid-size
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
From the rear, the Camry is a much more conservatively shaped mid-size sedan. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
SUV that also shares underpinnings with this bestselling sedan, but the Camry is still king of cars… no scratch that… king of family vehicles (including trucks not sold for commercial purposes).

Toyota sold 404,301 Camrys in Canada and the U.S. last year, compared to just 204,343 Highlanders, and 2016 was a particularly poor year for the four-door sedan. By comparison, Camry sales for calendar year 2015 totaled 446,160 in the two jurisdictions, while Highlanders only accounted for 169,327 units. 2014? A few more Camrys at 446,851 units compared to considerably less Highlanders at 155,876.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Auto high beams help the XLE earn a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
not quite the high of 2007 that witnessed 501,326 Camrys leave Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky production facility, a year that saw just 132,930 Highlanders roll off the assembly line in Kurate-gun, Japan (production has since moved to Princeton, Indiana, other than the Highlander Hybrid that’s now built in Miyawaka City, Japan), which shows what we all now know, the current upward trend is in favour of SUVs instead of mid-size sedans, but whether or not the two vehicle types’ sales numbers will eventually even out is anyone’s guess.

While the Camry was nearly twice as popular as the Highlander in North America’s two northernmost countries last year, this isn’t at all the case in Canada. In fact, Camry
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The XLE gets stylish vertical LED driving lights and multi-spoke 17-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
just barely edged out Highlander with 15,683 deliveries compared to 12,964. And 2016 was the Highlander’s best year ever, whereas Camry rode its biggest wave in 2007 with more than twice as many sales at 28,218 units.

Compacts are much stronger here than in the U.S. (at the close of Q1, 2017 the Camry was the fifth most popular vehicle in the States and 28th in Canada), where the Corolla led Toyota Canada’s four-door sedan sales with 45,626 units last year (currently fifth most popular in Canada and seventh in the U.S.), and the RAV4 led the entire compact SUV segment as well as every other Toyota model with 49,103 deliveries (currently tenth in Canada and eighth in the U.S.).

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The taillights are LEDs as well. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
why should Toyota Canada bother giving me a Camry Hybrid to drive and tell you all about? Of course, 15,000-plus Camry sales is nothing to sneeze at, and the Hybrid adds the positive element of greening society, something that Toyota’s been trying to do since introducing its Prius here in 2000, and the first Camry Hybrid in March of 2006 for the 2007 model year.

I was on that launch program, part of which included side-by-side drag races against conventionally powered four-cylinder Camrys down an airport runway on Toronto Island (not during spring floodwaters, mind you). The Camry Hybrids came out ahead as you might expect, the exercise designed to dispel a common belief that HEVs were boring to drive.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The Camry’s interior has come a long way over the years. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the time I noted the 2007 Camry “HV” (the abbreviation then used by Toyota for Hybrid Vehicle, since globally standardized to HEV) sprinted to 100km/h in under nine seconds thanks to 187 net horsepower; provided combined city/highway mileage of 5.7 L/100km (remember that our old two-cycle rating system was hopelessly inaccurate); and had a starting price of $31,900; so other than the styling, a much more refined interior with more features, and a starting price of (are you sitting down?) $29,770, some $2.1k less than a decade ago, not much has changed.

Granted, performance has improved thanks to an updated 2.5-litre Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) that, when combined with the same Hybrid Synergy Drive technology that incorporates an identical 105-kW rating for its permanent magnet electric motor
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Soft-touch surfaces, high-end electronics, leather, and attractive satin silver trim set the XLE apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery combination, is rated at 200 net horsepower now, an increase of 13 horsepower since inception.

While older tech than Lithium-ion (Li-ion), NiMH batteries have served Toyota well over the years; powering some Prius taxi cabs more than a million kilometers before needing replacement. Despite the power upgrade and a change by Transport Canada to a new more realistic five-cycle testing method, the 2017 Camry Hybrid’s fuel economy is actually better than the 2007 model in the city at 5.6 L/100km, and not much worse on the highway (on paper) at 6.2 L/100km (I’m sure it’s improved for real; its combined rating is 5.9 L/100km incidentally), while the car itself is miles more impressive.

I’m not necessarily talking about its styling (I’m more of a “fan” of the current generation’s
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Bright and highly legible gauges join a large MID at centre. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
pre-facelift 2012–2015 model anyway), but more so of the attention to detail Toyota spent on interior design, quality, digital interfaces, and the way it drives.

As you might expect the Camry Hybrid XLE is a lot more about comfort than performance, and to that end I found it an extremely nice car to drive. It soaks up inner-city bumps very well, is quite manoeuvrable in tight parking lots, around town and on a winding back road (as long as you don’t push too hard), and it takes to the highway ideally. The Hybrid drivetrain provides plenty of power too, especially for passing duties, while it can cruise at high-speed all day long in quiet, near serene comfort.

With respect to that aforementioned winding back road, the Camry is a fairly wide car with a relatively low centre of gravity allowing
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen gets unique HEV functions in Camry Hybrid guise. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
for pretty good performance through corners, while the XLE’s 17-inch rims and 215/55 rubber provided plenty of grip for being winters. I’ve learned from experience that Michelin X-Ice tires are superb in the snow and also very good in rainy conditions, but no snow tire is as capable on dry pavement as a stock set of all-seasons, which aren’t as sticky as a good set of summers.

Optimally any car should have a set of winters like these X-Ice tires for the colder season and summers when it’s warm, swapping them out in the fall and spring so as to maximize road-holding and minimize wear. This said if you send the Camry Hybrid XLE into a sharp curve too hard it tends to understeer, which means it pushes
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The XLE comes standard with very accurate navigation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the front wheels outwards (toward the curb, ditch, trees, river, ocean, or generally where you don’t want to go), which believe it or not is the better of two evils (the opposite is losing traction at the rear, which could send the car into a spin). Winter tires, with inherently less grip in the dry, exacerbate this tendency. As noted earlier, the Camry Hybrid XLE drives well if it’s not thrown around with abandon, its understeering nature easily remedied with a slight lift off the throttle. Of note, I’ve driven this latest Camry in sportier XSE trim, which unfortunately isn’t available in Hybrid guise, and it’s actually quite a bit of fun when pushed considerably harder.

Trims in mind, the Camry Hybrid is available in three variations including LE, SE, and as-tested XLE. While my tester was dressed up much nicer than the sub-$30k base
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
That’s a wireless phone charger (on the right), a handy part of the XLE upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
car mentioned way back in the beginning of this review, it’s not like the entry-level model is particularly lacking in features. A few highlights from the Hybrid LE include auto on/off projector-style halogen headlamps, power-adjustable heated side mirrors, windshield acoustic glass (no such luck with the conventionally powered Camry LE), proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition (ditto for the regular Camry), a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers, cruise control, bright and colourful Optitron primary gauges, a TFT multi-information display, filtered dual-zone auto climate control with a humidity sensor (the conventionally powered Camry LE gets a manual HVAC system), 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment with Bluetooth phone connectivity and streaming audio, a backup camera, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA stereo with aux and USB ports, the usual
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The Camry Hybrid’s CVT-like single-gear drive system gets a "B" mode for quick-charging the battery when coasting downhill. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
powered locks and windows, dual vanity mirrors, an overhead sunglasses holder, an eight-way powered driver’s seat (the regular LE is manually adjustable), 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks (with only the “40” side available as a pass-through due to the rear bulkhead-mounted battery), and more.

Additionally, Toyota’s standard Star Safety System includes the usual ABS-enhanced brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist, traction and stability control, and Toyota’s exclusive Smart Stop Technology (SST) that eliminates any chance of driver-induced unintentional acceleration. This gets added on top of the usual count of standard airbags, plus two for protecting front occupant knees. If you want the benefits of an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating you’ll have to spend more, but the ability to do so sets the Camry apart from most competitors.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Leather upholstery helps lift the XLE into entry-level luxury territory. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
you’ll need to move past second-rung SE trim for that privilege, I’d best share some of its upgrades before delving into my fully loaded tester’s trim level. These include a unique sport grille, a rear deck lid spoiler, unique 17-inch alloy wheels (replacing the base 16-inch steel rims and covers), a sport-tuned suspension, aluminum scuff plates, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leather-trimmed UltraSuede sport seats, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, and heatable front seats.

My XLE didn’t include most of the SE’s sporting gear but kept the leather-wrapped controls, powered passenger’s seat, and heatable front seats, while adding a different set of 17-inch alloys. Additionally the XLE includes automatic high beams, LED daytime running lights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a garage door
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
A powered moonroof over the front seats is always appreciated. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
opener, dynamic radar cruise control, a larger 7.0-inch touchscreen display with navigation, a great sounding 10-speaker JBL audio system with satellite radio, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, nice leather upholstery, a powered moonroof, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, and an alarm.

The cabin that much of these goodies comes in will be familiar territory to those exposed to the pre-makeover seventh-generation car, which was already much improved over previous iterations. Nice details like a stitched soft-touch dash top flows downward across the instrument panel ahead of the front passenger, before butting up against a pseudo grey woodgrain inlay, the latter quite nice to look at as long as you don’t follow up appearances with any physical contact-it’s as cheap
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The rear seats are comfortable and spacious. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
and hollow feeling as fake wood gets. The door uppers are also soft synthetic and nicely done like the dash, while contrast stitched padded door inserts fold stylishly into upscale leather-like armrests.

Just like the lower dash, the lower door panels are finished in a hard plastic, which isn’t very upscale but likely durable. Likewise the Camry doesn’t offer any luxury padding on the centre or lower console sides, but I love the way its edges are surrounded in satin-finish aluminum-look trim. The same treatment highlights the rings around the instrument cluster gauges, the steering wheel spokes, switchgear, and some of the door garnishes, as well as the inner door handles, while chrome applied here and there adds dazzle.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The abbreviated trunk should be spacious enough for most. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
back to that instrument cluster, it’s a nice mix of digital and analog, the speedometer and integrated gas gauge backlit with a bright electroluminescent display, and the left dial, which is normally the tachometer, colourfully backlit with special hybrid information that shows when it’s charging, its various stages of Eco mode, when using ICE power, and sometimes lit up when in EV mode. Bridging the gap between the two is a highly legible full-colour high-resolution multi-information display that can be actuated via the right-side steering wheel spoke’s toggle control, this system complete with an energy monitor, compass, audio system info, cruise control details, a message centre, and car settings. Additional steering wheel buttons access the phone, voice activation, dynamic cruise control and more, the Camry Hybrid XLE loaded with features as noted above.

2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
The battery divides much of the rear bulkhead, only allowing a 40-percent pass-through for skis and other long cargo. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
far as its various driving modes go, only Toyota’s plug-in Prius Prime (thus far is only available in Quebec) can be driven in full-electric EV mode for any given distance. The Camry Hybrid will back out of your driveway silently, or whisk around a parking lot at speeds below 20 km/h or so, but breach that number and the ICE quietly kicks in and assists. For this reason it’s not the most fuel efficient in its class, but it’s hardly a guzzler. Still, Ford claims 5.6 L/100km for the Fusion Hybrid (although at 188 net horsepower it won’t win any stoplight wars), whereas the Honda Accord Hybrid’s more potent 212 net horsepower ICE allows for claimed 5.0 L/100km combined city/highway fuel economy.

We’re near the end of the line for the current Camry anyway, and for that reason we
2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive has long provided reliable, efficient performance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
can’t be sure how a future Camry Hybrid will compete at the pump. We now know how the conventionally powered 2018 model will look, however, and if you haven’t seen it yet let me prepare you for a baleen-straked krill catching grille that’ll make this seven-gen version seem sized like the minuscule maw of pea puffer. Just the same, like today’s regular Camry and Camry Hybrid it will no doubt deliver quick, comfortable, safe, reliable, economical daily transport to hundreds of thousands of mid-size sedan buyers each year, which makes either this 2017 Camry Hybrid or the next one a very good choice for your family as well as a safe bet when it comes time for resale.
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