Mountain Wheels: Mileage matters in Toyota’s second-generation Camry Hybrid |

Mountain Wheels: Mileage matters in Toyota’s second-generation Camry Hybrid

2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

MSRP: $27,670; as tested, $31,483

Powertrain: 200 net HP 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine/battery/generator combo, electronic CVT transmission

EPA figures: 40 MPG combined (40 city, 38 highway)

I cannot say that driving a Toyota Camry Hybrid is the sexiest experience in the world. That’s just being honest. But as a family-friendly platform that can very reliably return 40 mpg in almost any circumstance, maybe sexy is not what this hybrid is trying to achieve.

On my last go-round with the newest generation Camry Hybrid, I took the car out and tackled the Hill Country in south-central Texas, during which time I found you can drive the car in a moderately spirited fashion, and enjoy the experience.

More recently, I tried out a 2014 XLE model in, of all places, the tremendously unpleasant driving conditions on the battered roads of New York City; my extended jaunts along the equally unpleasant New Jersey Turnpike, plus a turn through the more welcoming Allentown/Lancaster country of southeastern Pennsylvania, were more straight-ahead periods of saddle time.

Big takeaway: The car really will get 41 mpg or higher, even at competitive interstate highway speeds, and you’ll enjoy a surprising amount of electrical slingshot power to get the car to safely merge, pass or cruise along. I got more than 570 miles from a single tank of gas, getting close to the 650-mile range Toyota estimates, probably for all in-town use.

That zippy punch, even more impressive when the car’s in all-electric mode and it tears away from a stoplight in an entirely silent fashion, is the result of Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive system. That teams a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a 105-kW electric motor and a 650-volt battery pack into a combo that can supplement gas power with electric boost and give you 200 horsepower, right in the middle ground between Camry’s standard 178-HP four-cylinder and the actually sexy 268-HP V6 gasoline powerplant.

There are no noticeable wobbles or shudders as the car oscillates between electric and electrically assisted modes; you just feel the power, when you need it.

If you really want to maximize on the mileage, you can keep the car in Eco mode, which dulls the enthusiasm considerably. I clicked that off and enjoyed all the boost I could get, which saved my bacon several times in incredibly urban, kill-or-be-killed American driving situations.

Riding position is comfortable and the vehicle was fine for what turned into an especially long slog; you may find the electrically assisted steering a tad vague, or you might not even notice.

Camry’s more upright and boxy design, compared with last generation’s, is indeed pleasant enough, with upwardly tapering contour lines, open-spoke wheels and angular headlamps, and even a bit of gleaming chrome on the nose and around the fog lamps.

Should you be in the Camry Hybrid market and hoping to somehow further differentiate yourself from the masses, a limited edition SE model will be offered this spring, adding a bunch of the gasoline Camry SE’s appearance upgrades (front fascia, headlights, rear bumper, a rear spoiler and low-profile 17-inch wheels, as well as an upgraded interior). That sounds like it might take care of the sexy department, with an MSRP not much higher than the XLE model I drove.

The Display Audio package in my machine, blending navigation and Toyota’s Entune system (which uses your smartphone to grab data and feed apps such as Pandora and Open Table), did present me with a few real-world issues while traveling in the most populated region in the United States.

Principally, without a phone actually connected, the live traffic functions don’t work, and the navigation system opted to make some judgment calls I found were not the best. When I ended up on a series of roads I could best describe as rural back alleys in Pennsylvania, I also learned that the navigation’s “shortest route possible” setting really takes that to heart.

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