Total efficiency, thy name is Camry |

Total efficiency, thy name is Camry

Andy Stonehouse
2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid.
Wieck | Toyota

For once, the much jawed-about revolution that is the ongoing debut of hybrid vehicles absolutely and seamlessly lives up to the hype. The 2007 Toyota Camry hybrid is indeed all it’s cracked up to be, with comfort, good looks and superb fuel efficiency all rolled into one pleasant package.

Picked as Motor Trend Magazine’s 2007 Car of the Year, the stylish, functional and easy-to-use hybrid Camry is a nicely-designed automobile that, with just a little modification in your typical driving style, really will generate 40 miles per gallon.

Unlike other hybrid configurations which add thousands of dollars to the vehicle price but produce only a couple of miles per gallon savings – a nice notion when it comes to saving the environment, but not so practical at the pump – our test Camry also weighed in at an affordable $28,449.

The secret to the efficiency is the Hybrid Synergy Drive system, Toyota’s fuel-miserly blend of a 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine, producing 147 horsepower, and a 141 horsepower electric motor. The Atkinson Cycle system gives the Camry a total of 187 horsepower, plenty of juice for effortless cruising and confident highway hill-climbing.

Like most hybrids, operations are a little different than gas powered machines. Access the vehicle using the Camry’s Smart Key system and you don’t even need to insert a physical key to start the car; you need only press the push button starter and … well, once you get used to the engine not actually turning on (unless you’re running the defroster or air conditioner at full blast), you’ll be ready to roll.

I gave the hybrid Camry a full run for the money, testing the car in the midst of one of Denver’s atrociously handled snowstorms – three feet of wet snow in my parking lot, alley and side streets – and the front-wheel drive, four-door car handled admirably.

Rocking a hybrid when stuck in the snow is a bit of an odd experience, as the electric motor tries to spin the wheels at low speed, but with the right tires and a bit of patience, you’ll be able to get anywhere.

Besides the quiet at start-up (and the relative lack of screaming when refilling at the gas station), the most tangible pieces of day-to-day proof of the Camry’s hybrid operations are the car’s ability to go into “Eco Drive” mode when stopped in traffic – the engine shuts itself off, then fires up again when you need to get going – plus an upside down gauge on the instrument panel which measures miles per gallon.

Drive the Camry like a concerned citizen (especially those of you in Aspen with your $3 a gallon gas), taking it easy on the pedal during acceleration and keeping it close to the speed limit on the highway, and you’ll be rewarded with mileage figures close to 40 miles per gallon (a little electronic display inside the speedometer even congratulates you when you drive in a highly efficient manner). All that in a regular-sized vehicle with room for five adults, a sizeable trunk and no electric cord or solar panels to speak of.

The 2007 Camry hybrid enjoys the model’s recent, complete makeover in and out, with an elegant, understated body design, smoothed-off angles and subtle looks.

Interior finishing includes heated leather seats, a nice 440 watt JBL audio system with in-dash six-CD changer and Bluetooth connectivity, plus an easy-to-use dual-zone climate control system. A power moonroof, a voice-activated DVD navigation system and a package of enhanced vehicle stability electronics are available as options.

Interior design is admittedly a little austere but if you want the wood trim and the bells and whistles, buy the Lexus; if you want to do your part for Mother Earth with a practical, good-looking car that really gets 40 miles a gallon, the Camry could very well be your next purchase.

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