I’ve just spent a few days behind the wheel of a hybrid. It’s not a Prius. And it’s not a Lexus. It’s probably the most ordinary hybrid that Toyota makes: a Camry. And because of that, I think it’s the most interesting.
Now before you get all excited, the Camry in question is a US-spec model; Toyota stopped importing its big saloon to the UK a few years back. But just over $27k (£15k) gets you a large four-door saloon that doesn’t scream “I’m a hybrid!” but offers what benefits there are to the name. Oh, and it’s built in Georgetown, Kentucky, alongside other US-market Camrys.
The tech is relatively simple; it’s Toyota’s well-proven hybrid system mated to a 2.4-litre petrol engine producing a relatively meagre 145bhp and 138lb ft. The spec is sufficient, but no more than that: single-disc CD player, air-con, electric windows and mirrors. There’s no sat-nav as standard, no integrated full-colour display showing you the time in China and how many power stations you’ve spared on your trip to the shops. If you want information on how the journey is going, you can access a multi-function digital display within the speedometer, much as on countless other vehicles. Its only party piece, really, is to offer you a congratulatory “EXCELLENT!” in the display if you notch up 40mpg or more on a trip.
Sounds ordinary, doesn’t it? And that’s the great thing about it. We’ve slated snazzed-up hybrids in the past, accusing them of being quirky for the sake of it (in the case of Prius) or overladen with kit to the point of negating any gains in economy (Lexus LS600h). But in four days I’ve racked up about 500 miles in the Camry, averaging over 40mpg in a big car with a comfortable interior and decent refinement. And not once have I felt a tinge of eco-smugness, or wished that there was a colour screen for me to play on.
It’s just felt, well, normal. And isn’t that how all the best technology should feel?