Testing the Toyota Camry Hybrid: 72 Frugal Hours in Hollywood

Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet
Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

We keep hearing about how cheap gas is everywhere, but when we got to California in the last weeks of August, we saw signs selling unleaded for $4 or more all over the coast. What gives?

Without time (or inclination) to investigate, we were glad to be testing that most practical of sedans, the Toyota Camry Hybrid, for 72 hours in Hollywood’s hills and along the SoCal coast. We know how aggressive the state government is with emissions standards, but the bustling auto market is enough to make one wonder if there’s hope for clean California air in the future.

Furthermore, we wanted to know if the Camry Hybrid is indeed a good answer to the challenges of LA driving — steep hills, grimy avenues, winding coastal highways — for visitors and Angelenos alike.

The short answer is yes, but it takes some doing in a car like this, even in the luxe version provided by Toyota for the test. Here’s what we found about the fuel economy and performance of the Camry Hybrid XLE over three dizzying days of activity in Laurel Canyon, Malibu, Anaheim, and West Hollywood.

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Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

A handsome, able performer

Toyota made some major changes in the styling of the new Camry, and the 2015 model we drove was handsome inside and out. The biggest improvement comes in the grille and bumper, which has a ribbed effect in the hybrid version. In this XLE hybrid, leather-trimmed seats with elegant stitching allow you to forget you’re driving the most common car seen on U.S. roads. It’s not your Aunt Sally’s Camry.

We found the dash and control panel uncluttered while the navigation system and Sirius radio were easy enough to operate you forgot you were using them  — the ultimate test of car tech. Aside from striking a more refined pose around Hollywood, the Camry Hybrid’s 200 horsepower was more than enough to ascend hills or merge onto manic freeways as you will. In fact, its polite engine growl makes a satisfying sound when you need to forget about the electric motor and punch the gas. Go figure.

There were never any performance issues driving this car, even when visiting Runyon Canyon or making the many steep ascents around Laurel Canyon. Bring the gang, too. Camry’s spacious interior and ample trunk space (the battery is located just behind the back seats) give you the room to be comfortable. In a loaded XLE model, you feel like you are driving a car with price tag over $35,000, which it is.

Eric Schaal
Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

As economical as they say

There wasn’t a style of driving we didn’t cover over our three hectic days with the car. Day One involved a trip from LAX to Hollywood and up into Laurel Canyon; Day Two involved a trip to Runyon Canyon via Mulholland before heading down to Anaheim for the Angels game; and Day Three we took to the Pacific Coast Highway to see how Zuma Beach is holding up these days. (It’s as fine as when you last saw it.)

Whatever we threw at it, the Camry Hybrid handled the job with solid fuel economy.The XLE model has an EPA rating of 40 miles per gallon combined, and we cruised through most of the first day around the mid-30s. By the time we got the hang of ECO mode and EV mode on Day Two, we has pushed our average economy to 36.9 miles per gallon. On Day Three, operating on EV mode, we hit a peak of 42.9 miles per gallon using EV mode in a short city trip.

So, in that respect, the car exceeded the expectations of the EPA. (Only the 2015 Hybrid LE got a rating of 43 miles per gallon in the city.) While you drive, you can keep an eye on the energy gauge, which tells you whether you are charging the battery (during breaking of decelerating), driving in true “ECO” style, or burning gas when you head into the “PWR” section of the gauge.

Drive wisely and you’ll get excellent mileage from the Camry Hybrid. With a gas tank that can hold 17 gallons, there is a potential (if unlikely) range of 680 miles. Our car said the range on a full tank was about 530 miles. Nonetheless, when we turned it in three days later, we had driven about 250 miles and the gas tank remained three-quarters full.

Eric Schaal
Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

The Camry Hybrid’s ideal customer

No one needs to sell the Camry, which numbers in the millions on U.S. roads. The Hybrid LE ($26,790) likewise sells itself for its excellent economy and reasonable premium over the standard LE model ($23,070), which gets 28 miles per gallon combined.

However, it might take some doing to get you to upgrade to the Hybrid XLE ($30,140). This model certainly presses the right buttons as far as interior comfort and convenience go. Furthermore, advanced safety features like lane departure alert and blind spot warning will appeal to parents and safe drivers alike. This technology is user-friendly as well, which will appeal to Camry’s broad base of supporters.

Whatever trim you get, the fuel economy is too good to ignore. If you want an upgrade in style over previous Camrys (not to mention the Prius), it will deliver on curb appeal as well. Go for the XLE if you want interior space, a leather interior, and a steering wheel that feels like $35,000 in your hands. Otherwise, go for the standard hybrid and keep your carbon footprint light. It’ll get you wherever you need to go in LA.

Disclosure: Toyota USA provided Autos Cheat Sheet with a 2015 Camry Hybrid XLE free of charge for the three-day test.

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