Executive wheels: I expected more

You really gotta do a week-long test drive

2015 TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID SE SEDAN

This was my second 2015 Toyota Camry to review this year, the only difference being that this one is the Hybrid trim while the other featured a 3.5-liter V6. But the experience points out the need for a test drive, and the critical need for a test drive that lasts long than the typical couple of mile with the dealer breathing down you neck. Indeed, when making a major purchase like a car, one really needs to do the kind of test drive that I get to do – usually a week long – and even then, there are things that come up the second time around that change my mind.

What you really need is a test-drive check list. Drive the car on your regular routes – to work, to school – drive it into your garage for fit, have someone come along on the test drive for a second opinion and also to give the back seat a thorough test. Try all of the gadgets and hookups that you’ll be using. Drive the car on the highway and, if possible, drive the car up into the mountains to get a feel for how it operates going uphill. Listen to the car. Listen to the sound system. Put stuff like two golf bags in the trunk and get a feel for that.

In other words, put it through the paces you expect the car to go through with your routine.

Here’s a critical area that came up on my recent test drive of the 2015 Camry Hybrid that the normal test drive at the dealer won’t cover: the Bluetooth phone.

While driving this car for a few days, I had the same general impression of it that I had with the other Camry last spring – that I liked it very much, that it drove superbly, that it was well made, that it had plenty of power.

But then I hit the highway for a drive up into the mountains and I called my mother on the internal hands-free Bluetooth phone which I had paired with my Samsung smart phone. My mother asked me if the windows were open because she was hearing rushing wind. Then my wife and I noticed it on several other calls we made or took from the vehicle: this Camry Hybrid is not a quiet car. I don’t remember noticing it on the earlier test drive, and I didn’t mention it in the review I wrote, but I laser-focused in in the relative quiet and road noise of this Camry as a result of the phone experience, and I was not pleased. I expect more from Toyota, especially on its venerable Camry.

As I mentioned in the earlier review, the styling on the redesigned 2015 Camry brings to mind a BMW, which is a good thing from a styling point of view, and this Hybrid is a handsome, stylish car. What surprised me the most was the power of the hybrid powerplant. After having been behind the wheel in the larger V6 with 268 hp, I quite naturally thought that this hybrid – a 2.5-liter 4 coupled with an electric motor and putting out some 200 hp – would be less thrilling. It wasn’t.

This hybrid has get up and go to spare, especially around town in city driving (electric engines have a lot of torque for acceleration), and in the mountains it was better than average. The car is rated 40 mpg city/38 mpg highway and over a week of driving I did my best to rack up the miles and eat up some of the full tank of gas, and I could only manage to hit it for a little more than a quarter tank. The combined rating – for city and highway – is 40 mpg but I really felt as though it got even better than that.

As I said, the driving is superb, the cornering excellent, and the ride was smooth. No complaints; in fact, this is one of the better sedans I have ever driven from a handling point of view.

They have, of course, stuffed this car full of all the modern technology – the aforementioned Bluetooth, which offers both the phone and smart-phone music hookups, and this mostly through a $1,300 Entune Premium Audio with Navigation option which I would recommend – it includes, of course, satellite and HD radio, and advanced voice recognition. They also tacked on, for $499, a remote start feature, $75 for wireless charging of a smart phone pretty cool), $915 for a nice power sunroof (or moonroof; whatever), and $299 for illuminated door sill enhancements, which basically means the door sill light up.

The car they sent me was painted a beautiful Blue Crush Metallic, which I liked, but then, because it is a hybrid, they put this blue-blue color behind all of the logos and on the door sills that just didn’t match. Indeed, it clashed. It’s hybrid branding, I suppose, but it’s unnecessary.

The other hybrid-y thing about the car which should be checked in advance is that since the hybrid batteries are located behind the rear seat, the trunk space is compromised. Two golf bags, tops.

When you take the base price of $27,995, add in the options I mentioned and the delivery charge of $825, the bottom line is $32,233. That’s about right for a car of this class, but there is the nagging noise issue.

Be sure to test out any car you are thinking about by putting it through the paces of your own particular routine. Make a check list in advance. And, by all means, take it out on the highway at speed and make sure it meets your noise expectations. This Camry Hybrid fell short on that one for me.

RATING: 3 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)    

 

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation