The 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid can accelerate from zero-to-60 mph in 7.6 seconds, placing its performance between the four-cylinder and V6 models. Toyota photo

Mother Earth appreciates the Toyota Camry Hybrid

Hybrid version of popular sedan more than tolerable

My tester this week comes around just in time for Earth Day. I’m far from a tree hugger and I’ve been a vocal critic of many hybrids, but this week’s car is winning me over. Taking one of the best-selling cars in the country and adding a hybrid powerplant sounds a little too easy. It sounds like Toyota might be trying to take shortcuts or add to their EPA bottom line without much thought. But that’s not the case with the 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Certainly the field is crowded when it comes to midsize hybrids. It’s quite en vogue in fact, as it seems everyone has their hybrid variant these days. Toyota’s been doing it for a long time and is the trend setter, not a trend followers. The Camry Hybrid takes many of the features of the regular Camry – the ones that make it a top-selling sedan – and adds them to this fuel-sipping hybrid.

If you didn’t look at the fuel gauge or some of the badging, you likely wouldn’t tell much of a difference between the hybrid and the non-hybrid. That’s a good thing in my book.

On looks, the Camry Hybrid is similar to the non-hybrid version. This means the overall looks are conservative. It may lack pizzazz but it also has some amount of distinction. Chrome-tipped exhaust pipes in the back are a small, but sporty touch. It certainly doesn’t look like a hybrid from the back. And really, very little of the exterior borrows from the quirky Prius, and that’s a good thing. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels add a richer look.

Hybrids are not known to be quick or responsive, but the Camry is both. It drives similar to the standard Camry, but this 4-cylinder with electric drive motor has 200 horsepower. This is less than the standard Camry, but is near the top of the midsize hybrid segment. It’s way more powerful than a Prius or even the Fusion Hybrid. It’s not a speed demon or jackrabbit off the line, but the overall power and performance is better than average.

Even the continuously variable transmission holds its own. The CVT seems to work well with the hybrid powerplant and makes shifting more than tolerable.

Inside, the Camry Hybrid is what you expect from a midsize sedan. Material upgrades exist at the higher trims, but the base model Camry Hybrid is pretty bare-bone with harder touchpoints. My tester was the SE trim which did come with a leather-trimmed steering wheel and easy-to-wash fabric seats. I didn’t even miss not having leather seats as there were enough quality touchpoints elsewhere, and the back seat was large with plenty of leg and shoulder room.

The trunk provides 13.1 cubic feet of storage space, which is less than the 15.5 cubic feet in the non-hybrid version. With the battery located toward the back, this is standard for the hybrid segment. However, unlike the Honda Accord Hybrid, the rear seat can fold down to expand cargo area further. This was a huge perk and bonus for a hybrid vehicle.

Toyota’s Entune system gets an upgrade this model year that includes wireless phone charging. This is somewhat of a gimmick as a special case is needed in order for this feature to work. The infotainment system is adequate and integrates with your smartphone. It’s not very cutting edge, but it’s also relatively easy to use. A 6.1-inch touchscreen is standard. There’s a larger 7-inch screen available on upgrade.

There are three trims for the Camry Hybrid: LE, SE and XLE. My SE tester came with a sport-tuned suspension and eight-way power-adjustable seat. My tester had a starting price of $27,995 and a final MSRP of $29,805. This is higher than the same trimmed non-hybrid Camry. But that’s also standard for the industry to make hybrid technology more expensive. You theoretically will save the costs in the fuel economy.

Speaking of which, the Camry Hybrid has an EPA rating of 40 mpg/city and 37 mpg/highway. In a week’s worth driving I got very close to that magical 40 number with 38.7 mpg of mixed driving.

As we celebrate Mother Earth, whether you’re an environmentalist or not, it doesn’t hurt to give her some props and treat her nicely. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having hybrid options for many of today’s vehicles. The Toyota Camry Hybrid is one such vehicle that makes owning a hybrid enjoyable.

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