Making hybrids affordable is the trick to increasing sales.
Neil Dowling road tests and reviews the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid HL.
Living with a hybrid isn't like sharing your life with a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It's more like the Olsen twins - amusing, predictable, benign and needing very little in the way of sustenance.
In fact, Toyota's Camry Hybrid is so easy to live with you'd wonder why people buy the petrol version.
Unlike the Prius, the Camry Hybrid doesn't throw technological curve balls at the owner and demand some new skills to operate.
Driving it is just pressing the start button and selecting gear - no funny gearshifter, no weirdo dashboard and no verbal fallout from passing motorists.
Making hybrids affordable is the trick to increasing sales. Toyota has launched the Prius C - a ripper hatchback at $23,990 - and now upgrades the new and improved Aussie-built Camry Hybrid.
Prices start at $34,990 - down $2000 on the old model - but the $41,490 Luxury version tested here rises $1500 but gets $4500 more equipment.
The base H has excellent equipment levels but the Luxury adds stuff usually reserved for exxy Euro cars - blind spot monitor, auto high beam and sonar parking among the features.
It uses one-third less fuel than the petrol Camry and costs $130 for each of the five services for the first four years or 75,000km. Beat that!
If I see one more ``cardigan'' tag applied to this car I will, seriously, puke. Those critics would go ga-ga if the Toyota badge was replaced with the BMW roundel.
The new car is well proportioned and attractive - difficult design lines to master in a large car - and matches external subtlty with a spacious and efficient cabin that is simple and elegant.
The Luxury gets leather and lots of electronic fruit but it's subtle there's no design overkill. The Hybrid boot is smaller than the petrol Camry but there's sufficient room for holiday luggage while the load-through hatch makes it a more flexible hauler than before.
The Toyota Hybrids have an engine and two side-by-side electric motors. They work together or separate depending on demand.
Though the driver can specify electric-only mode (which only goes for about 2km), there's no choice - or need - to switch to all-engine power. The engine is the same capacity as the petrol Camry but uses different combustion timing that better suits its hook-up with the electric motor.
All power goes through a CVT automatic. There's brake regeneration - one electric motor acts as a generator when the car is coasting or braking and the energy goes back into the storage batteries.
The petrol engine has no belts to drive ancilliaries - the water pump, airconditioner and power steering are driven by electric motors. All up, the car weighs 45kg less than before. And for the first time, the Camry Hybrid can tow - though only up to 300kg.
Camry Hybrid picks up the safety features of the petrol Camry, with a five-star crash rating and seven airbags.
The package also includes stability and traction control, ABS brakes with brake assist, hill-start assist, seatbelt warnings for the five seats and a reversing camera with the image on a 150mm touch-screen.
The Luxury adds blind spot monitors in each mirror and automatic high beam. The spare is full-size.
As I indicate, there's no special training needed for punting one of these. It's a Camry with the only initial offputting feature being the way it drives off silently on its electric motor. Toyota Australia has put a lot of work into the suspension, retuning it to improve handling.
It now drives as well as any of its six-cylinder, rear drive competitors and, probably thanks to the extra weight in the rear courtesy of the batteries, feels a bit better planted than the petrol Camry.
It is very comfortable, both in suspension suppleness and in the softer seats, and makes long distances quite enjoyable.
I don't like the foot-operated park brake - it attacks my shin when I get in the car and is more difficult to gauge than a hand-operated lever - and question why the Camry should be so big.
Seriously, all the technology would be even greater in a Corolla. But that's all I can complain about.
TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID HL
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 53 per cent
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: Five star
Engine/motor: 2.5-litre 4-cyl petrol, electric motor 151kW/300+Nm
Transmission: CVT auto; front-wheel drive
Body: 4.8m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.5m (h) Weight: 1610kg Thirst: 5.21/100km; 121g/km CO2
Engine: 4.0-litre, 6-cyl LPG, 198kW/409Nm
Trans: 6-spd automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body: 4-door sedan
Thirst: 12.3L/100km, 91 RON unleaded, CO2 199g/km
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 103kW/320Nm
Trans: 6-spd dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
Body: 5-door hatch
Thirst: 5.5L/100km, CO2 143g/km
Engine: 2.5-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 135kW/235Nm
Trans: 6-spd auto, front-wheel drive
Body: 4-door sedan
Thirst: 7.8L/100km, 91 RON unleaded; CO2 183g/km