The Camry SL hybrid has outstanding real-world efficiency.
The Toyota Camry has a reputation for being a bit boring, but is the new model actually good to drive? And is the petrol-electric hybrid the only version buyers should be looking at? The answers are yes and yes.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
Not that long ago most people thought the Camry was white goods on wheels, but the narrative has well and truly changed.
The SL hybrid is more striking than most, with the eyes immediately drawn to its high-gloss 'Sports' grille, which is certainly bold thanks to its large size, X shape and prominent mesh insert.
The SL hybrid is more striking than most, with the eyes immediately drawn to its high-gloss 'Sports' grille.
In fact, the entire front end is pretty sporty by Camry standards, with large side air intakes positioned below the wedge-like LED headlights, which contain the daytime running lights. Even the bonnet above is heavily creased, so you know the SL hybrid means business.
Around the side, the Camry is less remarkable, although its uneven glasshouse and sharp belt line do add some visual intrigue.
The SL hybrid’s 18-inch alloy wheels have a multi-spoke design that tries to inject more sportiness, but a traditional silver finish leaves them looking relatively flat.
The SL hybrid’s 18-inch alloy wheels have a multi-spoke design.
At the rear, the Camry is at its most alluring, with its LED tail-lights linking up unusual black plastic inserts that appear to mimic side air intakes. They’re pointless but kind of cool?
The SL hybrid goes a step further with a bootlid spoiler, while the bottom of its bumper is designed to look like a diffuser – something you’d never expect from a Camry.
At the rear, the Camry is at its most alluring.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll notice the SL hybrid only has two exhaust tailpipes when its four-cylinder and V6 siblings get four. This means its ‘diffuser’ looks incomplete on the right side.
Inside, the Camry isn’t anywhere near as exciting, although it is surprisingly premium, which is welcome.
Inside, the Camry is surprisingly premium.
Soft-touch plastics are used for the upper dashboard and door shoulders, while the SL hybrid’s leather-accented upholstery covers its seats, steering wheel, gear selector, armrests, door inserts and middle dashboard.
Soft-touch plastics are used for the upper dashboard and door shoulders.
Hard plastics are, however, used for the lower sections of the Camry’s cabin, which can feel a little dark, although bright silver accents add some colour, while sporty dark metallic trim is more prominent.
The SL hybrid does have a rather unusual brown insert on the passenger side of its dashboard. It’s glossy and has a vertical pattern. If there’s one material selection we’re unsure of here, it’s that one.
The Camry’s cabin is otherwise fairly conservative in its design, with the exception of the swoopy centre stack and console.
Not sure what’s going on there, but the SL hybrid’s 8.0-inch touchscreen, positioned in the middle of the mess, is easier to make sense of.
Measuring 4905mm long, 1840mm wide and 1445mm tall, the Camry SL hybrid is large for a mid-size sedan. In fact, it will probably be reclassified as such if its current segment ceases to exist, but we digress.
Measuring 4905mm long, 1840mm wide and 1445mm tall.
Cargo capacity is generous, at 524L, but can be expanded with its 60/40 split-fold rear bench stowed, an easy action thanks to (manual) release latches in the boot, although the seats don’t tumble forward on their lonesome.
Speaking of the boot, there is a prominent load lip to contend with, so bulkier items require a little more grunt work, even though the aperture gets progressively wider. There are also two bag hooks and two tie-down points on hand to help secure loose cargo.
Cargo capacity is a generous 524L.
There is a space-saver spare under the boot.
the space-saver spare comes standard with the Camry SL hybrid.
The boot space can be expanded for more cargo capacity.
In-cabin storage options include the large glove box and central storage bin, with the latter capable of swallowing 7.3L. There’s also a small cubby to right side of the steering wheel, perfect for knick-knacks.
Up front, a pair of cupholders is located to the left of the gear selector, while the door bins can take one regular bottle each, just like their rear counterparts.
The second row also has a fold-down armrest with two more cupholders, while map pockets are found on the front seat backrests.
Speaking of which, the Camry is quite roomy in the rear, with around eight centimetres of legroom available behind our 184cm driving position. Toe-room is decent, while a coupe of centimetres of headroom is on offer.
The Camry is quite roomy in the rear.
There’s plenty of width availabel for adults, with three easily accommodated on shorter journeys. The transmission tunnel is relatively small, too, so there is enough footwell space to share around.
Child seats can be fitted to the outboard seats via top-tether and ISOFIX anchorage points, with this process made a little easier thanks to the wide aperture of the rear doors.
Connectivity-wise, the SL hybrid has one USB-A port, a 12V power outlet, an auxiliary input and a wireless smartphone charger at the front of its centre console.
In the second row, another two USB-A ports sit at the rear of the centre console, below the air vents.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 9/10
Priced from $41,590, plus on-road costs, the SL hybrid is keenly positioned at the top of the Camry range, especially when you consider it’s fitted with a petrol-electric powertrain.
It’s so keen, in fact, that it only commands a $1000 premium over its non-hybrid four-cylinder counterpart.
The Camry SL hybrid undercuts its main rival, the $50,490 Honda Accord VTi-LX hybrid, by a considerable sum, while the same is true of the comparable Volkswagen Passat 140TSI Business sedan ($45,990) and Mazda6 Atenza sedan ($49,890).
Standard equipment not already mentioned in the Camry SL hybrid includes dusk-sensing lights, rain-sensing wipers, a space-saver spare, and power-adjustable side mirrors.
Inside, satellite navigation with live traffic, digital radio, a six-speaker sound system, a sunroof, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with cooling (but strangely no heating), a power-operated steering column, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, ambient lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and stainless-steel scuff plates feature.
Eight paintwork options are available, seven of which cost $500 extra, including the 'Feverish Red' hue our test vehicle is finished in. There are no other extra-cost options.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
The Camry SL hybrid pairs a punchy 88kW/202Nm electric motor with a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine producing 131kW of power at 5700rpm and 221Nm of torque from 3600-5200rpm.
The result? A combined peak power output of 160kW, which was hot-hatch territory not that long ago. As per usual, Toyota doesn’t quote system maximum torque.
The Camry SL Hybrid has a combined peak power output of 160kW.
The electronic continuously variable automatic transmission (e-CVT) has six ‘steps’, which can be explored via the steering wheel’s paddle-shifters, while drive is sent exclusively to the front wheels.
Being a self-charging hybrid, the nickel-metal hydride battery is recharged via regenerative braking.
How much fuel does it consume? 9/10
The Camry SL hybrid’s fuel consumption on the combined-cycle test is 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres, while its claimed carbon dioxide emissions are 103 grams per kilometre. Both figures are rather astounding (as in, good).
In our real-world testing, we averaged 5.6L/100km over 180km of driving evenly split between highways and city traffic.
This is an outstanding result and a tribute to the effect of the electric motor in low-speed traffic. And given usually high petrol prices, it’s a big, big win.
For reference, the Camry SL hybrid’s 50L tanks 95RON petrol at minimum.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Like all new Toyotas sold in Australia, the Camry SL hybrid comes with a five-year/unlimited warranty, which is two years short of the standard set by Kia and some other mainstream brands.
It’s also worth noting the nickel-metal hydride battery is covered by a separate 10-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
The Camry SL hybrid comes with a five-year/unlimited warranty.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. And a four-year/60,000km capped-price servicing plan is available for just $800. No, that is not a typo.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 8/10
ANCAP awarded the entire Camry range a maximum five-star safety rating in 2017.
While comprehensive, this list is notably missing lane-keep and steering assist.
Other standard safety equipment includes seven airbags (dual front, side and curtain plus driver’s knee), the usual electronic stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA), among others.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
A Camry that you’ll enjoy driving? You don’t say. Yep, the SL hybrid is exactly that.
Just like the Toyota self-charging hybrid systems before it, the SL hybrid’s set-up is almost flawless, proving to be delightfully smooth as it transitions to and from its different power sources.
Pleasingly, there's instant torque off the line as the electric motor up front leads the charge, figuratively and literally.
Squeeze the accelerator pedal a little too much, though, and the engine will kick in. In fact, this Camry doesn’t want to be driven too hard. Instead, it rewards the opposite.
You see, the SL hybrid is one of those vehicles that changes you as driver. If you style is normally 'spirited' this car is likely to slow you down as you unknowingly commit to being as environmentally friendly as possible.
By no fault of the seamless e-CVT, straight-line bursts are rarely called on, as you aim to reach the same speeds at a much slower pace.
But you’re probably asking yourself why any of this matters, and it’s pretty simple: be gentle and you can use the electric motor most of the time.
With this Camry, nearly everything is leisurely. Its four driving modes – EV, Eco, Normal and Sport – allow powertrain settings to be adjusted while on the move, but rarely would you consider changing from the default mode.
The SL hybrid offers a very comfortable ride.
The SL hybrid offers a very comfortable ride thanks to its independent suspension set-up, which consists of MacPherson-strut front and double-wishbone rear axles with passive dampers.
Potholes and speed bumps are dealt with nicely, while uneven and unsealed roads are also a breeze. It just feels nice and soft but not out of control, remaining composed as it rebounds quickly.
This Camry’s electric power steering is well-weighted and relatively direct. Nice traits to have in a mainstream sedan.
The impressive TNGA-K platform that underpins all of this is very impressive, with the driver knowing what the front wheels are up at any given time.
Handling-wise, the SL hybrid is so locked down that body roll is almost non-existent during hard cornering, although it’s not exactly a corner-carver.
Why? It struggles to hide its size and 1635kg kerb weight, with understeer a threat to orderly 'enthusiastic' progress.
As mentioned, this Camry uses regenerative braking to recharge its nickel-metal hydride battery. Unlike some rivals, this system is mostly imperceptible, although it is jerky at times when creeping, during which pedal feel is wooden. Braking performance is otherwise fine.
The Camry SL hybrid is a really good thing. In fact, for environmentally conscious sedan lovers, it is an absolute no-brainer thanks to its real-world efficiency.
It doesn’t soar to the same dynamic heights as some of its competitors, but this Camry has an unexpected charm to it, particularly thanks to its comfortable ride.
And strange omissions aside, the SL hybrid is seriously good value, not only for a flagship mid-size sedan, but also for one with a petrol-electric powertrain. Another winner from Toyota? Absolutely.