If you drive a hybrid, odds are that you drive a Toyota. Although competition has become fierce in the gas-electric segment of the market, Toyota has the largest number of hybrid models and most of the bestselling ones.
One of those popular models is the Camry Hybrid midsize sedan, which has been available now for more than a decade. As the gas-electric version of America’s bestselling car, it combines excellent fuel economy with the Camry’s high standards for roominess and comfort.
The Camry Hybrid is now better than ever. All Camry models were fully redesigned for 2018, providing fresh styling, more luxurious interiors and improved driving dynamics. The hybrid also benefits from mechanical upgrades that greatly improve its gas mileage. The base LE model soars from an EPA rating of 40 miles per gallon to a class-leading 52 mpg, while the better-equipped SE and XLE improve from a worst-in-class 38 mpg to an excellent 46 mpg.
As on other hybrids, like Toyota’s iconic Prius, the Camry Hybrid has both a gasoline engine and an electric motor. The engine and by friction from the brakes charge a battery, which in turn powers the electric motor. The system saves fuel by taking some effort away from the gas engine and letting the electric components handle it — at a steady speed or in gentle acceleration, the gas engine can even turn itself off altogether.
Unlike last year’s Camry Hybrid, the 2018 model can even do this trick on the freeway; the previous generation could only go about 45 miles per hour in purely electric operation. That said, you’ll still likely get your best mileage below about 60 mph, and if you’re gentle with the accelerator, low-speed stop-and-go will be the Camry Hybrid’s best habitat. That’s also where a gas-only car would struggle most, heightening the hybrid’s advantage.
The tested SE stayed close to its 46-mpg mixed-driving rating during a weeklong test, which included plenty of time on the interstate. Although the Camry Hybrid has an excellent EPA highway rating, note that the EPA’s “highway” rating is based on average speeds of about 48 mph — not a steady 70 mph. The Camry Hybrid will do better in the former; like most hybrids, it’s a better fit for rush-hour commutes than cross-country road trips.
But there’s more to a Camry Hybrid than just its fuel economy, particularly with 2018’s other upgrades. Last year’s Camry was a pleasant but somewhat basic-feeling vehicle. Inside, it had a dated infotainment system and downscale trim. On the road, it felt lighter and less substantial than many competitors. And no Camry was a fuel-economy standout compared to its ever-improving competitors. While pleasant, spacious and affordable, the Camry left plenty of room for improvement.
Perhaps most notably, last year’s model was functional but plain, never managing to look the part of anything but staid family transportation. For 2018, the Camry’s instrument panel curves gracefully around the shifter as it makes its way down the dashboard and between the front seats, an elegant touch. There’s also a variety of visually-distinctive, nicely-textured trim pieces. And the crisper touchscreen blends seamlessly into the glassy black trim surrounding it. At the same time, Toyota continued to offer big buttons and knobs for common functions, rather than burying all controls within the touchscreen’s menus.
A few secondary interior details keep the Camry from truly achieving luxury status: a few cheap plastics lower on the dashboard, and some basic-feeling switches and buttons on the steering wheel and doors. But the overall ambiance remains above average for the price. One continued downside: Toyota still doesn’t support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration.
The Camry Hybrid has also gotten better to drive. While not even the sport-oriented SE is exactly a sports sedan, the firm steering inspires more confidence than older models’ looser responses. (Don’t worry, though — it’s still plenty light for easy parking.) And the ride quality has improved along with the handling, with the current Camry gaining a confident heft that helps it cruise confidently on the highway.
Another key improvement to the 2018 Camry Hybrid is one that you’d instantly appreciate if you had any other gas-electric sedan, but that you might not have otherwise thought about: trunk space. Most hybrid sedans give up chunks of their trunk for their electric batteries. The 2018 model fits its battery under the rear seat, saving a best-in-class 15.1 cubic feet of cargo room, up from 13.1 in last year’s Camry Hybrid. There’s also ample room for five adults on comfortable seats.
Sticker prices start at $28,695. Like most of today’s Toyotas, the Camry Hybrid comes standard with a suite of high-end safety gear that includes emergency automatic braking and automatic lane-keeping steering. That extra gear helps give the Camry Hybrid some value edge over some of its hybrid competitors, though you can expect to haggle a bigger discount off the sticker price of a Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion or Kia Optima.
The Camry’s leading rival, the Honda Accord, was also redesigned for 2018. The redesigned Accord’s hybrid version hasn’t yet gone on sale, but it promises an EPA rating of 47 mpg along with a cutting-edge design and lively handling. The Camry Hybrid is the more straightforward comfort-focused choice between the two, while the Accord Hybrid — like the Malibu and Fusion hybrids — promises to add some more spice to the fuel-saving mission.