Quick Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

By Brandon Turkus

June 19, 2012

—Detroit, Michigan
If Goldilocks had to choose a set of wheels, we suspect that she’d be toting herself around behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry Hybrid, stealing porridge from every bear in a 400-mile radius.
We often mention that blonde soup-and-mattress critic when reviewing cars, saying something or other falls into the Goldilocks Zone of being “just right.” Usually we’re just talking about the suspension or some other vehicle system. It’s rare to be able to describe an entire car in this way, yet the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid fills the bill.
The Camry Hybrid’s interior is well designed, with thoughtfully laid out controls, an easy-to-use infotainment system, and materials that look and feel good to the touch. There’s a reasonable amount of room in both the front and the back. The driver’s seat is comfortable, easy to slide into, and supportive over long distances. The overall seating position is set up to limit fatigue, with a wide degree of adjustability between the wheel and the seat. During the 300 miles we tested it, we felt fresh and relaxed after our time behind the wheel.
[Click here to read our review of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco.]
If you drive the Toyota Camry Hybrid like a hooligan, odds are you’ll find the powertrain to be “too cold.” The accelerative profile never really lit our fire, instead coming across as merely adequate. Even the fun of instant-on torque from the electric motor felt somehow dampened overall.
It wasn’t until we settled down and drove civilly that we were able to appreciate what was “just right” about the Camry Hybrid’s powertrain. Namely, that it wasn’t a vehicle for going fast, but rather delivering just enough power for the average on-road situation while returning simply excellent fuel economy with a minimum of effort. The trick came with exploiting the electric motor’s torque without dipping too far into the throttle. Finding the appropriate driving style to really net the best balance of economy and pace was a recipe for a surprisingly involving experience.
Quick Drive: 2012 Toyota Camry HybridFuel economy in this car was really epic. Toyota claims our XLE-trimmed tester would net 40 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway (the base Hybrid LE gets 43/39), but we were seeing trip averages in the 44- to 45-mpg range. Our high was on a 60-mile jaunt where the Camry Hybrid returned 46.4 mpg.
There were other areas besides the powertrain that trended towards “too cold,” too. The lack of feedback was one such area. There just wasn’t any chatter from the Camry Hybrid. The steering was light and numb, and communication from the suspension was annoyingly absent.
Still, the overall ride struck a nice balance between comfort and outright performance. On the comfort front, it absorbed most bumps without much disruption of the cabin experience. There was some suspension noise that came with on-road impacts, though. At the same time, the Camry wasn’t totally useless around the bends. It carried a reasonable amount of speed, but there was too much body movement to really inspire any confidence.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid doesn’t try to come across as anything other than an extremely competent and efficient mid-size sedan. There are more involving vehicles out there, and there are more comfortable vehicles out there, but there are very few that can maintain this sort of balancing act. Like we said at the beginning, this one’s just right.
2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Engine: Inline-4, 2.5 liters, 16v with electric motor
Output: 200 hp/199 lb-ft
Weight: 3441 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 40/38 mpg
Base Price: $27,400
As Tested: $34,480