For buyers looking to reduce carbon footprint, the new Toyota Camry Hybrid is an ideal combination between an environment-friendly and a spacious luxury car, writes Shapur Kotwal

In today’s day and age, the call for greener technology in cars is getting stronger. Electric and hybrid vehicles are being taken progressively seriously by both buyers and manufacturers. Although in India, this segment is still quite nascent, carmakers like Toyota are introducing environment-friendly versions of its regular models. First came the Prius, which didn’t do too well here. But undeterred by this, the carmaker has now launched a hybrid version of its petrol-powered Camry saloon. I took to the wheel of this new green car to see what lies in store for car buyers looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

Hitting the starter button elicits no response from the car. And nothing happens when I pump the accelerator pedal either. But put it in Drive and the car moves forward silently, like there’s a ghost under the bonnet.

Keep speeds in check, below 40kph, and the Camry can run for a fair bit on electric drive alone, the only sound emitted being the crunching of gravel under its wheels. And the Camry moves forward smartly on electric power alone because the electric motor can put out the equivalent of 140bhp. As a result, the hit of torque is quite instant when you tap the pedal, but performance is limited.

If you are not paying attention, it’s also difficult to tell when the four-cylinder petrol motor kicks in. The new hybrid system integrates really smoothly and feels evolved, improved and more refined than before. It clearly is better than the one on the Prius.

As ever with Toyota’s hybrid cars, there’s an Eco mode present. Here, with the electric motor working in conjunction with the petrol engine, there’s enough power and torque to make driving effortless. Acceleration is pretty strong initially. Push harder, however, and the rate of acceleration drops. And the feeling of abundant power does not come back even after you’ve waited a bit.

Once you switch off the Eco mode, however, you can feel the combined maximum power of 202bhp go to work. It responds immediately to a tap on the throttle and is a lot more fun to drive as performance improves dramatically.

The torque put out by Toyota’s petrol motor has always been good and here, with the electric motor assisting it, it’s even better. Hit the gas pedal or, in this case, a combination of throttle butterfly and an electric switch, and you get an instant shove in the back which keeps getting stronger for a few seconds. Yes, there is a bit of a ‘rubberband effect’ from the CVT gearbox that generally holds on to an engine speed but varies the gearing; still it isn’t enough to spoil the otherwise positive driving experience.

Toyota has cleverly made the car more appealing for passengers too. There’s three-zone climate control (driver, front- and rear passengers), cooled front seats, cruise control and powered rear seats that recline by up to eight degrees. The rear armrest also houses controls for the recline functions and climate control. There’s a powered sunblind for the rear windscreen, along with manual side-blinds.

The rear-seat passenger sat on the left can flip the front seat’s headrest forward for better visibility. As with the regular Camry, there’s also a button on the side of the front passenger’s seat that allows you to take it forward.

The regular Camry has an absolutely amazing rear seat, with plenty of thigh, back and shoulder support. The Hybrid’s reclining seat, too, is very comfortable, with a recline feature that’s simple to use. It’s just that it does not feel as supportive as that on the standard car. And what’s with the grab handles behind the front seats? They could prove to be seriously hazardous in the event of a crash, especially if the rear-seat occupant is not smart enough to strap on his or her seatbelt.

Also well set up is the car’s suspension. It both rides and handles well — not something you could say of the Prius. The Camry feels comfortable and pliant even on rough patches, soaking up road undulations reasonably well. And because the heavy batteries sit behind the rear passenger seat, there isn’t too much bobbing or pitching either. There’s no escaping the larger bumps though – they tend to get through — but the ride never gets hard. Ground clearance (identical to the normal Camry at 160mm) could be an issue on bigger bumps if the car has a full complement of passengers.

Unlike the Prius, this is a car you can also enjoy driving in a slightly more spirited manner. The variable ratio steering is impressively direct and the Camry Hybrid holds on gamely in corners, even as you pile on the power. Brake feel isn’t the best, although it’s an improvement over the Prius.

The new Camry Hybrid is an ideal combination between a hybrid and a spacious luxury car. Several times more appealing than the Prius, it offers plenty of comfort, good performance and drives well too. It should also return approximately 12-13kpl in real-world conditions, which is impressive. What is most important is that Toyota has priced the Camry Hybrid at Rs. 29.75 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). This is a close-to-reasonable price for a hybrid, one of the biggest hurdles for sales of such vehicles here. It now remains to be seen whether buyers here will spend that extra cash to go green.