It’s a nice car. Goes well when you put the boot in, but it’s all but impossible to break the mid-6.x litres per kilometre even when you hammer it. This is because of the hybrid system in the car. Evolved and fine-tuned from the famous Prius, the hybrid “Synergy Drive” uses electric power for starting and slow-speed cruising, and starts the petrol motor when needed.
I hired one out of Wellington airport for a drive up to Waikanae. On the way up, I deliberately made use of the hybrid: following the instructions to accelerate slowly and smoothly, and using the cruise control to set a moderate speed. The result was bang-on 6.0 litres/100km, which is pretty incredible given I struggle to get under 7.0 with my 2L Impreza. On the return trip I deliberately drove like a taxi driver: fast acceleration from stops, no cruise control, and no consideration for the hybrid system. I was stunned to see the result was only 6.5L/100km.
I think the main reason for the consistently low consumption comes from two key areas: the stop-start system that cuts the engine when stopped (because hey, fuel consumption is effectively infinite if your engine is running when stopped); and the same system cutting the engine on long downhill runs. It’s spooky to be rolling down Wellington’s gorge, air-con and power brakes working perfectly, engine off, and the momentum of the car is still enough to charge the battery.
The dashboard has a nice little graph to promote efficient driving. When you switch the car off after an efficient drive, it flashes a little “Excellent!” message. I presume if you do this several times, you level-up and a white-coated Japanese man will present you with an Epic Mount.
Colour me impressed. It still has that noticeable hybrid lag as the engine kicks in when you power away from the lights (but you can overcome this by tapping the accelerator to start the engine first), but otherwise is very responsive. Where the Prius still feels a bit anemic even on engine power, the Camry has plenty of oomph. I like it.