2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid Road Test, Review
Buying a a hybrid once signaled a level of smugness that could be measured in light years. Now, cars powered at least partially by batteries are commonplace. The taxi fleet switched from LPG to hybrid once the fossil fuel industry shot itself in the foot by raising prices.
London’s congestion tax uses the EU emissions ratings as its barometer. If your diesel is more than 4 years old, or petrol engine more than 12 years old (euro 5), it will cost you $21.38 a day. Is it an evil government grab for your wallet, or is it merely a sensible position on climate change.
Hybrids, and other vehicles which emit less than 75g/km of CO2 are exempt. So, the writing is on the wall for internal combustion engines. Electric and hybrid engines are here to stay.
Diesel engines have nasty NOX issues because they don’t have the catalytic converters petrol engines do. This was the reason naughty old VW and Mitsubishi cheated on their emissions exams.
It’s all a bit of a mess.
Hybrids seem to be the answer to a question no-one wants to ask: what will fill the gap between the internal combustion engine, and cars powered only by batteries.
Camry comes in 4 models: Ascent, Ascent Sport, SX and SL. Hybrid offerings can be had in all be the SX. Ascent starts at $27,690 (hybrid starts at $29,990) which is $1,200 over the old base model, but is a snip when you consider the raft of techy goodness crammed inside.
Mr Toyoda, Toyota’s big bwana, said he no longer wanted Toyota producing mind numbing, ugly-but-reliable boxes. It is better to polarise then blend in to a background of boring beigeness. It seems he agreed with the rest of us. It’s a bit of a slap for the gajillion people who own aged Corollas though.
LEXUS started the trend Camry now follows, and takes Mr Toyoda at his word.
Camry’s heavily sculptured front and rear ends are joined together by a slightly more conventional side profile. Its bonnet has been lowered by 40mm but is still a big impressive chunk of car. There does seem to be quite a lot going on and it takes a while all to make sense, and apparently that’s how Toyota wants it.
A gaping 2-piece grille is disguised by the clever use of panels, lines, and covers that give deep shades and plays of light. In fact there seem to be a load of bits gouged out just for the sake of it.
On the subject of light, exterior lighting is uber-bright LEDs.
A complex triple line of DRL (daytime Running Lights) sits above the indicators which do a passable impression of a Nike advertisement.
The Toyota badge contains the radar for the radar cruise control.
Tail lights are an equally complex series of LED lines that sweep majestically across the bodywork to meet surfaces cleaved from sheets of metal crafted in a masterly display of modern alchemy.
Perhaps this was the idea, but I still can’t make up my mind as to whether or not I share Mr Toyoda’s enthusiasm for his new ism.
17” wheels are standard, with the SX getting larger 19” wheels, and the top model having 18” wheels. It’s unusual for the top grade to have smaller wheels than the one below it, but a higher profile tyre gets better ride.
People make a complete meal of having huge wheels, and are happy to have the ride of a BBQ being rolled down a country lane.
Much of the cabin is standard for a car in the late 2nd decade of the 21st century.
Flashes of design daringness can be had in the centre console. The asymmetric centre stack puts the 7” LCD in pride of place. You get a flashier 8-incher in all other models. It looks odd to me though. I like things neat and tidy. This looks a little like it was mocked up after a boozy lunch.
There is a plethora of cup holders and nifty hidey holes with everything being easily accessible, including the usb ports. There is nothing worse than the ports being shoved in as an after though. You have to croon your neck to be able to see them, and be double jointed to use them. This however, is all where you can get at it.
There is still no Apple CarPlay, but Toyota says it is coming, but then so is Christmas.
The neat LCD display is flanked either side by large, friendly buttons clearly labelled with that familiar Toyota font. There is the faint whiff of 1990 LEXUS about them though.
Annoyingly, there is no Navigation at the bottom of the range. You’ll just have to make do with your phone.
Seating in our base model Ascent is comfortable and has a sense that it will withstand a nuclear blast. Upholstery has a utilitarian feel to it, with all other surfaces having a soft feel that borders on luxurious.
There are one or two exceptions in places that have higher wear such as door cards. Behind the grab-handle/armrests, hard plastic resists finger nails gouging into them. It feels a little bit wrong but is probably for the best.
Toyota has finally done away with sticking the cruise controls on a stalk behind the steering wheel. The buttons now live on steering wheel like normal people would expect. It is so much easier to use.
Buttons are backlit for a pretty night-time display.
Rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split making the cargo area enormous. Perfect for a spot of antiquing. Old Hybrids missed out on the fold-down convenience.
- 12V accessory connector
- Urethane gear shifter
- Fabric seat trim
- Urethane steering wheel with audio, phone and MID controls
- 2-inch multi-information display (MID)
- 60/40 split-fold rear seat
- Urethane gear shifter
- 60/40 split-fold rear seat
- Manual tilt & telescopic steering column adjustment
- Space saver spare
- Toyota link
- 7-inch display screen
- 6 speakers
- Auxiliary and USB ports
- Electronic parking brake
- Manual air-conditioning
- Driver’s seat power lumbar adjustment
- Auto power windows front & rear
Drive and Engine
Hybrids are absolutely “the business” in town, even with that petrol engine running.
We managed around 5L/100k. No, seriously! With a 50L tank, fewer stops at that dreaded money pit will be required. Think of it this way, most people do between 5,000 and 10,000k a year right? That means you’ll only visit a smelly old petrol station 5 to 10 times a year. I can hear BP execs defenestrating as we speak
Let that sink in for a bit.
Camry switches between modes as you drive without you being aware of it. Electric-only driving is almost completely silent too. At other times, the computer will use the petrol and electric motors to either drive the wheels and/or charge the batteries.
There is a diagram to show you what is going on under that bonnet and is hours of fun. You soon find yourself trying to keep it in either charging, or EV mode, as a sport. Charging also happens when coasting even if at 110kph.
The cabin is spookily quiet even when the petrol engine springs to life. You waft along blissfully unaware of just how little fuel you’re using. I say waft, because the ride is positively limo-like. Only the most hideously rutted roads disturb your quiet contemplations.
Steering is light, possibly too light. There is a sport mode to makes things a little more interesting but there seems little point in bothering.
Camry hybrid is one of the few cars I’d leave in either normal or ECO modes. Although performance is dialled up a notch when sport is selected, a quieter, calmer, more sedate drive is far more rewarding.
I was surprised at how good the audio system was. Bass was especially good but is somewhat wasted on a person who likes only quiet violins.
The excellent sound made me forget that I couldn’t use the phone maps to show my googles on the main screen. That usually makes me terribly grumpy. There are a few apps, and something mysterious that Toyota says mirrors your phone on the screen. I couldn’t get it to work.
Moving swiftly on…
Apple CarPlay has its drawbacks when you’re using Maps, and the phone rings.
All models have auto lights with auto high beam. You don’t realise how handy that is until you use it for the first time. As you hurtle towards oncoming traffic, the Toyota politely dips the beam. It doesn’t always get it right, but it’s nice that it tries.
- 5 Stars.
- Pre-Collision Safety System
Autonomous Emergency Braking
Lane Departure Alert with steering assist
Auto High Beam
All-Speed Cruise Control
VSC, TRC, ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, Brake Hold
Reversing camera with Back Guide Monitor
Immobiliser & alarm
- Economical range anxiety
- Good equipment level
- Excellent ride
Not So Good Bits
- Some hard plastics
- Steering slightly too light
You get an awful lot of car for your money. Camry Hybrid is much better value than the smaller, and somewhat hideous Prius. It’s cheaper too.
Camry looks and feels like any other run-of-the-mill car to drive. You don’t have to make silly charging runs to power points a million miles from home. Even being gouged by fuel companies is less painful. No wonder oil retailers are gnashing their teeth.
Gliding silently through underground carparks takes on an ethereal feel too. It’s fun watching the faces of passers-by.
Sound from the base-car’s speakers was not too shabby, and the driver is spoiled for choice when it comes to aids. The top models have even more gear.
It seems Toyota has lived up to its promise of no longer making washing machines on wheels.
Facts and Figures: 2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid
- Engine: 2.5L four-cylinder hybrid producing 160kW
- Transmission: CVT
- Warranty: 3/ 100,000km
- Safety: Five stars
- Price: from $29,990
Author: Alan Zurvas