Hybrid Nation

America's love affair with driving gets the green light

Sep 29, 2006
Outside Magazine
2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid

2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid    Photo: +ISM

We're all for saving the planet—but not in a glorified go-cart. Thankfully, hybrid cars have undergone a radical makeover since they were introduced in 1999, and the latest models are snazzier, roomier, and more powerful than the original rides. You'll still pay a premium for the technology (hybrids cost up to $5,000 more than their gas-only counterparts), which isn't quickly recouped at the pump, even with gas prices staying above $3 per gallon. But here's the number that counts: By generating electricity while braking, then storing the power in onboard batteries, these vehicles rescue otherwise wasted energy, simultaneously reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 30 percent and providing an extra source of horsepower. In other words, you can have your kayak-, bike-, gear-, and friends-hauling SUV without forfeiting your Sierra Club card. From sporty commuters to autobahn-worthy luxury sedans, hybrids have reached a critical milestone: You don't even have to care about global warming to want one.

The 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid offers a sporty, midsize alternative to the company's best-known fuel miser, the compact Prius. The Camry employs Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, in which an electric motor propels the car at low speeds and supports the gas engine at higher speeds, giving it acceleration that's just on the spry side of adequate. Like many hybrids, the Camry uses a continuously variable transmission that works to keep the engine in its most efficient RPM range—a nice touch, though it gives the engine a drony, mowerlike quality under hard acceleration. The Camry Hybrid comes with several high-grade features, including a JBL audio system, dual-zone climate control, and optional Bluetooth capability. Unfortunately, nothing can be done about the battery pack—tucked behind the rear seats—which eats about a third of the trunk space found in the gas-only Camry.

MSRP: $25,900 As tested: $27,909 Hybrid premium: $1,500 MPG: EPA, 40 city/38 highway; our average, 31* Decrease in annual greenhouse-gas emissions from comparable gas-only model: 28.3 percent Pros: Styling, passenger comfort, power/fuel-economy balance Con: Limited trunk space

*Test drives included a mix of suburban conditions, with no emphasis on fuel conservation.

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