Scott Sturgis’ Driver’s Seat: Camry Hybrid XLE is hard to beat

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2014 Honda Accord Hybrid vs. 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE vs. 2014 Toyota Prius V: Fuel-sipper showdown.

This week: Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

Price: $33,168 as tested ($27,670 before options).

Marketer’s pitch: “One heck of a ride.”

Conventional wisdom: likes the “strong acceleration; very good fuel economy; easy to see out of; comfortable and spacious backseat,” but not that the “steering feels too artificial for some drivers; some low-grade cabin trim, cumbersome setup process for top Entune infotainment system.” (As an English professor, I dislike Edmunds’ bad parallel construction with “easy to see out of,” but otherwise they’re pretty close.)

Reality: Yeah, “heck of a ride” kind of says it all.

Not all hybrids created equal: The engine noise and continuous shifting feel of last week’s Honda Accord Hybrid made me think I’d forgotten how a hybrid really drove. So I contacted Toyota to refresh my memory.

And I’m pleased to report my memory served me well. The Toyota Camry Hybrid was a much smoother operator. Switching between the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and the electric motor came as quietly as I’d remembered in earlier Priuses (Prii?), which actually use a different engine.

On the road: Hybrid owners don’t have to suffer dogged acceleration for their fuel economy. But you don’t want to hurry a lot or gas mileage will suffer. Camry handling is not nearly as loose as the Corolla, but not as nice as the Prius.

Down-to-earth information: Compared to the Prius, the Camry Hybrid’s gauges and information pod are quite traditional. It features dials that monitor the average mileage and the overall mileage. But I’ve never found this setup quite as clear as the charts and graphics in the Prius. I preferred the Accord’s more graphic-oriented gauges best of all.

Comfortable setting: The driver’s seat is a delight. After a whole week it continued to be a nice ride. Leather-trimmed seats are a $1,185 option, which also heats the seats and gives the driver power controls.

Friends and stuff: The Camry offers a tremendous amount of rear legroom, at least for two. The middle seat sits up high and forward, so a middle occupant won’t like it quite as much. 

Trunk room is great. The Camry has an advantage over the Accord Hybrid because the rear seat does fold down. The Accord batteries get in the way of this function.

A nice, big console keeps plenty of stuff in between the front seats.

Play some tunes: The stereo interface has an audio button on the outside to get you into the stereo when you’re looking at the map, but after that you’re left with the touch screen or the steering wheel controls. Not the ideal setup. These features plus Entune are a $1,050 option. I didn’t find using the system too cumbersome, but I didn’t set up a lot of special functions during the week I tested it.

Inside: Pretty enough interior. Nickel touches, black and grey. Stitching on the dashboard recalls much more expensive cars. The heater configuration is nice and compact. 

Outside: It’s a Camry, a nice boxy sedan that’s been getting more angular over the years, just like the rest of us.

Fuel economy: I recorded 37 mpg in the usual Driver’s Seat testing on highways and suburban and country roads, a solid improvement over the regular Camry’s mileage.

Where it’s built: Georgetown, Ky.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives it a recommended rating overall, specifically for reliability.

In the end: Heck of a ride, good mileage and dependability? Hard to beat.

Next week: But does the Toyota Prius V top it?

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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