2023 Camry Hybrid Review: a practical 42 MPG
And this one even has spicy bronze wheels
2023 Toyota Camry Hybrid review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
What is it?
Can you believe the current generation Toyota Camry is already five years old? Time flies - 2018 was when Avengers: Infinity War came out, after all. The 2018 Camry was indeed a Thanos-sized leap forward for America's default affordable sedan, with the Camry continuing to slaughter the Accord and other competitors in sales. Such is the success of the current Camry that it's almost like all rival offerings were snapped-away and vanished completely. Tested here is the 2023 model, in eye-catching (or repulsive to some) SE Nightshade trim with Reservoir Blue paint and bronze wheels, and the efficient hybrid powertrain. All in, this example stickers for a reasonable $32,839.
Toyota's hybrid powertrain delivers here in this Camry, averaging a commendable 42 MPG overall during my week with it. While that number falls short of the 46 shown on the sticker, it's still a fantastic result that serves as a viable alternative to the lack of a truly affordable electric vehicle. In some markets, where electricity can be expensive, an EV might cost even more to run now that gasoline is back under $4/gallon here in my neck of California. Helping the economy is the ability to run as a fully-electric vehicle at speeds below 25 MPH, though you have to be uber gentle on the throttle to avoid firing the combustion motor.
Camry's are spacious vehicles, with this example having generous amounts of room found in the rear seats and a sizable boot to hide your junk. On the highway, I found it reasonably quiet and very comfortable, with a soft ride quality that made a 300 mile one day trip to San Francisco and back feel like a quick trip to Target. It also tracks straight and is easy to drive at freeway speeds, too.
Climbing up to the famous Twin Peaks lookout, above San Francisco, I luckily had a series of twisting spaghetti to myself, helping explore the handling characteristics. I think most Camry owners will be pleasantly surprised to know how balanced and capable their commuter really is on this front, with most Camrys reserved to just mundane highway traffic. The steering is accurate and has a morsel of weight to it, adding some confidence, and the front is quite willing to go wherever you choose. Grip is limited by the economy tires, but the actual balance is impressive for a vehicle that's never been once thought of as 'sporty' in prior generations. Abilities are limited at higher speeds, though, where a quick flick for a hard 50 MPH kink was met with a delayed shift in weight transfer that just didn't feel at home as the left front was not happy to deal with so much inertia at once. So, at slower speeds the handling is surprisingly good, but it's at higher velocities where the soft suspension and tires do deflate and reveal some shortcomings. The Camry TRD impresses in this regard.
What can be improved?
As good as the economy is on the Camry Hybrid, a few years back I tested a Sonata Hybrid, in the more luxurious and heavier Limited trim, and that car averaged 45 MPG. So, I do think the fuel economy crown for this class of vehicle has passed on from the Camry if you're looking for the most in fuel savings in a mid-size sedan. Both are great and deliver excellent efficiency, but the Camry MPG fell short of what I hoped for and what rivals are capable of.
Stepping inside the Camry and, while it's not a totally derelict disaster, I did find the overall materials not as nice as other rivals, like that from Hyundai or Mazda. There are nicer trims you can choose from, like an XLE for example, but in my experience in an XLE even, the interior bores and doesn't give off the pseudo-luxury vibe that alternatives now deliver. When this generation first debuted, it was revelation among Toyotas, but five years on, it's shine has waned and I reckon the just-announced new Honda Accord will also signifacantly move its own game on beyond the Camry for interior refinement.
Another annoyance is the ever-presence barrage of beeps that Toyotas are now known for, including a chime to remind you about potentially leaving items in the rear seats. This sounds useful, but most of the time there's a chime and reminder to check the back when there's literally nothing there. It's okay, other cars behave exactly the same, but still annoying.
It does, however, instill a sense of quality, and I mean in the sense of being put together well and a lack of rattles, so it'll likely last at least. Furthermore, the center infotainment display is a generation behind, and is definitely in need of some new graphics and features. A comfortable vehicle to be in, but it does too good of an impression of a rental car at this point. What is really needed is a conversational talking point to stand out.
Performance is neither good nor bad, for this class of hybrids, but a 0-60 MPH of 8 seconds doesn't set the world on fire. The engine can be annoying at higher revs as well, making a racket that I'd prefer to not hear, but this is a trait of almost every four-cylinder vehicle including that of any competitor. This is a case of where the silence and smoothness of a fully EV-powertrain would be welcome.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the oncoming of the - gulp - new Prius. Have you seen the new Prius? Yeah, it looks actually kind of hot. It also now has performance that can keep up with the Camry Hybrid (if anything, it should be faster) while also achieving an estimated 10 MPG better in the real world. Given the choice of a Camry Hybrid or a Prius, I never thought I would say this, but I would take that new Prius in a heartbeat for its exciting looks and superior economy. You'll lose out on space, but that's a concession I'm willing to make with ease for the looks and performance alone of the Prius.
A solid choice - but not the best
Choosing a Camry Hybrid is far from a failed decision, but it is one that lacks imagination and driver satisfaction. I personally prefer the Sonata Hybrid for its better MPG and the nicer interior. However, the Hyundai has polarizing looks, with many thinking the Sonata is an ugly duckling - to each their own. The Camry here has been spiced up with blue paint and bronze wheels, but it hasn't done enough to mask its underlying age. And for the record, the bronze wheels are a highly acquired taste and are fortunately not a required choice. This is a five year old product now, and I'd either hold out for the next one in a year or two, or go for that cool new Prius instead. If you do pick the Camry right now, rest assured that you have made a sensible choice still, albeit, a somewhat boring one.
2023 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Nightshade
As-tested price: $32,839
Pros: Optional bronze wheels; comfortable and efficient
Cons: Bronze wheels; more efficient choices; the new Prius