2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid

I’ve always felt that if I had to make the choice, I would buy a loaded Camry before I would buy an entry level Lexus, and that is certainly the case with this one.

(Incidentally, here is a link to a brief Youtube video with the XLE Hybrid, holding its own on a frigid day here in Edmonton).

A Camry in XLE trim is practically a luxury car, perhaps lacking the brand cachet of Lexus, but consider that this one still comes in about 6K less than the ES300h, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Camry in size and configuration.

The major points of our test Camry are: it’s powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder gasoline engine, which on its own can produce 176 horsepower (and 163 lb.-ft. of torque), but as a hybrid it also adds an electric motor – branded by Toyota as their Hybrid Synergy Drive system – which brings the combined output to a potential 208 hp.

And of course, one of the things about electric power is that the torque comes on at very low rpm, putting the power to the wheels very quickly, especially when the Sport Mode of the Camry hybrid is activated.

I’m not trying to imply that it’s some sort of sports car here, it isn’t, but the vehicle provides ample power and a driving experience that won’t leave the daily driver feeling let down. It comes up to speed promptly and deals with everyday demands admirably whether on the highway or here on the streets of Edmonton.

But where the advantage lies with hybrid vehicles like this is with the increased fuel economy and savings at the pump over the life of the vehicle – Toyota states a combined consumption rating for the Camry Hybrid of 5.2L/100km, although I’ve gone a little over that (this one ended up with 6.0 after about 400 km of mostly city driving, but it has been my observation that cold weather affects the mileage of hybrids by forcing the cars to use the gas engine more).

Inside the 2018 XLE you find comfortable seating and decent headroom, a dash layout where all major controls are easy to find and understand, and a suite of new tech for 2018.

Now, if you watch our Youtube video you may notice that a lot of the apps on my test vehicle come up grayed out, as they aren’t activated for this press car, but regardless, you can see where the apps would be activated through the combination of touch-screen and interface buttons of the Entune 3.0 suite.

Entune is apparently an open source, Linux based system for the communication module – and the 2018 Camry is the first vehicle to get the system.

This Camry XLE also includes a comprehensive set of safety features, my favorites of which are blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic detection, and a backup camera that will display an overhead, bird’s eye view of the car.

And while less space-age and futuristic, another feature I like on the Camry XLE is the tire-pressure monitor (which can be displayed as a little graphic on the cluster behind the steering wheel if you cycle through the submenus with the steering-mounted controls) that shows the pressure in each individual tire. I like that so much better than lower-end systems that will only alert you that there is a low tire, but makes you get out and check each one to find it.

So ultimately, there isn’t much to dislike in the all-new Camry Hybrid (and it is ‘all-new’, Toyota says the 2018 shares almost no components with the previous generation).

The Camry is also a top-finalist in the Large Car category for the Canadian Car of the Year, presented by Automobile Journalists Association of Canada

You could pick on the price, I suppose, as the XLE does come in a little higher than competitive hybrids from Korea; and perhaps the appearance – although again, the car looks better in my opinion than the outgoing model.

I wouldn’t call it ugly – it isn’t – but rather what a number of people describe as ‘boring’, but that is of course in the eye of the beholder. (Although, do me a favor and check out that big plastic grille and see what you think).

Our test car here, a pretty complete package as is (there are no options listed for our tester) came with a sticker price of $42,832.50 CDN

AJAC EcoRun 2016

Kingston

photo by Jeff Wilson/AJAC

(Ottawa, ON) Alright, I knew going in I wouldn’t win the contest, lead-footed feller that I am. I am not a hyper-miler, my gentle friends, but I gave the EcoRun Challenge a fair go this year.

(You’ve heard of hypermiling, right? The practice of squeezing every last kilometer out of every drop of fuel, mostly by driving incredibly slowly and getting rid of every bit of extra weight and aerodynamic drag on a vehicle to reap some pretty astounding economy).

I’m not quite willing to go to those kinds of extremes – I didn’t fold down the side mirrors or shave off all my body hair to save the extra weight and dump my pocket change and empty my head of heavy thoughts – just simply drove a variety of vehicles according the best practices of economical driving habits, as outlined by Natural resources Canada.EcoRun7

The basics of it are pretty straightforward – keep your speed down (although I never drove dramatically under the limit, ‘cuz that’s just ignorant), avoid sudden bursts of acceleration, and above all: keep it smooth.

I didn’t win the coveted Green Jersey, of course, but I’ll tell you that by sticking to the spirit of the event I got better fuel economy than usual. In fact, everybody did; from every vehicle that was entered in this year’s Challenge.

Porsche

The lineup was as diverse as it gets at the 2016 EcoRun, running the gamut from hybrids and pure electric vehicles to a high-falutin sports car and a diesel pickup. Photos by Jeff Wilson/AJAC

It was a diverse field of entries this year, too, featuring not only what you may expect in a fuel economy contest (hybrids, plug-ins and pure electric vehicles Like Nissan’s Leaf), but straight-up gasoline powered vehicles as well – including a pickup truck and a full-on sports car.

Heck, I averaged 7.0L/100km in the Chevy Colorado Diesel pickup on my run in it, which is way less than the projected number from NRCan (10.3L/100 km), and the 2017 911 Carrera entered in the contest by Porsche achieved an overall score of 7.8L/100km, which is incredible.

Fact is, every entry in this year’s EcoRun got better economy numbers than their various manufacturers state on their window stickers; which shows you what a change in driving habits can do.ColoradoDiesel

Check it out for yourself – here is a link to the overall scores of all the cars in the group, 27 of them in total.

This is the fifth year that the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has put on the EcoRun, and the first time I have participated in it. The event moves around the country, but this year came home to Ontario where we ran a rout from Toronto to Ottawa, driving different cars on different legs of a journey that rolled through Belleville, Coburg, and Kingston.

We drove on highways and backroads, we drove in cities and towns. We drove through Ottawa’s downtown during rush hour, which is something I don’t recommend; but is a great chance to operate in EV mode if your vehicle is equipped for it.Ottawa

I didn’t drive everything that was entered, of course, two days is actually a pretty short time, but in everything from Fiat’s cutie-pie 1957 edition 500 to Toyota’s RAV4 (hybrid) I beat the projected FE, and so did everybody else.

EcoRun10

Allie Marsh, the Event Coordinator of AJAC’s fifth annual EcoRun, demonstrates the connection of Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in hybrid.

And again, I didn’t do anything particularly special or scientific on any of my drives. Kept it within five of the limit, no fast passing or erratic maneuvering and above all smoothness, whether accelerating, braking or changing lanes. I didn’t run the A/C for the most part, and kept the windows up most of the time to reduce drag, but really nothing anyone couldn’t do.

Indeed, my only regret is that there wasn’t enough time for me to drive Toyota’s Mirai vehicle, the only hydrogen-powered auto entered in the EcoRun, but Lesley Wimbush of Postmedia did. (Disclosure: I know Wimbush, and I am totally using the massive popularity of my site to plug the fine work of a broski. Or sisterski as is the case here).

As said, I didn’t win the contest (wild-eyed hypermiler Jim Kenzie did. I suspect he may have shaved off his body hair, as his coefficient of drag felt abnormally low when I shook his hand).

What I did, though, was got an up-close look at what a difference driving style makes in any car, for anyone.

AJAC’s EcoRun doesn’t declare a winner among the autos entered, as it would be somewhat contrary to the spirit and point of the event (and also difficult to categorized, as obviously pure electric cars would be the most efficient, not burning any gas and all, and how would you evaluate a fuel cell vehicle against a diesel pickup, for example), but among the gas-electric powertrains, as you no doubt expected, Toyota’s Prius, Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in and Ford’s C-Max Energi hybrid did the best.

The thing is: what the EcoRun proves is that with optimal driving habits, everyone’s a winner.

The Heart Attack Burger

(Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON) Ah, Test Fest 2012! I rolled in early and I blew out late, in a Land Rover LR4.

The annual showdown of the finalists for Canadian Car of the Year was on the menu. I’m a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada – though not a very powerful or influential one – and I and all my little media-weasel friends were there to sample the goods; down here in lake and wine country.

Because I arrived the day before the car-tests were to begin, I had some time to drive around, and just across the highway and down the road from my hotel – in the shadow of GM’s parts plant in St. Catherines, Ontario, I found the Good Eats Diner.

I stopped in for a late breakfast, as I was fresh off an overnighter and had basically hopped off a plane in Toronto and driven down to the region in my LR4.

It’s my kind of place: an unpretentious little roadside stop offering good food at reasonable rates, and I had a plate of ham and eggs with a side of buttermilk pancakes in an atmosphere full of friendly staff and happy regulars.

The food was good – and I will draw your attention now to that oft-overlooked side dish, “home-fries”, which are excellent here.

Must have something to do with the potatoes used, or the grapeseed oil I assume they are cooked in, from the amount of grapeseed oil bottles I saw around; but what caught my attention was the mention on their sign out front, of something called the Heart Attack Burger.

They weren’t making them the first day I stopped in, but I knew right then that I had to have one. It happened that I finished up the last day of Test Fest drives way early on the final Friday of the test-fest (because hey bubba, I am just that good) and immediately struck out from the Niagara airport (staging ground for the CCOTY contest for the past several years now) for my new favorite diner.

Once again, I draw your attention to them fries.

The star of our show – the mighty HAB

As you might imagine, the Heart Attack Burger is a giant oversize novelty sandwich guaranteed to fill you up real good with everything that is, technically, bad for your weight-loss aspirations.

The ‘buns’ are two grilled cheese sandwiches (with bacon!) bookending a big meat patty and the usual fillings; tomato, onion, lettuce. It comes to the table stuck through with a knife to hold the thing together, as it towers above your plate.

It’s magnificent, of course, but I hesitate to recommend it – I couldn’t finish mine – the HAB is something you order once, just to say you’ve done it. I’ll go back, of course, next year’s Test Fest is already on the horizon; but next time I’ll get a normal one. And more of those excellent fries.

I survived a Heart Attack burger, and so will you, but now I am in Burger Rehab and on the road to full Burger Recovery.

The diner is run by a right-on bro named Paolo Miele (here’s the deets! follow his Tweets!); make sure you hit the Good Eats Diner if/when you find yourself in the St. Catherines area.

Wade Ozeroff © 2012