SALINE, Michigan -- The new SE version of the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid goes further than just sporty window dressing. But did it really need to? The idea of a car that’s both fun and efficient is enticing, but the result here is an incongruous blend of sportier driving dynamics and a bland hybrid powertrain.
Toyota significantly updated all Camry and Camry Hybrid models for 2015. The comprehensive visual tweaks, which on the outside include all-new sheetmetal (except for the roof) and on the inside feature greater use of soft-touch materials, make the Camry feel more premium and exciting than your average mainstream midsize. All2015 Toyota Camry models also have revised springs and shocks, the electric power steering is retuned for more feedback, and the brake system now employs a two-stage booster for more linear brake feel.
For the non-hybrid Camry models, these upgrades work. The Hybrid SE, however, feels at odds with itself, unable to reconcile its highly efficient but uninspiring hybrid-electric powertrain with its more aggressive suspension and steering character (the result of SE-specific shock tuning, stabilizer bar, and control-arm bushing components). The carryover 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor (totaling 200 hp) are perfectly acceptable for a car without sporting pretensions, but here the modest power and slow-to-react continuously variable transmission fail to match up with the rest of the car’s personality.
There's no doubt that the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE looks flashy and cool with its piano-black mesh grille, dark chrome headlights, and 17-inch wheels. But we doubt buyers seeking a fuel-efficient hybrid that excels in city traffic will be happy with the SE’s overly heavy steering, nor will they want to give up 3 mpg compared to the Hybrid LE. (The LE, rated at 43 mpg city, weighs 100 pounds less and rides on smaller tires with less rolling resistance than the Hybrid SE or XLE, which are both rated at 40 mpg.) Meanwhile, highway commuters now have their pick of fuel-efficient non-hybrids that nearly equal the Hybrid SE’s 40 mpg. The current Mazda6, for example, returns 38 mpg on the highway from its four-cylinder engine and it also arguably offers the best, sportiest driving dynamics in the segment.
We’re happy to see that Toyota is trying to inject some fun and flavor into a historically boring model, but the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE feels like a compromise that doesn’t quite work. The good news is that the new Lexus NX 300h is proof that it is possible for a fuel-efficient hybrid to have a somewhat sporty attitude and not compromise its overall identity. This is just the first year for the Hybrid SE as a full member of the Camry lineup, so we'll see whether Toyota is able to more successfully blend its attributes going forward.
2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Specifications
Engine:2.5-liter, DOHC 16-valve I-4, 156 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 156 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm and AC synchronous motor, 105kW @ 4,500 rpm, 199 lb-ft @ 0-1,500 rpm
Layout:4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA Mileage:40/38/40 mpg (city/highway/combined)
L x W x H:190.9 x 71.7 x 57.9 in
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