2019 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE: No compromises required
The 2019 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE is dramatic proof of how mainstream gas-electric cars have become. In fact, it is arguably a better car than the gas-only version of the popular midsize sedan. Of course it gets better mileage, which is what hybrids are all about. But it also feels stronger because of how smoothly the power is delivered, which results in a better driving experience.
The Camry was completely redesigned last year, and the current hybrid version shows how far gas-electric cars have come over the past 12 years. Toyota practically invented the hybrid with the original Prius subcompact in 1997 and the breakout compact version in 2003. Back then mileage was everything, and the early compact was intentionally odd looking so everyone would know their owners were virtuous people saving the world.
They were also relatively slow, and seemed even slower on the road because so many owners drove them gently to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. Getting stuck behind a Prius became a common lament among enthusiasts.
But now many manufacturers offer hybrids, including plug-in versions that will travel a certain distance on electricity also before switching over to conventional hybrid mode, where power shifts between the gas engine and electric motor to boost mileage, and combine when the most power is needed. In today's market, manufacturers are trying to maximize the appeal of their hybrids, which means appealing to the most buyers.
Toyota has responded by redesigning the current version of the Prius to look and drive like other modern compacts, although it still gets exceptional mileage. There is even an all-wheel-drive version with a second motor in the rear end, which is ideal for wet Pacific Northwest weather.
And now the 2019 Camry Hybrid is a thoroughly competitive large sedan — in fact, one of the best designed on the market, with aggressive exterior styling highlighted by a huge front grill and a sharply angled interior dash that looks like a work of art. It is also EPA rated at up to 52 miles per gallon, which is better than most subcompacts get.
In a week of test driving, we also found our 2019 Camry Hybrid XLE to be surprisingly sporty, with a firmer suspension than expected in a family car and brisk acceleration, especially considering it has a Continuously Variable Transmission instead of an automatic. Merging onto freeways and passing slower freight trucks was never a problem, something we've not always been able to say about hybrids. In fact, it felt as fast as the sportiest V6 version, although we weren't able to do back-to-back comparisons.
Because the Camry was completely redesigned last year, there's not much new for 2019 except the addition of Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa connectivity — but there was not much that needed changing, either. It is still one of the larger midsize sedans on the market, meaning it enough interior room for five adults.
Like last year, Toyota is offering two slightly different powertrains in the Camry Hybrid. Both feature a 2.5-liter inline four cylinder as the gas engine. But the base LE comes with a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack that combines to offer 52 miles per gallon, while the more upscale SE and XLE versions use a nickel-metal hydride (Ni-mh) battery and are EPA rated at 46. Both ratings are remarkable for such a large and powerful car, however.
Of course, hybrids still cost more than equivilent gas-only vehicles because of electric motor and battery costs, and the 2019 Camry Hybrid is no exception with a $4,000 premium. But considering the exceptional driving experience and substantial savings, when gas prices increase (as they always do), it is a smart buy for anyone in the market for such a car and looking ahead.
2019 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
Base price: $32,725
Price as tested: $38,215
Type: Midsize sedan
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter inline 4, electric motor, battery pack (208 hp)
Transmission: Electronic Continuous Variable Transmission
Mileage: 44/47 (as tested)
Overall length: 192-193 inches
Curb weight: 3,241-3,572 pounds
Final assembly: Georgetown, Kentucky