2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid Review: Exploring the Wilder Side of Mild
A lower base price and a new XSE trim level make the 2021 Camry Hybrid more appealing than ever.
Known for reliability, efficiency, and safety, the Toyota Camry was once the best-selling car in America. Today, it remains the top seller among midsize sedans. After a dramatic 2018 redesign, it boasts a sense of style and a semblance of performance among its many other attributes. But Toyota isn’t the only automaker who is good at building a compelling family sedan.
The 2021 Toyota Camry is available as the straight-shooting LE and XLE, racy looking SE and XSE, and performance-tuned TRD (Toyota Racing Development). There’s also a Nightshade Edition of the Camry SE, which gives the popular trim level the equally popular blacked-out appearance treatment.
Depending on the trim level, powertrain choices include a four-cylinder engine, a V6 engine, or a gas-electric hybrid drivetrain. They’re all front-wheel drive unless you get the four-cylinder, which is offered with an optional all-wheel drive system. Prices range from around $25,000 for the Camry LE four-cylinder to over $35,000 for the Camry XSE V6, not including a destination charge of $995.
Changes to the 2021 Camry include revised styling, upgraded interiors, enhanced safety technology, improved infotainment systems, and more standard equipment. Additionally, Camry Hybrids are $1,200 less than before, and the hybrid lineup expands to include XSE trim.
For this review, Toyota supplied the new Camry Hybrid XSE ($32,720) equipped with a Navigation Upgrade package and a Carpeted Mat package. The grand total came to $35,734 including the destination charge.
CAMRY’S EMPHASIS IS ON DESIGN INSTEAD OF UTILITY
For a long time, people complained that the Toyota Camry was unoriginal. With its most recent redesign, the Camry is now expressive to a fault, attracting just as many car buyers as it repels, and neither the 2021 Camry’s front styling updates nor the redesigned wheel choices change that.
Dramatic design continues inside the Camry, where revisions to the driver-centric dashboard accommodate new floating, tablet-style infotainment systems. Toyota also upgrades the center console detailing for 2021. Depending on the trim level, there are revisions to the seat patterns and upholstery choices.
If the Camry’s cabin looks unusual, the control layout is more standard,with well-marked, intuitive knobs and buttons located where you expect to find them. A large bin underneath the center armrest, sizable cupholders, and a tray forward of them offers generous storage and houses the available Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charger.
Both front seats include standard height adjustment to help with comfort and all trims also have a heated option. Toyota offers available ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel. During long trips, the test car’s leather-wrapped driver’s seat provided excellent cushioning and support.
Rear seat comfort is adequate. The 2021 Camry is among the smaller midsize sedans you can buy, reflected in the rear legroom and thigh support, which could be better. Higher trims include rear air conditioning vents to help to keep passengers cool in the summer. Toyota does not offer a heated rear seat option.
When it comes to carrying cargo, the Camry loses more space with a meager 15.1 cu. ft. trunk. However, you can carry full-size suitcases tipped onto their sides in order to maximize the usefulness of the space. Notably, the Camry Hybrid’s trunk is the same size as what you’ll find in other Camry models because the car’s battery is tucked underneath the back seat.
IMPRESSIVE INFOTAINMENT AND SAFETY TECHNOLOGY
New floating tablet-style infotainment system displays debut in the 2021 Camry. With LE and SE trim, the touchscreen measures 7 inches across. A larger 9-inch touchscreen is optional in these models and standard in the XLE, XSE, and TRD.
Both systems include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto smartphone mirroring, Amazon Alexa compatibility, SiriusXM satellite radio, Safety Connect, and Wi-Fi Connect service plans. With the 9-inch system, Toyota also throws in Service Connect and Remote Connect service plans.
Exclusive to the 9-inch system and upper trim levels, an optional dynamic navigation and voice recognition system comes with three years of free access. The voice recognition technology does not operate the climate system but still performs very well, quickly and easily addressing all test commands. The test car also had an impressive nine-speaker JBL premium sound system.
Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+) is standard in every 2021 Camry. This is an enhanced version of Toyota’s now-commonplace TSS 2.0 collection of advanced driving assistance systems. They include adaptive cruise control, collision and lane-departure warnings, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and centering assistance functions, among others.
For 2021, TSS 2.5+ adds the ability to detect pedestrians in low-light situations such as during sunrise and sunset, as well as spotting bicyclists during the day. New intersection assistance technology will activate the Camry’s brakes when the driver attempts to make an ill-advised left turn across traffic, while emergency steering assistance adds stability when the driver attempts to avoid an obstacle. When using the adaptive cruise control, the car responds faster to a signaled lane change to quickly accelerate around slower vehicles.
Compared to similar offerings in competing vehicles, TSS 2.5+ is remarkably smooth, refined, and accurate. The driving aids are helpful, and the test car’s technology is rarely a source of irritation.
If TSS 2.5+ cannot prevent an accident, rest assured that the 2021 Camry earns top safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). For the 2021 calendar year, the IIHS calls the Camry a Top Safety Pick+, while the NHTSA assigns the car 5-star ratings in every individual assessment, including rollover resistance.
EFFORTLESS EFFICIENCY WITH A SIDE OF ATHLETICISM
Most people buy Camrys equipped with the standard 203 hp 2.5L four-cylinder engine and not the available 301 hp 3.5L V6. However, now that the Camry Hybrid is $1,200 cheaper than before, perhaps more people will consider the most efficient version of the car.
The Camry Hybrid has a 2.5L four-cylinder gas engine, an 88-kW electric assist motor, a 650-volt lithium-ion battery that recharges by regenerative braking, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It certainly doesn’t lack power. Together, these components produce a combined 208 hp and, from a stop, the electric motor delivers immediate torque for effortless acceleration.
Four driving modes manage the powertrain. Eco mode aggressively conserves fuel to save you money in the long run. Sport mode makes the Camry Hybrid feel lively and quick, and EV mode operates at speeds under 25 mph using nothing but available battery power and the electric motor. A Normal mode attempts to automatically accommodate all driving situations.
And a tank of gas seems to last forever. With a 15.8-gallon container, based on our average, you can travel more than 600 miles on a single fill-up. And if you drive with less enthusiasm than we did, you can stretch that even further. Fuel economy measures an EPA-rated 52 mpg in combined driving for the Camry Hybrid LE. Other trims return 46 mpg. The XSE test car, driven mainly in Normal and Sport modes, returned 38.9 mpg over the course of hundreds of miles of driving. That’s not the best in relation to official ratings, but great for a midsize sedan that’s enjoyable to drive.
With SE and XSE trim, the Camry Hybrid includes a sport-tuned suspension. The XSE further adds 19-inch aluminum wheels wearing 235/45 tires. Switch the car into Sport mode, activate the CVT’s Sport mode, and the Camry Hybrid is genuinely athletic.
There are limits to the fun depending on your preference. The transmission’s paddle shifters are rather disappointing. On really tight and twisty roads the stability control activates too early and too often. In situations requiring regular pedal modulation, such as in heavy traffic or when driving down a mountain grade behind slower vehicles, the regenerative brakes can feel characteristically sticky.
However, as CVTs go, the Camry Hybrid’s occasional droning is barely apparent under normal driving conditions. The XSE’s suspension delivers equally agreeable ride and handling characteristics in a variety of driving situations. The steering exhibits no unnecessary play, making the car feel solid and robust on the highway, and in Sport mode it doesn’t firm up in an artificial manner.
Overall, as long as you’re not looking for a genuine sports sedan, the Camry Hybrid XSE is an excellent daily driver.
THE 2021 TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID DARES TO BE DIFFERENT
Toyota wanted the current-generation Camry to be more dynamic, exciting, and expressive than those which came before it, and the mission is a success.
In the process, though, the midsize family car lost some of its broad appeal to the masses with regard to styling and utility. Still yet, the 2021 Toyota Camry remains a reliable, efficient, and safe choice in a sedan. Only now there isn’t much of an indifferent middle ground between liking or not liking the car.It makes a clear impression.
Unshackled from its role as the car built for everyone, the current Camry offers something more than the same expectation it used in the past for success. From its daring exterior design and available red leather interior to its new sporty Hybrid XSE trim level, the Camry Hybrid isn’t the same car it once was.
As a result, you might just buy one because you want one, not simply because you think you need one.