Toyota makes machines that will outlive us mere mortals. We’ve got to respect them for that, but there have been some models, it would appear, which the automaker seemingly went out of its way to ensure weren’t fun to drive at all. Or look at. We’re talking about the Camry — which is one of the most popular cars in the world. Hmm, confused? Don’t be, for, when you get to the crux of the matter, there’s one major reason why it has been a rousing success — and that is because there are millions of people that just don’t care what they drive as long as it gets them there and back in one piece. Ever since its inception in 1983, Toyota’s midsize saloon has been their go-to car mostly due to its reliability and practicality — certainly not for any excitement behind the wheel because there hasn’t been any. Not once in all those years has it been something to admire visually either, however, for this eighth generation we have a model that’s turning heads ever since it debuted last year. Credit CEO Akio Toyoda, who decreed all of Toyota’s new products should be infused with at least a pinch of stylistic passion. The newbie is receiving plenty of double takes due to the aggressively styled exterior; it has a bold new face that is characterised by a two-grille design, with sweeping lines and new taillights but with this HEV version, the body isn’t the only thing to gawk at — it’s that unbelievable number on the odometer too...

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The official combined fuel economy of the HEV is an eye-wideningly impressive 4.5-litres per 100km. Imagine that; weighing over 2,000kg and powered by a 2.5-litre engine, yet returning that sort of fuel-efficiency?
A conventional four-cylinder would struggle to get close to that number. The HEV only emits 90g/km of CO2 and in comparison, the 2.5-litre petrol-only version drinks 7.4-litres per 100km (making the hybrid 70 per cent more efficient) and coughs out 194g/km of CO2.

First introduced in the UAE in 2008 and tested by fleet operators, the HEV’s powertrain is as efficient as the Prius’. Alone, the 2.5-litre four-pot makes 176 horses but when you add the 118-horse electric motor to the mix, you get a grand total of 208 and in spite of the CVT, there’s good response when you floor the throttle especially when you have Sport mode engaged. To the transmission’s credit, it does its best to simulate a six-speed sequential shift — there are far worse CVTs out there. The HEV is better balanced too as relocating the lithium-ion battery pack forward of the rear axle lowers the centre of gravity and has given it an even weight distribution. It is finally displaying a degree of poise, precision and composure that had never been seen before. When there’s enough charge it can run entirely on battery power and at first this can feel rather unnerving; there is absolutely no sound or vibration when you start it up — but unlike other hybrid vehicles when the petrol motor kicks in, the transition here is almost seamless.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The interior has a premium feel about it and the quality of plastics and leather is top-class while the boldly designed dash is composed of asymmetrical swoops and curves and this all looks very pleasing to the eye. The cabin is further accentuated with a range of advanced features such as a wireless charging system for smartphones, dual-zone automatic air conditioning system, six-speaker sound system, multi-adjustable power front seats, and 60/40 split and reclining rear seats. It also packs the latest in-vehicle information technology displays, relaying info through two available interlinked displays; a 7.0in multi-information display within the instrument cluster, and an 8.0in audio/navigation control panel that is seamlessly integrated into the centre console. Safety remains a priority and it’s heartening to know that the HEV employs a comprehensive array of features to protect passengers including six SRS airbags, Vehicle Stability Control, Anti-lock Braking System, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist and Hill-start Assist Control.

At Dh133,500, it is a fair chunk of change more than the petrol-only 2.5-litre (Dh99,000) but if driven sensibly over time you can make up the difference via less stops at the pumps. And with it being far cleaner and less damaging to the environment, your great, great, great, great grandchildren will thank you. Probably. What is for certain is that the new Camry isn’t a boring car anymore and this sophisticated HEV is the one I would pick.