What springs to mind when you hear the term ‘hybrid car’? The Toyota Prius right?
It’s completely understandable. Toyota released the Prius, the world’s first ever mass-produced hybrid vehicle, back in 1997; a time when the term ‘sustainability’ wasn’t yet a part of everyday lexicon.
Of course the Prius scores brownie points for being one of the greenest cars available on the mass market, but for those conscious folk (myself included) who prefer their cars sporty-looking rather than compact cute, the Prius doesn’t really meet expectation.
Cue, the Camry Hybrid, a sophisticated, sportier, sexier, hybrid vehicle delivering less meek and more grunt.
Hybrid Experience in Japan
I was given the opportunity to see this hybrid vehicle for myself when Toyota reached out and invited me and several other influencers, on a trip to Japan to see its latest Camry Hybrid model and test drive it for myself.
I hadn’t been to Japan before and was initially concerned that there would be limited vegan food options but these thoughts were quickly put to rest when I realised that Toyota had accommodated my plant-based food requirements in the itinerary. Love when companies ‘get it’!
It was super chilly in Japan, with temperatures of about five degrees celsius during the day, but I quickly adapted to Japan’s climate, welcoming the cold after the sweltering heat of a Queensland summer. I was only there for a few days but there was plenty of time to experience the incredible culture, vegan food and sightsee, visiting places such as the world’s largest and busiest fish market Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the world’s tallest towers the Tokyo Skytree, Kongo Who Temple and the Imperial family’s shrine, Ise Shrine.
Oh What A Feeling!
Sightseeing was fun, but the next part was even more so: experiencing the Camry Hybrid on the open roads and at the popular motorsport race track, Suzuka Twin circuit.
Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with hybrid vehicles, they are essentially vehicles that run on two or more power sources, usually a petrol motor (internal combustion) as its primary source of propulsion and an electric motor powered by battery. In the new generation of the Camry Hybrid the electric motor can be found in the back rear of the car, unlikes previous generations where it was placed near the boot.
What makes hybrid cars like the Camry Hybrid ‘greener’ than standard cars, is that they require less fuel to run because the electric motor subsidises power. As we know, carbon dioxide and other harmful gases are released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels, so reducing consumer demand for fuel ultimately means the need to burn less. Because hybrid vehicles are designed to burn less fuel, it’s more environmentally-friendly.
Leaving Ngoya via bullet train and arriving at Isesha, we were met with a team of expert drivers and a lineup of sporty, sleek black cars, and I thought “Is this a Camry? No friggin’ way! The Camry has certainly come a long way from the boring family sedan!” I was already feeling VIP when I hopped into the car but when I saw the stylish and spacious interior, I went from VIP to diplomat.
Aside from its sophisticated exterior and stylish interior, here’s what makes the Camry Hybrid pretty awesome:
- The vehicles uses just 4.2L/100km, which means it takes you further on less fuel
- When you start the car and at very low speeds the car is pretty silent which at that point, you know the car is operating purely on the electric motor, which is what makes the car fuel-efficient. At higher speeds the petrol engine kicks in.
- The car creates more power when you brake, through a process called ‘Regenerative Braking’. The car captures that energy and places it back into the battery which is then used to power the electric motor. This happens through regular driving and you don’t even realise that it’s happening!
- There is a LCD energy monitor on the touch screen dashboard that provides driver insights, such as when the car is using its electric motor, creating power through its brakes or using its petrol engine.
- The car has four different driving modes that changes the characteristics of vehicle performance: ‘Eco’ which helps maximise your efficiency, ‘Sport’ that improves throttle response, ‘EV’ which enables electric driving to help you reduce noise and emissions and ‘Normal’.
- The car also uses four pieces of safety tech such as emergency braking to mitigate the impact of a crash, a radar cruise control which allows the car to adjust speeds so you don’t need to, automatic high beam so that it turns high beams off when a car approaches and automatically turns back on once the car passes, and a feature called ‘lane departure alert’ where the car will beep at you if you’re deviating out of the lane.
- Since the battery is stored in the rear seats rather than the boot, the overall luggage space in the boot is massive.
- There is an eight year warranty on the batteries to give you some peace of mind.
Our wonderful driver took us out on the open road of Ise-Shima skyline, a scenic drive that winds around beautiful mountains and stunning views of Iseshima and Ise Bay. Without an international drivers licence, I was left to enjoy the scenic drive as a passenger. Which was fine by me because I got to zen out for a bit, getting ultra comfortable by making full use of the ample leg and head room, using the socket in the middle console to charge my smartphone, all whilst taking in the beautiful surroundings. By the end of the drive however, I was itching to be behind the wheel.
First Ever Experience Driving a Hybrid
I got my chance the following day at the race circuit. I’ve been a passenger in several hybrids, often taxis, but I had yet to drive one myself and I was keen to give it a shot.
Since I live on a farm, I drive mostly on country roads and bumpy dirt tracks and it took some time to overcome my natural tendency to drive cautiously (defensive driving in a rural region means being prepared for kangaroos, cows and other animals that tend to cross country roads). I’m a tiny person, standing at 5’2 but the car didn’t feel too big for me. The seats adjusted well and I had no problems seeing over the dash. When I jumped in and started the car, I couldn’t believe how quiet it was, there was no ‘hum’ of the engine, and then I remembered it was operating on ‘EV’ mode and using the electric motor instead.
Driving on the race track, through witches hats and around bends, braking and accelerating according to the speed signs and track directions, I could feel the car manoeuvre at my every insistence, the wheel handled smoothly, it accelerated quickly and the brakes worked perfectly. I was impressed with its performance.
But the best part of the trip was saved for last when our ex-Formula One driver took to the wheel and clocked speeds of 140-150kms and 80-90kms around tight corners. With one clammy hand holding on to the roof handle, my heart racing and eyes wide and alert (and ready to shut if need be) I decided I would deal with it in the only way I knew how: I laughed. So there I was laughing through the entire experience, smelling the burning of the rubber tyres, and being jolted side to side, to and from, as the car manoeuvred at super fast speeds around the circuit and braking hard around corners. Not once did the Camry Hybrid give in. It delivered a power and efficiency I would never ever have linked to a Camry. It gained my total respect.
As I left the race track, exhilarated from the once-in-a-lifetime experience and thrilled with Toyota’s sporty hybrid car, a thought hit me: “I wonder if Toyota will consider launching a Hilux Hybrid?”
For more information on the Camry Hybrid, visit www.toyota.com.au/hybrid
Disclaimer: Eco Warrior Princess visited Japan in partnership with Toyota Australia. All opinions are our own.