Toyota Camry Hybrid rolls on

Emma Jayne Williams / Fort Worth Star-Telegram /

Published May 5, 2013 at 05:00AM

Last year, Toyota introduced the redesigned midsize Camry Hybrid sedan, which came as part of the makeover of the entire Camry line.

The hybrid got a revised Synergy Drive system, with a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and improved fuel economy.

Changes to the hybrid were part of an overall Camry makeover, including the gasoline-only models.

Hybrid prices this year range from $26,140 for the base LE to $27,670 for the top-of-the-line XLE.

For 2013, there are just a few minor enhancements, including a rear cross-traffic alert system for the optional blind-spot monitoring system, new soft-touch materials on front-door panels for the LE model, and new stitching accents on the door panels of the leather-equipped models.

In its first year, the new Camry hybrid was named the best sedan in the midsize segment by Consumer Reports, based in part on its great fuel economy, but also on its price, which is not much more than you would pay for a gasoline-only Camry with similar content.

The newest hybrid model is lighter, with improved aerodynamics, helping it to achieve more than a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy over the previous generation.

EPA ratings are 43 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway for the LE model, and 40/38 for the XLE. The tank holds 17 gallons, and the engine uses unleaded regular gas.

With its combination of a gasoline engine and electric motor, the Camry Hybrid is certified as an Advanced Technology-Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle. This is not a plug-in hybrid, so it never has to connect to an outside power source. The onboard nickel-metal-hydride battery is recharged while the vehicle is running on gasoline power or slowing down.

Other features also aid fuel efficiency, including a new water-cooled system that recirculates exhaust gas to lower emissions; an EV Drive mode, which allows the vehicle to operate on battery power alone for up to 1.6 miles at speeds below 25 mph; and ECO mode, which optimizes air conditioning output and throttle response to save gasoline.

Multiple options packages are offered. My tester was the XLE, which has more standard equipment than the LE, including 17-inch alloy wheels (16-inch steel on the LE), chrome exhaust tip, eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and a four-way manual passenger seat.

This is a very pleasant car to drive, with plenty of power. There is a continuously variable automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive is standard. The drive system has a combined total of 200 horsepower; the gasoline engine alone has 156 HP.

My tester came with an audio/navigation/Entune package with a 6.1-inch touch screen. The audio/navigation system included voice activation for navigation and Bluetooth, real-time traffic information, satellite radio, iPod and USB connections, MP3/WMA player, six speakers, and the Toyota Entune system, which includes apps such as Bing, Pandora, iHeartradio, MovieTickets.com, sports and stocks.

A pricer audio/navigation package upgrades to a JBL Greenedge sound system with 10 speakers.

The audio/navigation system was a little more complicated and time-consuming than some, and also less intuitive. I would suggest studying the manual for full utilization and enjoyment.

With the redesign, the Camry’s interior is nicer, with a padded and stitched dash (dark on top, light on the bottom) and two-tone textured cloth seats. Two-tone heated leather is also available with the optional leather package, but was not included on the test vehicle.

My tester had the light-gray interior with darker gray-on-gray geometric-textured inserts on four seating positions. A cloth panel below the windowsills and on the armrests added a soft touch to the doors. The front of the armrests, where the window controls were located, was trimmed in a gray-on-gray “grained” plastic. The same plastic trimmed the lower dash, center console and shifter knob.

The driver’s area felt very roomy and wide open, with 41.6 inches of legroom and 38.8 inches of headroom. I didn’t feel the need to duck as I entered, and I could move my legs without bumping into something. The front passenger had lots of space under the dash as well.

Rear passengers weren’t slighted on space, either, with 38.9 inches of legroom and 38.1 inches of headroom. Even the middle seat was adequate for an older child or small adult on a short trip, with no “hump” blocking the floor, and plenty of headroom. The rear middle seat is not equipped for a child safety seat, though — which is exactly where I would want to put one, as that’s the safest place in the car.

The trunk of the hybrid model is a little smaller than that of the gasoline-only Camry, 13.1 cubic feet, to accommodate the battery and hybrid controller.

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Base price: $26,140

As tested: $30,555

Type: Hybrid sedan

Engine: Synergy Drive system with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine

Mileage: 43 mpg city, 39 mpg highway