I recently owned a Hybrid car for close to a year. I loved it, so cheap on gas, on maintenance, and so fast to drive: it was a 2008 Camry Hybrid. Like everyone else, prior to owning one, I knew little about the technology of hybrids, nothing about its behaviour or cost in real life, and like most, I was wary about reliability and low temperature operations in freezing weather such as in Canada.
With environmental concerns attracting more public attention, I noticed new, slick looking Hybrids parked close to the government buildings in the Nation’s Capital. I started to realize that most ”chauffeur” driven high level public servants and ministers were being driven in these new oil price beater hybrid models. I grew fond of seeing this quite stylish Camry with its extended cab type appearance (wide back seat and door) when I started to talk to myself: if these cars are used daily by executives, they must have a minimum comfort and reliability level, must they not?
Anyhow, I was desperate to get out of my 1997 BMW 740iL, a gorgeous black Panther, extremely well equipped car with tremendous power (V8 with 300 horses hooked up to a 5 speed automatic transmission). But it was also a gas-guzzling car, a needy/un-reliable beast, always yearning for a new car part or a repair. The never-ending garage visits killed the joy of driving it, even the joy of living with it, since half of the time I wasn’t enjoying the driving but spending that time learning a new car part name that I had never imagined existed.
So I was looking around for a newer Mazda 6 (the new ’09′s) when I decided to see if I could find a bargain used Camry Hybrid. After only a few weeks, I found a great deal on a Camry Hybrid with low mileage on the south-west side of Montreal, a 2008 Camry Hybrid, for $21,000 (fall of 2009).
On my way to the dealership to pick it up, my Panther let up a last call of needy companionship and its V8 broke down on my way to pick up the Hybrid. I was stuck with towing charge on my way to the dealer in Montreal! Ouch! It doesn’t look good to get to a dealership with your trade-in attached to a tow truck. My Panther had me dish out an additional three thousand dollars for lost trade value and the towing charge. After all these thrilling emotions (towing, being stuck with no GPS on a black lit Trans-Canada highway), I was finally sitting behind the wheel and driving my almost new 2008 Camry Hybrid home, ready to confront killer gas prices and determined to free myself of oil economics.
First impression was in the ”wow” nature. Quiet, smooth, powerful, and a silky shifting continuously variable transmission (called a CVT, based on snowmobile technology which I’ve heard is Canadian Bombardier technology). And, I experienced a clear relief that I was back into long term Japanese reliability, a sense of stability and security emanating from the overall quality of assembly, drive feel, body stiffness and well tuned suspension – hybrid tuned between comfort and sport, of course. Not even the recall for the acceleration peddle could blow my high. Being picky, anyway, the Hybrid wasn’t even listed in the initial models that ”could” be affected. However, I guess Toyota stayed on the safe side and did complete a service recall schedule on my car a few months after my purchase.
My ’08 Hybrid was a base model Hybrid. However, with a Hybrid, you get the deluxe edition anyway (minus the leather and sunroof) which includes aluminum 16” wheels, remote, power everything and an incredible feature, a power switch (on or off) button to turn the car on or off. It included the deluxe JBL sound system with an in dash 6 CD changer, satellite radio ready, hook-ups for charging and connecting ”MP3/Ipods”, cruise and traction controls, ABS brakes and SRS crash cushions all around.
So. I got over my first impression and I started enjoying the long term benefit of owning a hybrid car. On this model, the electric motor operates first and through the CVT transmission and the gas motor assists the electric motor. As time went by, I discovered the incredible freedom the combination power switch (on or off button) electric-gas motor provided. In the end, it became a thrilling feature because of quick, instant starts of the electric motor start-up. To be more specific, the electronic key remote opened unlocked doors simply when approaching the car (keyless entry), turning on the motor was keyless, instant and silent, with a simple ”ready” light that came on.
I slowly discovered the freedom of a tap on the power switch (count until 3) and away you go, I was off in no time. The Camry Hybrid is an incredible, seamless integration between man/woman and machine.
The 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid was the best car I have owned in my life. Why? For all it has and does not have: size, power, utilities, accessories, slick lines, and strong brakes. I used less than 10% on 17,000 kilometres brake lining over a one year period. Gas wise, the Hybrid used only around 8 litres on average per 100 kilometres on a bad days! I base this average on a driving mix of 75% city, 25% highway. This gas consumption figure is based on any weather condition, both super hot and super cold weather conditions. Wow!
Winter conditions were made especially easier with the keyless entry and keyless ”ready” but mainly for quick get in and go. Imagine it’s minus-20 degrees Celsius, freezing cold. An electric motor which isn’t really affected by temperature but its batteries are! However, you’ve got yourself a stack of 10-20 equivalent batteries waiting to power up. Imagine you don’t have to listen to your crying, hurting, suffering, helpless gas engine expressing resistance from being frozen because you forgot to plug in the block heater. The engine starts up just like turning on a lamp!
Now that makes a Canadian winter seem easier, would it not? The electric motor allows the 2.4 litre engine to warm up at its convenience while it assumes the greater part of the power at first. The gas motor is ready (like any cold motor) to assist ‘the warming up driving period” but isn’t stressed like an ordinary gas engine when it’s cold!
You’re able to hit that magic rating of 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres in all driving conditions! Wow! Driving at a constant speed of 62 km/h without acceleration usually shuts the gas engine off. The battery takes over.
After a year of driving (about 17,000 kilometres) in the Hybrid Camry I used less than 10% of the brake pads, tires wear was minimal, oil was cleaner than average (of course, the gas motor is used less), oil changes were done at 7,000 kilometres (they recommend changing every 10,000 kilometres). Since the electric and gas motors are working together, you’re actually not only saving on oil usage but actually saving wear and tear on the gas motor!
Some of my friends were nervous about the gas motor stopping at red lights but, once you get used to it, it becomes as normal as a grumbling V8 spewing money out the exhaust in waiting. Instead, you’re listening to dead silence. With 200 horses ready to serve and gear up on a CVT transmission (no delay for downshifting or up shifting) and averages of 6 to 8 litres of gasoline per 100 kilometres with heavy sporty driving, what else would fit that ”bill” in an environment of high gas prices between $1 to $1.20 per litre of gasoline ? If you are looking for ways to live greener, cleaner to help our environment, the Camry Hybrid is one of your options.
You can beat a lot of competition from the green light for half the dollar amount and leave them in the dust while you’re running on a fraction of the cost of gasoline! Even if economics were not a factor, this car is a driver’s delight, costs pennies to maintain, and delivers seamless service from A to B. It’s a real life car (not a poster in a magazine) that serves all of our different personalities, sporty, family, economical, environmentally friendly and dependable.
Of the 15 cars I have owned in 20 years, the 2008 Camry Hybrid was the best car in real life conditions in winter conditions from -25c to -35 Celsius and it was the most comfortable car I ever owned. When it comes winter, the electric smooth startups in the Canadian winters were a bonus! In the summer, when parked with the gas motor turned off, the air conditioning continuously charges and runs on the huge battery pack the Hybrid hides in its belly. Imagine your car running on 50 bucks of gas for an average of 600 kilometres with a 200 horsepower at your feet?
I miss my Hybrid. During the fall of 2010, we had to part. I had to cash in the capital and replace it with a ”top shape” 1995 Toyota Corolla! A good, reliable car but with a higher operating cost, the Corolla’s 1.6 litre motor with a mere 105 horse power, carrying 500 kilograms less than the Camry Hybrid, with an average of 12.2 litres of gas per 100 kilometres. What? Yup. Your Toyota Corolla seems to still be cheap but in oil driven economy, you start to wonder about those creeping operating costs. You start to think about the new economy, climate change, greener energy, eco-friendly technology and more sustainable approaches to our everyday lives.
I miss my Camry Hybrid. But we will meet again soon, sooner than we think!