Range anxiety: can the Toyota Camry hybrid go the distance?

Toyota says its hybrid can do 850km on one tank of fuel - we take up the challenge

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If you think motoring as we know it is not about to be taken over by hybrid and electric cars, you're driving into the future with your eyes closed, literally and metaphorically.

The evidence is already all around us in the UAE, from hundreds of hybrid taxis to a higher density of Teslas than I have seen anywhere outside the carmaker’s home state of California.

Despite joyfully piloting countless cars that do not exactly contribute to saving the environment, I am nevertheless keen to champion green motoring at every possible juncture. Call it emotional offsetting. Which brings me to the Toyota Camry HEV – or hybrid electric vehicle – this year made available to private buyers in the UAE for the first time.

For a decade, taxi operators here have used Camry HEVs, initially in limited numbers. Since then, the cars have collectively travelled more than 100 million kilometres, during which time Toyota says 6,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide were saved. Globally, the Japanese brand says it has managed a 90-million-tonne carbon-dioxide reduction thanks to the sale of almost 11.5 million electrified Toyota vehicles. Impressive, world-rescuing figures, no doubt about that.

One of the most attention-grabbing figures trumpeted when the new Camry HEV was unveiled in Dubai this year was a range of 850km on one tank of fuel. So I decided to take one of the new models on a road trip to test that claim.

I earnestly thank the men from Al Futtaim who deliver my test Camry for not bringing me a taxi-esque silver example that might lead to cases of mistaken identity. Thankfully resplendent in a bold blue, this Camry looks twice as nice as the brand's duller metallic shades.

While the Camry can engage full EV mode at low speeds under modest acceleration, I figure that a fuller test would be on the open road. One trip to the petrol station later, at a cost of about Dh105 for a full tank, and it’s go time.

The plan is a Friday cruise down the deserted-on-a-weekend E11, about 360km towards the border with Saudi Arabia, then turn round and see how far that tank of fuel will last heading back to Abu Dhabi – and hopefully beyond.

Multiply that 360km by two for the return journey, and 130km of change should remain from that 850km balance – or in more visual terms, enough petrol to reach Al Barsha in Dubai.

Admittedly, given that the highway to Saudi Arabia has the highest speed limit in the UAE, at 160kph, I will burn more fuel than driving in the city. Yet I'm careful to avoid aggressive acceleration and for almost the entire trip, the Camry's cruise control is set to a sensible 159kph.

Forgoing RPM numbers, the tachometer needle either sits in "CHG" to show when the battery is recharging, a green "Eco" range that indicates economic driving, or "PWR" when you push the right-hand pedal hard. The needle is never in danger of leaving the "Eco" section at any point while I'm cruising, which comprises about 95 per cent of the journey. There are also three driving modes – Eco, Normal or Sport. I religiously stick to the first.

So did I make it to Al Barsha? I’m sad to report, not even close – I don’t even arrive back in Abu Dhabi without an Adnoc stop. At the last petrol station before the Camry would have conked out, not far from Al Mirfa, the trip counter is showing 511km, with 40km of range remaining; even at full, the estimated range is more than 100km short of that magical 850km mark.

During a subsequent taxi journey in a Camry HEV, I quiz its unsuspecting driver about his car.

He assures me that when it comes to urban driving, fuel consumption is half that of the full-petrol equivalent, but he also laments that there is “no difference” on the highway, when the battery can’t influence things.

I desperately want to tell you to buy a Camry HEV, and if the lion’s share of your driving is slow urban commuting, it could still prove a great option. But if you frequently city hop for work or leisure, my fuel figures, and a starting price of Dh133,500, suggest a different story. Toyota has plenty more impressive technology on the way, however, so don’t write off the green brigade just yet.


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