Words by Aninda Sardar
Photography by Gaurav S Thombre
This story starts with a question. Why are people across the globe increasingly turning to hybrid technology for travel? Take Toyota, for instance. They have sold 10 million units. That is ten million thinking brains cutting across countries and even continents that have decided that Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive technology is the right choice for them. There is of course the reduced environmental impact to consider but is that all there is to a hybrid? We spent a few days with the Toyota Camry Hybrid to find out how we could best clean up our driving act.
Under the Camry Hybrid’s skin
Like all conventional cars, under the Camry Hybrid’s bonnet is a 2.5-litre (2494cc) four-cylinder petrol engine that makes 158bhp and 213Nm of peak torque, which are sent to the front wheels via a smooth electronically controlled CVT. Under normal circumstances that would have been the end of the story but in the Camry Hybrid, there is also a 650-volt permanent magnet synchronous electric motor that draws power from a nickel metal hydride battery.
When the battery is fully charged the car can be driven on just electric power alone for a limited distance as long as you stick to less than 40kmph. Once the battery is close to becoming completely drained, the engine switches itself on automatically and then goes to work not only to provide propulsion but also to act as a generator that charges the depleted batteries. The batteries are also charged via brake energy recovery, which converts heat energy generated under braking into kinetic energy to be stored in the battery.
These help the Camry Hybrid stretch every litre of petrol a bit more than it would without the Hybrid Synergy Drive at work. As a result, over the same distance it pollutes a lot less than a conventional car. In fact, the Camry Hybrid emits no more than 122 grams of CO2 for every kilometre of travel and that’s probably one of the lowest in its class, if not the lowest.
Getting the best from the Camry Hybrid
Even before you’ve left your garage there are things you can do to increase the efficiency of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system of the Camry. To start with plan your trip. While this is sort of like a thumb rule irrespective of the powertrain at your beck and call, it becomes even more important when you’re dealing with a hybrid. The key to maximising the range of the vehicle using all that electricity is to get up to a speed that will allow you to cruise comfortably and thereafter rely on battery power to keep cruising for as long as you can. To be able to do that, you need to get out of home when the chance of encountering stop-and-go traffic is the least.
Basics like maintaining the recommended tyre pressure and filling fuel early in the day or late at night when temperatures are cooler of course are de rigueur and don’t need to be mentioned separately. What needs to be mentioned however is the choice of driving mode. A lot of people make the mistake of automatically selecting EV mode, assuming that it will help increase the range. Fact is, it doesn’t. You’ve got to be more careful in your choice. If you live in a part of town that has inclines, like I do, it’s best to start in Eco mode where the effort to accelerate up a slope is not left to the battery. Should you use EV mode under such circumstances all you will do is drain the battery without any significant gains on the odo. Instead get to a level ground or a downward slope, where gravity is a friend and not an adversary, and then engage EV mode.
Once on the move, remember that momentum is your best friend. Get up to a cruising speed using the power of the engine and then let the battery take over. That speed could be as slow as 40kmph or it could be as high as 100kmph, the principle remains the same. At cruising speed where the vehicle has gained momentum, the 140bhp and the 270Nm of max torque supplied by the electric motor is enough to keep the vehicle moving ahead. This is what truly helps the hybrid system increase the range of what is otherwise a conventionally powered car.
Judicious use of the gear selector lever is also recommended. Stopped at a traffic signal for over half a minute? Shift into neutral. Like all modern eco-conscious cars, the Camry Hybrid gets Start/Stop tech but here it is more evolved. If the engine is charging the battery at the time when you roll to a stop, it will continue to charge the battery until there is enough charge in the battery to take over the running of the air-con and the music system. Once the battery is charged to a sufficient level, the engine cuts out and the motor takes over. Shifting the car into neutral shuts the engine down even sooner and only when the battery is critically depleted does it turn itself back on. Speaking of the air-con, some of us like our cabin chilled to refrigeration levels. Bringing it down to comfortable from freezing also reduces consumption since the load on the powertrain lessens.
Being smooth is another element to take into consideration. The smoother you are with the throttle, the less fuel you waste through sudden spurts of acceleration. The same holds true of braking as well. Instead of braking heavily, plan your braking in advance (as much as possible) and apply the brakes in one smooth motion. A commonly held misconception is that quick acceleration and then heavy braking recharges the battery faster. Yet another myth that needs busting. ALL batteries, the Camry Hybrid’s high tech nickel metal hydride one included, charge much better with a smooth and stable flow of electricity rather than spikes. Ergo? Smooth inputs equals better charging and a better charged battery means greater range on electricity.
A principle that is vindicated by the display from the on-board computer. Every single time we drove smoothly, we managed to extract better fuel efficiency and the exact opposite happened when we were heavy with the controls. The best we got was 16.7kmpl, on the highway run of course, where we could cruise at a comfortable 100kmph and let the e-motor take over the propulsion duties for the most part. We reckon if it were not for the long queues at the two toll booths and the ghat section of the Mumbai-Pune expressway, this figure would be higher still.
Average fuel economy over use in multiple driving environments, including stop-and-go traffic, hovered in the region of 12.3 to 13.2kmpl. Going by the numbers thrown back at us by the car’s on-board computer and the fact that the Camry Hybrid gets a 65-litre petrol tank, we’re talking a range of over 800km! Which, quite frankly, is super impressive considering that the Camry Hybrid tips the scales at 1635 kilos (kerb weight), uses a 2.5-litre engine and has been driven most often through Pune’s rush hour traffic.