2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid first drive review: A hard formula to mess up

It may not be the most exciting car on the planet, but the Toyota Camry Hybrid absolutely excels for its intended purpose. It is comfortable, efficient and sufficiently equipped with modern amenities. For 2021, a smattering of non-essential upgrades slightly refines the formula, making a contextually excellent vehicle much better.

New technology, but also not

The most immediately noticeable update to the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid is the addition of a new “floating” screen that replaces the one set in the dashboard. The entire central part of the dashboard has been redesigned to accommodate this new display, which measures 9 inches on my Hybrid XLE tester, though the lower trim settles for just 7 inches. Either way, it’s prominent, and the new look still packs the same physical climate control buttons, which are easy to reach and use with little distraction. Charging takes place via different USB ports, but only the one under the dashboard is able to mirror the smartphone; the USB-A and USB-C ports in the armrest are for charging.

Although the screen may be new, the Entune the software on it is not. It’s the same familiar UI found in every modern Toyota, and it’s the same one we’ve been aware of for the past couple of years. Not a bad setup at all, with enough response times and both Apple CarPlay is Android Auto, plus integration with Amazon Alexa, plus a built-in navigation system that looks old but works well. However, no one seemed to be telling Toyota that when you start making much bigger screens, you could I want to update the resolution, because everything on my tester’s display is simply improved and, as a result, pixelated.

Image quality isn’t the best in other ways as well. The head-up display that comes on high-end finishes is surprisingly blurry, enough to become a distraction. The backup camera is, frankly, among the worst on offer in the industry, with an image so grainy (and magnified, given the screen size) that details simply disappear in a blur. Oddly enough, the small color display between the gauges is crisp and incredibly easy to read at a glance. I do not understand.

What most buyers will appreciate, however, is the updated Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 Plus system, which is standard on every Camry. While I don’t want to test the improved pedestrian and cyclist detection, nor the left turn detection system that prevents me from crawling into an intersection at the wrong time, it’s a solid peace of mind that they are there. Adaptive Cruise has been updated and I like that you now accelerate during a lane change, but Active Lane Keeping Assist is all too heavy, just as it is in the updated 2021 Lexus IS I drove recently. Leave that bit off, though, and it’s smooth highway navigation, as long as you can center your vehicle.

New look, but also no

The 2021 Toyota Camry has an updated styling. You can say? Me neither. In case you’re curious, the more cushier LE and XLE models get new wheels, the latter rolling about 18 inches, which seem sufficiently luxury-oriented on my tester. This hybrid also has a new interior herringbone seat model, which actually looks like business, even if it’s on the slim side. The sportier SE and XSE variants also get some changes to the lower fascia.

That’s all. It’s a Camry. Most of the time, people buy it because it’s a damn good family car. Sure, the bottom grill is a little big, but the whole thing looks nice enough to get past the meeting in the waiter’s line.

Effortless hybrid power

The powertrain of the 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid remains unchanged for this year, and that’s good, because it’s already stellar. Under the hood is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter in-line four that combines with a pair of motor generators to produce 208 horsepower. While it might not seem like that much for a midsize sedan like this, there’s a good amount of get-up-and-go if I need to shoot a hole when turning on a faster road. Once speed is reached, it’s all about balancing the throttle to maintain efficiency, something that’s easy to do with the large power gauge on the right side. No matter how much driving force you draw, however, the Camry Hybrid responds with smooth delivery.

You might not consider such a luxurious Camry, but the ride quality that comes at this price point is very, very hard to beat.

Andrew Krok / Roadshow

The body is similarly tuned. In fact, it’s pretty close to Lexus’ ride quality, with a soft damper tuning that turns rough roads into soft undulations. The XLE is a luxury themed upholstery and on the road excels at keeping occupants comfortable. Sure, it’s a little nautical in the corners, but you’d jump for the Camry TRD if you wanted flatness.

The ride of the Camry Hybrid is not only comfortable without effort, but also efficient. The EPA rates the 2021 Camry Hybrid XLE at 44 miles per city gallon, 47 mpg on the highway and 46 mpg combined. My right foot is clearly approved by the government, as I make more or less in every category, maybe 1 or 2 mpg less, but some of that can be attributed to drivers from Michigan, um, a lively type.

Up to brass tacks

The 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid is good, but that’s because the current generation of Toyota Camry Hybrid has always been good. It’s comfortable, efficient, and more affordable than before, with my top-of-the-line XLE trim dominating a price tag of $ 33,165, down $ 560 from the previous year. Include the fact that buyers are getting more money than last year, and this car presents an opportunity that’s pretty hard to miss.

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