Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: The case for hybrids

May 30, 2021 07:02 AM IST

With petrol prices rising and not enough charging plugs for EVs, an amalgamation of powertrains makes good sense

With petrol prices set to breach the 100 per litre mark, the case for hybrids and electric cars has never been better. Going all electric is the best way to dodge sky-rocketing fuel prices. What better than never having to visit a fuel station?

This Toyota vehicle feels best in the city and there’s more to it than its green credentials
This Toyota vehicle feels best in the city and there’s more to it than its green credentials

But as we very well know, EVs have serious limitations and compromises. You can’t stray too far from a charging plug, which only a privileged few have access to. Which brings us to hybrids: a good via media that neatly balances practicality and efficiency. In fact, hybrid cars that use a combination of an electric motor and a conventional petrol engine are seen as an important bridge in the eventual transition to a fully-electric car world and the one manufacturer pushing the hybrid agenda more than any other is Toyota. The Japanese company pioneered hybrid technology over 20 years ago with the Prius and since then millions have been sold all over the world.

Hallmark of efficiency

In India, the hybrid story hasn’t been anywhere near as successful mainly because hybrid cars are eye-wateringly expensive. They have to bear the dual costs of an electric motor and an internal combustion engine and sadly receive no tax concessions to lessen the burden, despite being environmentally-friendly. Illogically, hybrid cars fall in the highest GST bracket along with luxury cars.

As a result, the Toyota Camry Hybrid costs upwards of 40 lakh and hence to buy it for the fuel efficiency it offers (more efficient than a Maruti WagonR by the way) is like buying a mansion and fitting it with 25W bulbs to save on electricity costs. But, it still feels good when each tankful takes you further than every other premium or luxury car. And it feels even better in pure EV mode when it’s as clean and emission-free as a pure electric car.

There’s no drama in the design and the infotainment system isn’t up to date
There’s no drama in the design and the infotainment system isn’t up to date

For the record, the Camry Hybrid consistently delivered between 14 and 15kpl in Mumbai traffic, which is an amazing figure when you consider an equivalent petrol sedan would struggle to go beyond 8-9kpl.

But there’s more to the Camry than its green credentials. The hybrid powertrain makes for a creamy smooth luxury car and the utterly-seamless power delivery is what impressed me the most. Getting the two powertrains, a 178hp, 2.5-litre petrol engine and a 120hp electric motor, to work in perfect unison, without a jerk or jolt when switching from one to the other or working together, is the culmination of the work of thousands of engineers and decades of experience. It’s also a constant reminder as to why Toyota is the absolute master of hybrid technology. The e-CVT automatic transmission also plays a key role in the linear, uninterrupted power delivery, which is really the hallmark of the Camry Hybrid.

Urban & urbane

The Camry feels the best in the city because it’s at low speeds and for short runs that the electric motor completely takes over the job of propulsion.

On the highway, the Camry defaults to good old internal combustion because the all-electric drive is limited to 50kph. Beyond that speed, the engine kicks in. Also, whilst acceleration is smooth, it’s not entirely effortless and the petrol has to be pushed when overtaking on single lane roads or powering up the ghats. Yes, the electric motor plays a small role and does give a bit of a nudge, but it’s the petrol motor that’s doing most of the work. And this has an impact on fuel economy, which is worse on the highway than in the city. A drive to Mahabaleshwar, which involved some hard driving over three ghats to whisk this heavy sedan from sea level to an altitude of 4,500 feet, saw efficiency drop to 13kpl, which is still very good for a car of this size (the VW Tiguan Allspace gave 9.2kpl for the same run).

The cabin is a reflection of the calm even nondescript character of the Camry. There’s no drama in the design, the infotainment system isn’t up to date and the analogue instruments too looks very old school.

But once you sink into the very spacious and comfortable back seat, you realise this is possibly the best chauffer-driven car for the money. It is silent, smooth and the supple suspension nicely filters out bumps. For someone who likes to glide below the radar, quietly doing his bit for planet earth, I can’t think of a better executive luxury sedan.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, May 30, 2021

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    Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is the editor of Autocar India.

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