Toyota Camry Hybrid i-Tech 2010 Review

July 23rd, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

It’s not just a hybrid drivetrain that’s arrived in NZ with the latest Toyota Camry, it’s come carrying great anticipation too. While it’s often only badge fans that eagerly await a new model, the Camry Hybrid has sparked interest from private buyers, fleet purchasers, the environmentally conscious and even interested Taxi Drivers. Why shouldn’t it be anticipated either, it’s (almost) locally produced in South Australia, has the latest in fuel saving tech and is a fresh take on an old favourite. So is this hybrid machine really worth all the fuss? Car and SUV spent a week playing an eco-friendly, fleet-buying taxi driver to find out more.

While Toyota’s Prius was always designed to be a hybrid-only vehicle, the Camry doesn’t share that luxury and small tweaks have been made to its appearance for both functional reasons and to distance it from lower-spec siblings.  The most noticeable difference comes with a unique front bumper and grille. More than just give it a reworked face the new front end provides additional cooling to the engine bay and drops the coefficient drag by six percent to just .27cd. There’s also eye-catching blue tinted headlights, ‘Hybrid’ badges all round and some classy chrome trim on the boot and front grille. Our tested top model Camry Hybrid i-Tech also features 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, LED rear lights and a rear boot spoiler as standard kit. Elsewhere it shares the same low-key but modern styling as the rest of the Camry range.

In the cabin there’s a distinct luxury feel with black leather upholstery and high-grade dark plastics. One point of interest is an all-new instrument cluster that looks fantastic and drops the traditional tachometer in favour of an instantaneous fuel consumption meter. This special meter allows the driver to gauge how economically they are driving and lets them know when the petrol engine is off and the car is regenerating energy. The central instrument panel is also of note with its cool blue illumination, silver switchgear and large control screen. This touch screen handles standard stereo functions but also gives a detailed fuel consumption graph and an energy-use display that tells everyone when the electric motor is working and when it’s recharging. The rest of the cabin is slightly uninspired but offers good visibility and comfortable seating for five adults. The leather seats are nicely soft but could use more lateral support and there are ample small storage options front and back. Boot storage however, has been compromised by the nickel metal hydride battery packs and capacity is reduced by 71-litres to 389-litres. It’s also more difficult to load longer items into the boot, but the back seat still split-folds to reveal a slim ski-port.

Continue reading “Toyota Camry Hybrid i-Tech 2010 Review” »

Toyota to cut domestic production by 20%

July 23rd, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Toyota and Honda have been making hay while the sun shines on their hybrid vehicles in Japan. But that is set to change as the Japanese government’s incentives for eco cars, which has been running for the past two years is about to end. The Toyota Prius has been the top-selling vehicle in Japan for more than a year and even the mixed-reviewed Honda Insight has sold beyond expectations. The eco car incentives end in October and with the expected drop in sales, Toyota is now planning on a sizeable cut to domestic production.

News agencies in Japan have been reporting that Toyota will slash production from its current 14,000 vehicles a day to fewer than 12,000 for the final quarter of the year. The automaker does expect sales to recover again later in the year and has kept its same production targets for the full fiscal year.

Honda to cease diesel engine development

July 19th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

It’s no secret how far diesel engines have come in the last few years. Old issues like rough running, nasty smells, loud operation and narrow power bands have all been ironed out. But after all that hard work, many automakers are now turning much of their focus on to electric and hybrid vehicles.

According to sources in Japan, Honda is joining the list of global automakers that have abandoned plans to move further into diesel power development. Instead, Honda will continue to focus entirely on hybrid basket, developing a new system for use in larger vehicles. Currently, Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist technology is used in the Civic Hybrid and the Insight.

Honda’s next hybrid system should further improve its current IMA tech, which has fallen short of the fuel efficiency and performance of rival Toyota, but is able to operate on the electric motor alone for longer stretches.

In addition to stopping development of clean diesel tech, Honda has also put the brakes on the new microcar plant in Japan that was to build future Kei cars for the domestic market.

Toyota working on new MR2 and Supra models

June 29th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

The rumors are back again that Toyota is getting busy developing a new MR2 and a hybrid Supra. This type of Toyota-based speculation isn’t new but it may have some traction now with hybrid sales on a upswing and the idea of a V6 hybrid sports car seeming more realistic. Apparently the vehicle to mark the grand return of the Supra is being developed alongside the FT-86, a car that appears to be constantly delayed. The most optimistic date for seeing either car will be 2013.

Apparently the MR2 will get a 1.5-litre hybrid set-up, following the lead of the now popular-in-Japan Honda CRZ, which itself was the claimed rebirth of the CR-X. According to the recent reports, the MR2  was the pet project of Hiromu Naruse, Toyota’s chief test driver. Unfortunately, Naruse died last week while testing another one of his projects, the Lexus LFA (read news). With it being only in a planning stage and having lost its leader, the new MR2 will most likely be on hold once again.

Next-generation Nissan GT-R could go hybrid

June 24th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Rumors of a hybrid-drive system for the next Nissan GT-R aren’t exactly new and have been dominating fan websites since last year. But now there may be some truth behind the speculation. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s has made a very public commitment to electric vehicles, so it won’t be a surprise that the automaker is seriously considering adding some form of battery power to the next version of its hero sports car. Speaking at a recent event over in Australia, GT-R chief engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno confirmed that an alternative powertrain of some description will be a necessity to keep the GT-R up-to-date and to help meet future emissions and fuel economy regulations.

Over in Europe big guns Mercedes-Benz and Audi have already announced plans to build electric versions of the SLS AMG and R8. According to Mizuno, Nissan is hedging its bets and this stage and is considering a straight battery variant, a hybrid or even a diesel version. A battery version is a strong possibility, but Mizuno also says a hybrid wouldn’t be too hard thanks to the GT-R’s front engine/rear transaxle layout. Currently the Nissan Leaf and other EVs are giving Nissan some breathing room on the total emissions regulations, so a new GT-R isn’t going to happen tomorrow. At this point work hasn’t begun on the new model and no official decision has been made on the powertrain. Stay tuned.

Rotary-power rumours for next-generation Mazda MX-5

June 18th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Some interesting rumors have started surfacing that the next-generation 2012 Mazda MX-5 could tip the scales at just 1,000kg and deliver an impressive 4.7l/100km economy without dropping any horsepower. Initial reports claimed that the MX-5 was achieving this feat by using Mazda’s forthcoming SKY-G engines, but now a very different story is coming out of Mazda HQ.

Apparently the 2012 MX-5 will receive a rotary powerplant with a displacement of either 1.2 or 1.3 litres, this will help the roadster drop off a few pounds in the process. However, the Wankel engine isn’t exactly known for its fuel efficiency so the rumored rotary would be of the hybrid variety. That sounds unbelievable, but the Wankel/hybrid pairing has already been achieved in the form of a Fiat 500 prototype built by FEV. The little Fiat contains a rotary engine that also acts as a generator for a Lithium-Ion battery pack.

While it’s an intriguing concept, this time round the MX-5 will most likely use a small, efficient four-cylinder with turbocharging. After all, one of the most attractive qualities of the MX-5 is it’s bargain price tag, and hybrids aren’t cheap, or that light either.

Next-gen Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru STI to be diesel powered

June 17th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

According to internet rumours, both Mitsubishi and Subaru are planning diesel versions of their respective sports-focused EVO and STi models.

For Mitsubishi, the story seems fairly far-fetched, and at this stage unlikely. But according to a UK car magazine, the brand has considered scrapping a petrol-powered Lancer Evolution model altogether, while also rejecting plans for a petrol-hybrid version, and has instead settled on producing the model as diesel-electric hybrid only.

Producing the EVO as a diesel-only offering has some major drawbacks. It would keep the vehicle out of most motor-sport competition for one, and it would also make it a difficult sell in diesel-resistant markets such as Japan and the United States. The only positive is an ability to keep its CO2 emissions to below the 200 g/km mark.

In terms of performance the new diesel-electric set up should allow the next-gen EVO to do the 0-100 km/h sprint in under five seconds. The model would also continue to use the S-AWC all-wheel drive system that makes the EVO such a sharp handler.

For the Impreza STi the changes won’t be so extreme, Subaru is planning on a diesel version for the new model due out in 2012. The engine would be an increased-output version of the 2.0 litre diesel that’s currently in the Impreza lineup.

Toyota’s FT-86 coupe delayed and could be a hybrid

May 27th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Rumours have begun circulating that the release of Toyota’s FT-86 rear-drive sports coupe will be delayed from 2011 to 2013.

The reasons behind the delay are varied, and include speculation on a different design direction, the economic slowdown, Toyota’s recent recall issues and interestingly the possibility of a revised powertrain strategy that could include some kind of hybrid power.

The FT-86 generated some serious interest in the performance car scene after all it was to be the spiritual successor to the Corolla AE86 but it was just a concept. Now, Toyota is apparently second-guessing the styling of the coupe before it reaches production. ToMoCo is also keeping a close eye on the success of the Honda CR-Z, which may end up influencing Toyota’s decision on the final drivetrain specs of the FT-86.

That could mean a hybrid powerplant is on the cards, which may not be a bad thing, but if Toyota decides to produce the coupe as a front-driver, it will loose most of its cred rapidly. More will be revealed when the next example of the FT-86 debuts at the Tokyo Motor Show at the end of 2011.