Category - Reviews and Road Tests

Use this as a level one category for car reviews and add each car maker as a sub-category

Driven: 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV

SAMSUNG CSC
In their press release for the new 2015 Escalade, Cadillac is quick to tout much-improved (and class-leading, if you exclude the Benz GL diesel) efficiency as the truck’s defining point. Improved efficiency is all well and good, and quite necessary for CAFE standards, but let’s be brutally honest here: nobody, and I mean nobody, buys an Escalade based on fuel economy. And that’s OK. SAMSUNG CSC So what else is new about the Escalade, something that might tempt buyers cross-shopping other upscale 7-seaters like the GL550, Range Rover or Lexus LX570? Style, for one. Caddy’s new corporate face has now been slapped on the Escalade, with a prominent waterfall grille framed by twin-tiered LED running lights. It’s a classy yet imposing look, and it works well on the considerable girth of the long-wheelbase ESV model I drove. Around back, full-length LED taillights continue the theme. It’s a look that implies power, an asset the Escalade has in spades. SAMSUNG CSC A new 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 torques does its part to motivate all Escalade models through a six-speed automatic. Both rear-wheel drive and 4WD are offered. Though it offers better economy than before through cylinder deactivation and direct injection, the 6.2L also brings 5% more power and 10% more torque. For all its strength, the new powertrain still requires a hefty shove of the gas to summon the acceleration it’s capable of. Once you move through that initial pedal travel, though, the Caddy hauls – even in this 3-ton beast of a hauler, sub-6-second 0-60 times are possible. It also sounds glorious doing it. SAMSUNG CSC The bulk of the redesign efforts clearly went toward the interior, which is a far more modern and sumptuous place to spend time in than before. Better aerodynamics and sealing techniques lead to a quieter cabin, and all the surfaces that passengers are likely to touch are wrapped in either leather, woodgrain or Alcantara. The CUE system makes its first appearance in Caddy’s largest product, as does the full-graphic gauge cluster. We’re getting more comfortable with CUE now through repeated use, though some ghost-in-the-machine type electronic anomalies found their way through the screens from time to time. We’re not sure whether our tester was a pre-production model or not, but it’s likely that a simple dealer reflash would have ameliorated the issues, if other similar reports are any indication. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Whether tooling around town or undertaking extended freeway jaunts, the Escalade is unflappably comfortable and composed. Despite being a truck underneath, the ride is serene, save for the occasional "thwack" from expansion joints – likely due to our truck’s glitzy (and optional) 22” rollers. Torque is prodigious, but easy to meter out from the long-travel pedal. Visibility is good, but blind spot monitoring is a helpful new addition in a vehicle this long. And crucially, the ESV’s interior is positively cavernous, with available space behind the third row of seats humbling that of most two-row SUVs. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC For buyers of the fleet/livery ilk, upwardly advantaged multi-child households, or just those who demand a high level of street presence in a luxurious package, the new ‘Slade ESV is still in a class of one. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="10878,10879,10880,10881,10882,10883,10884,10891,10885,10887,10893,10886,10889,10890,10888,10892"]   2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV 4WD Premium Base price: $86,790 Price as tested: $90,985 Options on test car:  Kona Brown leather w/ Jet Black accents ($2,000), Power retractable assist steps ($1,695), 22” dual 7-spoke aluminum wheels ($500) Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, four wheel drive – 420 horsepower, 460 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 15.5 mpg Cadillac provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Head-to-head: Hyundai Equus Ultimate vs. Kia K900

7634_2015_K900 I know what you’re thinking. Equus vs. K900? What sort of fratricidal silliness is this? Hyundai and Kia go out of their way to downplay their relationship to the media and consumers. They don’t do joint events (any more so than other automakers would, anyway) and they adamantly refuse to acknowledge or address any product synergies (or anti-synergies) that may or may not exist between the two brands. They each benefit from the arrangement, but neither plays it up. Don’t ask a Hyundai product rep to comment on whether the Veloster’s existence could have ramifications for the development of future sport compacts under the Kia banner. He or she knows, of course, but you’re going to get the brush-off. Fine. But turn-about is fair play, and all, and I think it’s only reasonable that we make the very comparisons that you won’t hear from either camp. So, rather than seeing how either stacks up against the Japanese and European competition, let’s see how each compares to the other. Round 1: Interior 36758_1_1 Both the Equus and the K900 are wonderful places to be. Neither has a tier-one quality about it, but they’re solid second-bests, featuring reasonably nice materials and what appears to be solid build quality. The Equus has a more conventional American/Japanese take on luxury. There’s not a ton of flair, but everything looks and feels nice. The seats are comfortable, but there’s no contrast stitching or pronounced bolstering to be found here.  This is a one-size-fits-most approach geared toward those looking for suppleness over sportiness. The K900’s seats aren’t really any more aggressively sculpted, but the sharper angles and contrasting piping of the leather work suggests youth and liveliness. 8093_2015_K900 The theme carries on in other parts of the cabin. The control layout in the Equus is very straightforward and conventional – very Lexus.  The gear selector is a simple straight-up-and-down type affair with no frills or flash. It’s all simple and intuitive. In the K900, everything has a more German feel to it (the gear selector design in particular is pure BMW). The controls aren’t as quickly deciphered or recalled, but the layout looks flashier and more tech-oriented. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the K900 is the winner here. In terms of functionality, I’d have to give the nod to the Equus. Round 2: Exterior 36713_1_1 The stylistic themes are just as consistent on the outside of each car, though both lean more European in their influences. The Equus goes for a Lexus profile and rear end (scope the integrated exhaust outlets—very LS) and a Mercedes-influenced face. The K900 aims for something in between Aston Martin (in the front) and BMW (out back). The K900’s design is more coherent and more aggressive overall, and the integration of the Kia grille makes it seem less derivative than it may otherwise appear. Winner: Kia, and this one isn’t close. 7643_2015_K900 Round 3: For crying out loud, talk about driving. I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. I tried my hardest while driving these two behemoths to come up with some sort of hook I could use to differentiate their driving experiences. The short version is this: If you put the Equus’ air suspension in sport mode, it’s pretty much the exact same thing as driving the K900 in its only mode (the Kia lacked this feature). If the Hyundai is not in sport mode, it’s wobblier. That’s it. That’s all I got.7648_2015_K900 Neither offers a particularly sporting ride. Even in its most aggressive mode, the Equus would hump awkwardly over camber changes when pushed. The K900 is less prone to doing so, but still isn’t particularly happy being hustled. There’s plenty of tire underneath the fenders of both cars, and in normal driving the chassis never feel overwhelmed, but when you dial up the aggression, both cars’ luxury predispositions glare through. Sure, when the road opens up and you can flat-foot that superb, five-liter V8 (429hp in the Hyundai; 420 in the Kia), each goes for the horizon with authority. I spent the afternoon chauffeuring around some friends for a birthday celebration, and one (possibly intoxicated) back-seat occupant in the Kia got a kick out of saying “Slingshot: Engaged!” every time I went for a pass on I-83. 36712_1_1 Just don’t go looking for the twisty bits. You’ll wish you hadn’t. Verdict? Tie. Conclusion Both the Equus and the K900 offer $60,000 worth of luxury. If it were my money to spend, I’d be looking for something with more sporting pretentions, but with the choices in front of me, I’d have to pick the Kia just on aesthetics alone. Its exterior design should age better than the Hyundai’s, and the interior detailing is just a bit more my speed. Hyundai and Kia provided the vehicles for the purposes of this comparison. Photos courtesy of the manufacturers.   

Driven: 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited

SAMSUNG CSC
Hyundai’s midsize sedan has undergone quite the transformation in the last four model years. Take the 2011, for example – radically restyled compared to the car that came before it, the previous Sonata probably had the most pronounced impact on Hyundai’s catapult rise to the American mainstream. Glancing quickly at this new Sonata, it might be easy to label it a more conservative restyling of the same basic car. But to write it off as such would be doing the 2015 model a great disservice. SAMSUNG CSC To start with, let’s talk about the design of this new car for a moment. Whereas the previous Sonata cut away from the midsize pack by being an overtly sporty  shape, this one skews back in the other direction – though it’s no less successful. Our 2.4-liter Limited, sitting on its slightly benign multi-spoke alloys, looks subtly, ambiguously upscale compared to the rest of the “sport”-ified midsize field. Your neighbors could easily confuse it for something far, far more expensive – approach the car from a distance while squinting slightly, and you could imagine the shape to be one of any number of import luxury tanks. Audi A7 in the roofline. Mercedes S-class in the front-quarter view. And more than a bit of current Genesis sedan everywhere else. SAMSUNG CSC In fact, were it rear-driven, this car could have easily substituted for the Genesis as Hyundai’s premium midsize model. It’s got the shape of a much more upscale car than it is, a trend I’d love to see continue in this segment. But where the Fusion successfully pulls off the sporty Aston thing, this design goes straight for the throat of understated German luxury. For those looking for bigger alloys and more suggestive body addenda, the Sport 2.0T Ultimate features all of the same upscale features of our tester with an added dose of power and flashier styling details. SAMSUNG CSC The new interior, which looks so plainly styled in photos, actually feels well laid-out, modern and intuitive from behind the small-diameter steering wheel. Despite being flush with technology, there seem to be fewer ancillary buttons to clutter the space than the 2015 Legacy I drove last month, which felt positively littered with them. The seats are comfy, material quality is improved from the last generation, and interior space is on another level from most midsizers; in fact, it’s the only one in this class technically designated as a “large car” by the EPA, and it shows most noticeably in front leg and head room. SAMSUNG CSC Content levels are typically a  Hyundai strength anyway, but this one is a stand-out value at $32k; it’s hard for me to think of a car that offers more features for the money. Take a look at the equipment list for our Limited tester: a high-quality 8” touchscreen w/ navigation and “swipe-able” menu screens; a well-judged 400-watt Infinity sound system; another high-res, fully configurable 4" screen in the gauge cluster; radar-based cruise control; forward collision warning; blind spot monitoring; a panoramic sunroof; proximity key and “smart” trunk opening; heated, cooled, power front seats with memory and four-way lumbar for the driver; a heated steering wheel and rear seats; rear side window sunshades - the list goes on and on. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The driving experience mimics the new styling, in that it hews closer to understated competence than sporty pretense. Without a Sport 2.0T on hand to drive, I can’t comment on whether the 2015 Sonata’s updated chassis has the chops to take it to the segment’s most competent handlers (widely recognized as the Mazda 6 and Accord). But the Limited can still be hustled down the road in a comfortable, unfazed manner, smoothing out large undulations and imperfections quickly and quietly, without any of the ride floatiness I experienced in the current Passat SEL.  I kept the drive select mode in “Sport” most of the time, which brings weightier steering calibration and more responsive transmission settings. Though even in Sport, throttle response is fairly relaxed, and power delivery from the 2.4-liter four is smooth but forward progress never really rises above the level of “acceptable”. If brisker acceleration is needed, opt for the 2.0T. SAMSUNG CSC By offering a little something for everyone and not just those who value sporty styling above all else, the 2015 Sonata improves on the previous generation in just about every way. If Hyundai continues this kind of rapid development, covering the ground on each new model generation that many manufacturers take in two, you've got to wonder just how good the next  Sonata will be. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="10819,10818,10817,10815,10810,10820,10822,10811,10813,10812,10814,10824,10825"]  2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited Base price: $27,335 Price as tested: $32,510 Options on test car:  Tech Package ($3,500), Ultimate Package ($1,550), Carpeted floor mats ($125) Powertrain: 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 185 horsepower, 178 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 29.0 mpg Hyundai provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Cover
When Toyota’s Camry-Wagon-turned-crossover known as the Highlander debuted in 2001, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about its existence. This is, after all, essentially the vehicle that assured the demise of the wagon variant of the Camry around the world, though in the US that body style had been dormant since 1997 anyway. Keen as we car guys are on the station wagon, it’s clear by now that the crossover is here to stay. The Highlander has changed a lot in the intervening years, too – though this 2014 redesign might be the most radical departure yet from that oddball Camry with two rear windshield wipers. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_9 For one thing, it’s big – relatively speaking. It’s up three inches in length and almost an inch in width compared to the previous generation and, depending on model, can seat eight people – more, if some of them are Muppets.  The added width is most noticeable across the dash – your passenger will be a long way from you, as will the stereo’s tuning knob – I’m long-limbed and it was still a chore to reach that thing. But the increased size pays dividends for passengers seated in the middle and third rows – space and comfort are both improved. It’s not quite the largest in its segment, but it’s now at least on a level playing field. After all, this car was once Ford Edge-sized – now, it can stand toe-to-toe with the Explorer. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_035 Powertrains are largely carried over from the previous generation, in the form of naturally-aspirated 2.7-liter four and 3.5-liter six cylinder engines, and a version of the V6 augmented by battery power motivates the Hybrid model on these pages. One notable update is the pairing of a six-speed automatic transmission with the base V6, which was previously only available with a five-speed. A CVT motivates the Hybrid, which is solely all-wheel drive. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_5 EPA mileage ratings hover between 22 mpg combined for the 4-cylinder/front-wheel-drive model and 20 mpg combined for V6 AWD models, though our Hybrid achieves an excellent 28 mpg combined rating, a standout in its class. I was able to nearly match that over a week of mixed-conditions driving, achieving a 26.7 mpg average. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_14 This is a physically large vehicle meant for hauling hordes of kids, so its 4,861-pound curb weight is not out of line with class standards – and its 280 combined horsepower does a decent enough job of keeping up with fast flowing traffic or executing a quick passing maneuver. For their trouble, those ponies don’t demand much in the way of “water” when it comes time to saddle up to the pump, either. The only place that poundage exacts a small penalty is in the corners – the Highlander feels every bit its weight when the road starts to squiggle. Steering effort seems heavy for a vehicle of this type, and considering the fact that it’s fully electric, the weighty tuning seems like an odd choice for its intended mission. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_028 Besides the steering, the Highlander Hybrid is pleasant to live with, exhibiting a smooth, quiet ride and the kind of mileage that would shame some mid-size sedans. Though the sticker crowds $50 grand in a hurry when you tick the “Hybrid” option box, you'll find few other vehicles for the same money that can haul 7 passengers in comfort, tow 3,500 pounds, and achieve close to 30 miles per gallon. For those shoppers, the Highlander Hybrid will be just the ticket. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_030 [gallery ids="10806,10803,10795,10802,10805,10804,10801,10797,10796,10798,10799,10800"]  2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum Base price: $50,650 Price as tested: $50,880 Options on test car:  Floor mats and cargo liner ($230) Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 engine, CVT transmission, all-wheel drive – 280 combined system horsepower S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 26.7 mpg Toyota provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the manufacturer.

Speed Read: 2015 VW e-Golf, Jetta and GTI

result
When Volkswagen offered to fly me up to drive a full smattering of their 2015 model lineup around Northern Virginia’s rolling hills and the quaint towns they are dotted with, they were ostensibly asking me to really focus on just two of those 2015 models – the fully electric e-Golf, and the refreshed Jetta. Still, though it already had its official launch and has been on sale for a few months now, I was also eager to sample the current GTI. Here’s a recap of what I drove, put in order from “really, really liked it” to “liked it”. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch, honestly, though I admit to steering clear of models like the Passat and Tiguan, which I’d already spent time in recently, and others that weren’t significantly changed for the 2015 model year. e-Golf - $36,265 So, full disclosure – the car I enjoyed driving the most was actually the 2015 GTI. But it’s too predictable to put that car in first place. Instead, the e-Golf tops this list for the following reason: significance. IMG_5707-17 It doesn’t seem that significant a car at first glance. After all, it’s just a Golf with an electric motor and battery in place of a gasoline or diesel 4-cylinder, right? Well, yes – and VW’s folks would be just fine if you came to the same conclusion. But somehow, the e-Golf manages to be more than the sum of its parts, which is one of the marks of a truly great automobile. You see, the e-Golf surprised me for the simple fact that it is just a Golf that burns kilowatts instead of liquid fuel. It drives exactly like a standard Golf, which is to say comfortably, competently, and without vice – but perhaps even better. Better because of that instant 199 lb-ft of torque available from rest that oooozes you up to 50 or 60 mph with so little effort. And the sheer quietness of the thing! This was my first encounter with a fully electric car, so excuse the fawning for a second, but silence really is golden. It made me smile far wider than I expected it to. IMG_5709-18 Without being subjected to the graunching sounds of an internal combustion engine, you can pay attention to other things – like how well this Golf VII chassis rides. It’s buttery smooth, yet free of float or wallow.  You’ll notice that because the battery pack’s weight is situated low in the chassis, the e-Golf’s cornering attitude is unexpectedly flat and it points into turns eagerly. And you’ll notice that they really got this Mk7’s interior just right, not just in materials or ergonomics, but also design and feature content. 2015 e-Golf Interior How compelling this package will seem to buyers is the ultimate question, perhaps proving once and for all whether shoppers are willing to purchase vehicles of this type on competence alone (in which case, the e-Golf should do quite well) or if a bit of “whizz-bang!” design slickness is a necessary part of it, as evidenced by the other EVs currently on the market. Either way, at $299/month to lease (the required down payment details are not readily available as I write this) and a fast-charge option that can replenish the battery back to 80% charge in just 30 minutes, there’s plenty to endear the e-Golf to the left side of your brain. Hopefully the right will feel the same way. 2015 e-Golf interior 3 GTI 3-door SE 6MT w/ Performance Pack - $29,710 IMG_5703-15 There’s little left to be said of the new Golf GTI that hasn’t already been said many times elsewhere; it’s the best all-around performance package available right now for around $30,000 or less, and I admit that wholeheartedly as an owner of competitive vehicle that occupies the same market territory. The GTI is a fully balanced package, with spirited, athletic handling, a tractable turbocharged engine that delivers just enough shove to put a smile on your face, a snick-snick gearbox and great brakes. Oh, and the rest of the car isn’t too shabby either, especially the wedgy yet finely detailed styling, handsomely trimmed and equipped interior (with great seats), and a more than decent stereo- in Fender-branded guise, anyway. IMG_5698-12 Similar to the last two iterations of the GTI that Volkswagen has sold in this country, now distilled down to the most refined elements of fun, luxury, and value, the Mk7 is a wonderful car. IMG_5699-13 2015 Jetta TDI SEL 6MT - $27,320 There’s more to the refreshed 2015 Jetta than meets the eye, at least in the TDI’s case. It uses the updated EA288 diesel engine that powers the new Mk7 Golf TDI, good for 46 MPG highway (an improvement of 4 MPG from last year) with the six-speed manual my tester was equipped with. IMG_5674-6 The new front fascia, including LED-bedazzled headlights, isn’t readily noticeable at a glance, but side by side with the old car, the new one does come across as slightly more modern. Inside, attention was paid to the areas that had previously been panned in the Mk6 Jetta – namely material quality. The door panels themselves still aren’t the same wonderfully squishy material as the dash top, but both armrests are comfortably trimmed, and piano black and silver accents lift the rest of the previously dour interior. Equipment levels are way up for the money, and are now arguably among the best in the mainstream small-car business. The standard 1.8T engine (not counting the special order, loss-leader 2.0L naturally-aspirated unit) also boasts the segment’s best power and torque figures. IMG_5672-5 Back to the diesel - that new EA288 power unit puts out 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, 10 horsepower more than before thanks to simplified catalytic converters (among a litany of other tiny changes to the fuel and induction systems) that help reduce exhaust back pressure. Power delivery is smooth and quite potent from low revs, tapering off less noticeably toward redline than the previous diesel. The six-speed manual ‘box is smooth and pleasant to row, making it easy to keep the turbo on song. IMG_5684-10 Diesel clatter is almost non-existent, even with the windows down and sunroof cracked, with just a faint turbo whistle under boost and a chattering diverter valve upon throttle lift the only indications that something interesting resides under the hood. Elsewhere, the 2015 TDI is as pleasant on the road as the 1.8T SEL driven later in the day, and outlined below. And the TDI’s trump card – fantastic fuel economy no matter what you throw at it – is still present and accounted for. A spirited 40-minute drive over hilly, winding roads produced a 44 MPG average figure, according to the trip computer. IMG_5682-9   GTI 5-door Autobahn DSG w/ Performance Pack - $33,010 The exact same car as the 3-door GTI outlined above, save for the gearbox, which demotes it a few places on my scale from “great” to merely “quite good”. Both gearboxes have their supporters, some more staunch than others, but the fact that you can pick either transmission and get the same fundamentally fantastic car is encouraging. My interests lie primarily with manuals given the choice, simply for the engagement factor, and when that manual is as good as the one in the GTI, the choice becomes a no-brainer. Still, those who choose the DSG will not be disappointed – it’s a great gearbox in its own right. It’s just a little too competent and polished for its own good, at least for this driver. IMG_5667-4   2015 Jetta 1.8T SE w/ “Connectivity & Navigation” 6AT - $24,470 The fact that the Jetta in popular SE guise resides at the bottom of my list shouldn’t be taken as a ding against it. The 1.8T (170 hp/184 lb-ft) and 6-speed automatic are a perfect match for the volume model’s relaxed demeanor, and the improvements for 2015 are noticeable from behind the wheel. It’s just that the other four models above are a little bit more engaging. Still, there’s a lot to like about the new Jetta SE and SEL. IMG_5677-8 First of all, the thing is quiet – to use an over-quoted description, it’s bank-vault quiet at speed. Tire and wind noise are both well muffled up to and beyond 60 mph, and cracked pavement and undulations are dispatched with well-damped precision. The body leaned gently in bends on our tester’s 17-inch wheels, but this isn’t the performance model, anyway – the GLI is more apt to be judged on those merits. Weekend cone dodging wouldn’t interest this Jetta in the way it might a Mazda 3, at least not right out of the box, but that’s of little consequence to the Jetta’s target demographic. The interior renovations and better-honed driving dynamics truly recall the character of the Mk5 Jetta – that of a competent, comfortable, and solidly-built German sedan that drives like a bigger, more expensive car than it is. The rough edges of the early Mk6 Jetta seem to have finally been polished over completely, and VW would likely let the evidence of interior cost-cutting and bargain engineering recede into the rearview mirror – where they truly belong. IMG_5676-7   Volkswagen provided food, lodging, and travel to and from Virginia for the author for this event.

Driven: 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid
The Toyota Camry was the best selling sedan in the United States for 2013, with over 408,000 units sold. This is the twelfth year straight that Toyota has held the #1 spot for sedan sales, besting the likes of the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima which round out the  top three. There are plenty of newcomers clamoring for consumer attention in the mid-sized sedan segment like the fantastic Ford Fusion, Mazda 6 and Kia Optima. So what keeps the Camry at the #1 spot year after year, even with increased competition from other manufacturers? I spent a week with the 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE to find out. My first car was a hand-me-down 1992 Toyota Camry DX, given to me by my mother when I turned 17 in 1996.  It was black on grey with no clear coat on the paint, vinyl backed seats with cloth seating surfaces, and an AM/FM radio with no tape deck or CD player. The windows were manual, as were the door locks.  I treated my Camry like it was the most expensive vehicle on the planet. I changed my own oil in it, washed it every week and proudly drove it to high school and work. On paper, there was absolutely nothing special about my Camry. In my mind though, I was driving a mini-Lexus. I always felt the Camry of that generation actually looked better than the Lexus ES300 of the time, and many people mistook it for  the Lexus on the outside. It was cheap to maintain, easy to drive,  and rock solid reliable. I eventually sold my Camry for a more enthusiast oriented vehicle when I was finally making a decent wage, but the fond memories of my Camry have stuck with me almost 18 years later. Fond memories are one of the reasons that the Camry is such a sales success, as happy Camry owners will keep coming back to  Toyota dealerships when it's time to replace their current model. Camry owners know that they can expect an economical, no-headache ownership experience. Still, Toyota has to keep the Camry fresh to capture the attention of repeat and conquest buyers. The introduction of the new 2014.5 Camry Hybrid SE Limited Edition is a perfect example of Toyota trying to appeal to more shoppers. 2014_5_Toyota_Camry_Hybrid_SE_LTD_002 The Camry Hybrid SE Limited Edition takes the equipment found in the Camry Hybrid XLE and adds SE specific front fascia, headlights, rockers, rear valence, rear bumper and a rear spoiler. The Camry Hybrid SE also gets 17-inch wheels, silver interior trim, SE seats, and a leather four-spoke steering wheel. Production of the Camry Hybrid SE Limited Edition will be limited to 5000 units. While these upgrades definitely make the Camry Hybrid SE Limited Edition look far more sporty than the pedestrian Hybid XLE model, the hybrid powertrain itself remains unchanged. Power is still generated by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine which is mated to the fantastic Toyota Hybrid Synergy drive system. The engine and hybrid system output a respectable  200-horsepower combined. The hybrid system is comprised of two electric motors. The primary electric motor is responsible for driving the front wheels through a CVT transmission, as well as generating electricity during engine braking. The secondary electric motor is responsible for start/stop functionality, battery recharging, and powering the primary electric motor. 2012_Toyota_Camry_Hybrid_30 In the handling department, the Camry Hybrid SE LE isn't the most engaging vehicle to drive and drivers will never mistake it for a sports sedan, despite the SE badging. This is a hybrid family sedan, where economy and comfort are the name of the game. The SE specific performance tires do help give the car slightly sharper handling than some other hybrids I've driven, and the ride is firm but smooth. Braking is among the best I've experienced in a hybrid vehicle, and never felt overly grabby. Interior wise, the Camry Hybrid SE LE isn't a bad place to be during the commute. Gauges are simple, but extremely easy to read. The power front seats are very supportive and there are enough adjustments available to find a comfortable seating position for individuals of any size. The rear seat is as expected in a mid-sized sedan, and provides enough room that rear seat passengers can keep their knees out the back of the front seats unless you have a very tall driver or passenger. The biggest selling point for the Camry Hybrid SE LE is of course the promise of fantastic fuel economy. The EPA rates the 2014 Camry Hybrid at 43 mpg city/39 mpg highway/41 mpg combined. I was able to easily beat the combined economy rating during my 27 mile each way commute with a week long average of 42.3 mpg. This was thanks in part to the Camry Hybrid's EV Drive mode which allows the car to operate on electric power only for up to 1.6 miles, at speeds of up to 25 mph. In the afternoon stop and go traffic, this mode was utilized heavily in conjunction with the standard hybrid drive operation. Transition from gas to EV  modes and back again is absolutely seamless to the driver. 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid My only complaint about the hybrid system is that the EV Drive mode is almost useless if you have anything but a feather touch on the gas pedal. If the Camry SE Hybrid even thinks you want to accelerate at anything faster than a snail's pace, the EV Drive mode will shut off and kick you into gasoline mode, followed by a guilt inducing message on the display that you are driving too hard. I really enjoyed the Camry Hybrid SE Limited Edition during the week I spent driving it. Toyota has done a great job of keeping it simple, while also keeping it fresh. I always felt comfortable driving the car, and was kept entertained in stop-and-go traffic with all the latest tech and infotainment features. On top of that, Toyota has done a fantastic job tuning and perfecting their Hybrid Synergy drive over the years, and has delivered on the promise of great fuel economy at a reasonable price. While there are many other hybrid offerings out there in the mid-size sedan segment, the Toyota Camry Hybrid still remains the one to beat, and is probably the hybrid I'd buy for my own garage. Prices for the 2014.5 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Limited Edition start at $27,945, with an available $2215 upgrade package that includes a moonroof, navigation and the Entune Apps suite. [gallery ids="10735,10734,10733"] Toyota provided this vehicle to Speed:Sport:Life along with a full tank of gas for the purpose of review.