Getting excited about a Toyota Camry

For car buyers wanting that green inner glow there are some exciting hybrids on the Australian market but, sadly, not enough variations to meet every family's quirks.

I’ve been dabbling with the idea of replacing my current car, but don’t want to spend much money.

I need something that I can use to tow a trailer so we can fit all the gear required to go camping comfortably for several weeks while transporting two kids and a wife who never went camping in the bush with just a 16kg backpack.

We’ve already got a super-economical diesel station wagon (5L per 100km) with a great boot. But when I asked how much it would cost to fit a towbar I almost screamed in outrage at their highway robbery proposal. I feel I should resist paying such an outrageous price on the very principle that this would act to reward such rip-off tactics.

As for the other second hand car, yes, I admit it, it’s not super economical. It’s an old two-door Saab hatchback, which is fine for most things but won’t do the job for trips with the family. It’s probably time to accept that two-door sports cars aren’t for me even if they can fit a surfboard in the boot.

Initially, I was drawn to a second hand French diesel station wagon with a towbar already fitted. A Citroen C5 looked perfect – under ten grand, very economical, big boot and super comfortable seats. But then common sense took hold and I started thinking about the repair bills for such a car. I thought there must be a good reason for such horrible depreciation. Peugeots might be better but I’m still nervous about reliability.

As for the Japanese they seemed to decide that Australians didn’t want economical station wagons. All that’s on offer that would fulfil our needs are SUVs that, because of appalling aerodynamics and four wheel drive mechanicals, aren’t economical. 

My green dream is of course to own a hybrid, but I never thought they’d match my budget constraints.

On a recent visit to Brisbane I was struck by how the gas-guzzling Falcon and Commodore taxis had been almost entirely replaced by Toyota hybrids. I struck up a conversation with a taxi driver about why this was this case. His reply was incredibly illuminating.

They may cost a bit more he told me, but they consume a fraction of the fuel the Commodores and Falcons do. With the amount of kilometres taxis rack up, the fuel savings pay back the extra purchase cost quite quickly. But of equal importance, he explained, was that their reliability was vastly better. The company he worked for used to have six full-time staff for car maintenance. Since they switched to Toyota hybrids they found they only needed two staff. Plus, having cars off the road means no income for an expensive taxi licence so better reliability, most importantly, means more income.

It got me dreaming about the green inner glow of owning a hybrid.

On a wistful moment I did a web search for second-hand Camry hybrids. I found there were dozens for sale with low kilometres below $20,000 and some as low as $15,000. I was dumbfounded. Here is a car the size of a Falcon that consumes about half the fuel and has about 50 per cent more power than any car I’ve ever owned. Sure, it’s no sportscar but its acceleration just a decade and a half ago was something people used to proudly brag about. 

I began to get excited about a Toyota Camry.

Just one problem, actually three: it only comes as a sedan but I really need a wagon; the battery pack is laid behind the back seat in the boot, preventing you from slotting a surfboard through the boot and into the cabin (pretty much a killer for me); and its towing capacity is pretty useless. Bugger!

Yes, Toyota also sell a Prius wagon now, but they are rare as hens' teeth and vastly more expensive.

Why on earth does Toyota not make the Camry hybrid as a wagon, I screamed in my mind. They aren’t exactly bought for style reasons so a load lugger would cover off current buyers’ needs while also appealing to families with kids. It would represent a vastly better choice than the SUVs that presently dominate the market.

But they don’t, so I’m stuck with two options:

1) Forget reason, and buy a French wagon that while it might emit low CO2 will probably leave me penniless from repair bills; or

2) Swallow my sense of outraged principle, and hand over the cash for a towbar that should cost $1000 less.

Government fleet buyers through purchasing large numbers of hybrid Camries are now making hybrid vehicles an affordable and readily obtainable choice for Australians in the second hand market, particularly taxi drivers. But it seems we’ve still got some way to go before families with tight budgets in the second hand market can get themselves a hybrid.

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