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What's Green and Blue and Gets 40 Miles to the Gallon?
By Laurence Vittes

Toyota Camry HybridAt first glance, Toyota's Camry Hybrid looks like any other Camry. That is to say, totally respectable, a bit elegant, and promising a comfortable ride that will leave you refreshed, whether you're a passenger or the driver, when you arrive at your destination. Of course, since it's a Hybrid, you also get 33/34 mpg, compared to the regular Camry's 4-cylinder engine mileage of 21/33. All of a sudden, the Hybrid looks positively beautiful.

Since we in California are presumed to be in the forefront of the green movement, there's probably no need to tell you that the Hybrid's power plant is a 147-hp version of a conventional four-cylinder Toyota engine, mated to a 40-horsepower electric motor and a wonderfully smooth, continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission. The electric motor augments the gas engine's performance and captures energy as the car slows and brakes--energy that otherwise would be wasted--so fuel consumption is substantially reduced. The Hybrid also provides Toyota's addicting Smart Key pushbutton-start feature. The Camry Hybrid I drove had an (optional) rich-sounding audio system by JBL which made listening to the newest CD releases from Harmonia Mundi sheer bliss.

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Leob StoryThe Camry Hybrid performed flawlessly, whether I was going shopping at Santa Monica Seafood (golden trout, yummy), or attending the usual round of art openings and chamber music concerts. However, it totally floored me when I went off on a dark and drizzly Saturday night to review Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story at the Hudson Backstage Theatre, on Santa Monica near Vine. I didn't know what to expect from Stephen Dolginoff's musical adaptation of the gruesome "thrill killers" murder of little Bobby Franks in 1920s Chicago; in the event, it turned out to be a mixed bag of a musical, but an opportunity to see a great performance by Stewart Calhoun as the repressed but passionate Leopold.

Not to mention a great performance by the Camry.

I had left for the Theatre just as the month's biggest thunderstorm was shyly announcing its intentions, and left for home when the intentions had turned ugly, with raindrops as big as pomegranates. The Camry never missed a beat, I felt safe and secure, and the evening turned out to be a most pleasant one.

Thinking green

It's a funny thing, this green movement in the car industry. We are starting to see all sorts of weird pending developments, like freeway-capable golf carts, fuel-efficient, high-performance diesel engines which can pass Federal requirements, and plug-in hybrid cars with short cruising ranges and long electric cords (if the cords are retractable, I hope they have learned what not to do from the vacuum cleaner industry).

I also feel bound to report on a negative green development, which has to do with the effect of speed bumps and really low speed limits. According to. Britain's Automobile Association, mileage dropped and carbon dioxide emissions went up when they tested a car that normally got 58 mpg running at 30 mph, over a representative course, religiously slowing down and speeding up for each bump. It was worse when the testers ran the car at the admittedly impractical and unlikely speed of 20 mph: car emissions and gas consumption increased by 10 percent.

So it would seem that it's better for the environment to drive more quickly and not stop for the speed bumps. But not better, of course, for pedestrians. The study did not explain why speed bumps in WLA are now called speed humps. If it's a politically correct thing, I don't get it. Maybe someone just can't spell. Or has an absurdist sense of humor.

Caveats: As always, prices will vary depending on dealers and prevailing market forces. Value varies depending on whether you want to buy or lease, and for how long. Visit Michael Karesh’s astounding TrueDelta.com website for current information and insights about what constitutes value these days, and which manufacturers offer it. Ascertaining value in an automobile is never as straightforward as we would like it to be. So, don’t be afraid to make some preliminary choices, and then let your heart influence your head. After all, for most of us in Southern California, driving is a large and important part of the emotional side of our lives.


© 2008 Bonnie Carroll, All Rights Reserved