I spent a good chunk of Monday evening tooling around the city in a new, mainstream midsize sedan, but let’s park that jealousy at the door right now, folks.

This car was a modern twist on the “sensible sedan with a sport package that’s nearly all appearance flourishes” we’ve all become used to. The Camry SE Hybrid takes most of the standard SE’s looks — spoiler, side sills, complex grille and all — then throws in a few optional goodies as standard kit for good measure. It also makes the “sporty” Camry arguably sportier.

A Twitter discussion broke out later that night, centered around a question that nagged me my entire time behind the wheel. Who buys this particular trim?

Not this former Camry owner, that’s for sure. It’s no secret I’m drawn to sedans that fall on the conservative side of the styling spectrum, and would happily choose a compliant ride over a sport-tuned experience in anotherwise mainstream car. We’re not talking Lexus IS or Audi A4 here. It’s Camry Time.

While the SE Hybrid allows Toyota to carve out a new Camry trim level in the midst of its hybrid range, the car’s drivetrain and its image remain at odds with each other. At its very core, a mainstream hybrid’s role is saving the owner money at the pumps, thus rationalizing a pricier window sticker. In this case, it’s quite a jump — a 14 mpg improvement on the combined cycle, according to the EPA.

Cool, fantastic. Achieving 46 mpg in a 3,500-pound car sounds like a good tradeoff for the $4,300 price bump. And there’s extra convenience and comfort features to sweeten the pot. The issue is this: the standard quartet of drive modes (unavailable on the SE) contains a Sport setting, encouraging sudden weight gain in the driver’s right foot.

Suddenly, this model becomes much thirstier than the cheaper LE Hybrid, retailing for 1,700 fewer dollars. Of course, that’s if buyers actually choose to leave a fingerprint on the Sport button. Maybe it’s a big if.

I’m not sure about you, B&B, but I have a hard time imagining a speed-obsessed buyer lying awake in bed, driving gloves on, Dramamine tablets ready to go, counting down the hours until his four-cylinder, CVT-equipped Camry hybrid arrives. Is this a sedan for faux environmentalists who love the tree-hugging social capital a hybrid bestows on its driver but hate garnering attention from suspicious cops? Or, is this a commuter carriage for timid motorists looking for a smidge of visual aggression and a few added luxuries from their economy car? Does the first buyer even exist?

Would you shell out for one?

[Image: Toyota]





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