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Thus far, hybrids have danced around the mainstream. Oh, sure, the Prius has become the green badge of clean living for the reporter-looking-for-a-story set, but it's hardly conquered the mainstream. Ditto for Honda's Insight, which John Travolta lampooned so well in Be Cool.

The Civic Hybrid has had a lukewarm reception, and the company's Accord V-6 Hybrid has been lambasted for focusing on performance at the expense of fuel economy. The same criticism has been levelled at the Lexus RX 400h, which combines the RX 330's V-6 with an electric motor for the performance of a V-8 with the gasoline consumption of a V-6.

Everyone from Bluewater to the New York Times has condemned the RX, determining that true environmentalism can only come with strange-looking or inconveniently priced subcompacts rather than V-6 hybrids that might wean Americans off their love affair with wasteful V-8s.

But as befitting the world's leading manufacturer of gasoline-electric hybrids, Toyota is aiming its latest environmentally friendly product directly at the heart of mainstream North America. No car is more popular than the company's Camry and, despite the recent infusion of power to the 3.5-litre topline version, it's still the base 2.4-L four that is the big seller -- and the basis for the new Camry Hybrid.

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