We seldom stop to consider what a dizzying variety of options one has when it comes to picking out a new car today, especially when you consider how mind bogglingly simple it was once only a few decades ago. If you had a family and you needed to carry them and their belongings around, you would choose either a small, medium, or large sedan or station wagon. That was it. There were no minivans, there were no crossovers, and it was out of the ordinary for a family to buy an SUV for an everyday family car. Ford stunned the industry when it announced it was essentially going to let all of its sedans die off in North America. GM is killing off their large front wheel drive sedans. People are still buying large sedans, and as key players fall by the wayside, the companies still in the market will gladly take up the demand. But for what is such an old concept-the large sedan-how does it remain relevant in 2019?
The Avalon has been Toyota’s flagship sedan since 1994. For 2019, the Avalon is all-new, and now entering its fifth generation. While many consider the Avalon simply a larger Camry-which was once the case-the Avalon rides on its own platform that is shared with the Lexus ES. The Avalon is a large sedan, but its proportions are just right. Early Avalons were dismissed as Toyota’s idea of a Buick. A study also revealed that in North America, Toyota attracted the oldest buyers. A middle age or younger car buyer hears that Toyota’s are favored by old people can be enough to be a deal breaker. So in response to that, I do not find it surprising that contemporary Toyota’s are now looking edgier. Looking at the Avalon from the front or front 3/4 view, there is just no getting around that front fascia. To say it is overwrought is an understatement. Enormous front ‘grills’ seem to be a thing these days, and I predict this look is destined to not age well. Look at the rear of the car, its pleasant enough but entirely forgettable. There is just nothing to suggest this is Toyota’s premium sedan. Which is shocking, because when you take the Avalon in from its side profile, there is no question this is the most expensive four door Toyota offers. As a whole, the Avalon’s appearance is alright, but incoherent. You feel differently about this car depending on what angle you are viewing it from.
Inside, the Avalon is a grand slam homerun. There is simply no mistaking you’re sitting in the most luxurious car that wears a Toyota badge. Quality of materials and fit and finish are exemplary. The quilted leather and real wood accents confirm this is not a car that aspires to be luxurious, it simply is a luxury car, without question. Controls are intuitive and easy to use. The seats offer exceptional comfort, and as expected, the Avalon provides a very roomy and airy cabin. With all the quiet and comfort you could want, the Avalon is a perfect setting for long, relaxing drives. The Avalon is Toyota’s first car to come with Apple’s CarPlay (sorry Android users, your phone cannot connect). It is worth mentioning that in cars that were sold in regular and hybrid versions, hybrid owners had to be wiling to make a considerable sacrifice-trunk space. I have seen full size hybrid sedans have a trunk that might hold enough luggage for a weekend getaway but little else. Not so with the Avalon. With the batteries underneath the rear seat, you are able to enjoy the large amount of trunk space buyers expect in a car of this size.
The Avalon Hybrid is powered by a 2.5L four cylinder along with two electric motors to make a combined 215hp with a CVT transmission. While the numbers suggest that is not much horsepower to move a car of this size, in reality the Avalon keeps up with highway traffic with no problem at all, and never seems strained. Yes, there are buyers who will only accept the sound of a silky V-6 under the hood, and the regular Avalon delivers just that experience. But consider this-the Avalon Hybrid costs about $1,000 more, but delivers 70% better fuel economy. In the long run, the Hybrid makes more sense. Our perception of the luxury car experience is also evolving; exceptional fuel economy is also an accepted qualifier for luxury today. The typical Avalon buyer isn’t going to be doing any stoplight drag racing to begin with, and with such an unobtrusive drivetrain, you don’t feel like you’ve given up anything in the name of saving gas, The EPA gives the Avalon Hybrid 43 MPG, but my test car was telling me I was getting 37 MPG in mixed driving. That is a remarkable number for a full size luxury car.
The Avalon Hybrid is available in three trim levels; our test car was the luxury oriented Limited. Standard equipment included 18″ alloy wheels, LED headlights, moonroof, premium JBL audio, navigation, head up display, power heated steering wheel, leather power heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seat, Qi wireless phone charging, pre-collision system, lane departure alert with assist, automatic high beams and dynamic radar cruise control. Our test car had the optional Advanced Safety Package, which added intelligent clearance sonar, bird’s eye view camera with perimeter scan and rear cross traffic alert with braking. Including destination, our Avalon Hybrid had a window sticker of $45,118USD. Remember when I mentioned the Avalon shares the same platform and drivetrain as the Lexus ES? A Lexus ES Hybrid equipped similar to our Avalon would set you back an extra $9,000. With that in mind, the Avalon represents a solid value for a luxury hybrid sedan.
While the notion of a full size sedan is a decades old proposition, the Avalon Hybrid points to the future of the genre. It is tough to argue the pros of a luxury car boasting the latest in technology and luxury features that boasts fuel economy figures you’d be happy to be getting in a basic, no frills Corolla. This combination is the new definition of luxury. While I question that front-end styling, the Avalon Hybrid is a full size sedan that is completely relevant in today’s automotive marketplace. Ford and GM may have thrown up their hands and walked away, but Toyota has proven this is a breed of car worth building.