Typically, when a car tries to be two things at the same time, it doesn’t do a particularly good job at either of them. Remember the Amphicar? It was a car that you could also use as a boat. Cool concept, but in reality it was both a lousy car and a lousy boat. So in going over the specs on the Toyota Avalon Hybrid, I was skeptical. Here is a car promising better fuel economy than the tiny Yaris while delivering a luxury car experience. Can the Avalon Hybrid do both, and do it well?
Now in its fourth generation, the Avalon is Toyota’s flagship car, not that you would have noticed until recently. From its inception, critics have derided the Avalon as little more than Toyota’s idea of a Buick, and an uninspired idea at that.
The Avalon Hybrid debuted in 2013, finally sporting sheetmetal befitting a flagship. Toyota abandoned the bland, utterly forgettable styling of past Avalons in favor of smart, sharp, sophisticated styling. Your flagship should look at home in front of your town’s latest restaurant, not the church parking lot on Bingo night. For 2016, the Avalon received a mild mid-life refresh, but it will take an astute eye to notice. A new grill and font turn signals is about it. Three years in the Avalon still looks fresh and contemporary. With a design that hasn’t aged a day, Toyota was wise to leave well enough alone.
Buyers who want the world to know they have gone green will find the Avalon Hybrid frustrating. For them, there’s always the Prius. This is after all a luxury car, and understatement is key. And that’s putting it mildly in this case. A couple of badges is all the visual separation you’re going to get between the standard and hybrid cars.
With a top spec Avalon creeping into Lexus ES territory, it would be understandable to think Toyota might hold back a little on interior appointments, but thankfully that is not the case here. Far from it. In fact, cover up the logo on the steering wheel and most people would easily believe they are sitting in a Lexus. A proper luxury car will boast all the latest in comfort, convenience and entertainment features and be intuitive to use, and the Avalon excels here. Boasting a large, airy cabin, the Avalon offers plenty of room for all passengers. All seated in exceptional comfort. If there’s one area where hybrids trade in practicality, its the trunk where the batteries are kept. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the Avalon Hybrid still managed to offer generous trunk space.
So far so good, but the burning question is, how does it drive? A glance back at the spec sheet does not inspire confidence. The Avalon Hybrid is motivated by a 2.5L four paired with the hybrid system lifted from the Camry for a combined 200hp, mated to a continuously variable transmission, which is typicaly anathema for a luxury driving experience. Two hundred ponies seems like a paltry number to move a car this size, and make no mistake, this is not a fast car. Still, with 0-60mph clocking in under eight seconds, the Avalon Hybrid has no problem merging onto highways or passing. Credit smart transmission software to keep revs low, and a well insulated cabin to keep noise to a minimum. But, this being a hybrid, the numbers that impress come in the form of fuel economy. The Avalon Hybrid delivers a legitimate 40mpg, and driven right, can get you 700 miles on a single tank of gas.
No one will confuse the Avalon for a sports sedan, but the ride is comfortable and well controlled. Potholes and road imperfections are soaked up with ease. Steering is light and lacking in road feel, but that’s hardly surprising for a car such as this. For a large car, the Avalon certainly doesn’t feel it, and snaked through tight sections of New York thruways with ease. After a grueling night of Friday night rush hour which would leave drivers of lesser cars pulling their hair out, I arrived at my destination relaxed and refreshed-just as a luxury car should.
The Avalon Hybrid is available in three trim levels-LE Plus, XLE Premium, and top spec Limited. Our test car was the Limited, which comes standard with Blind Spot Monitoring, HID headlights, power sunroof, rain sensing wipers, three zone auto climate control, an impressive 11 speaker JBL audio system, navigation, leather interior, power front heated and ventilated seats, rear heated seats, power rear window sunshade, and wireless smartphone charging capability. Our car’s sole option was Toyota Safety Sense, which includes Pre Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Including destination, our Avalon rings in at $43,285USD. Hardly inexpensive, but a fair value given the level of content.
So yes, the Avalon Hybrid legitimately delivers subcompact car fuel economy while providing a no compromise luxury car experience. And buyers are taking notice. For every four Avalons sold, one is a hybrid. With a staggering 66% increase in fuel economy compared to a V-6 Avalon, its easy to see why. More than simply a good hybrid, the Avalon Hybrid is a good car. Smooth and quiet while providing superlative comfort and dashing good looks, Toyota has finally built a proper flagship.