Before SUVs, it was all about big sedans – cars like the Chevy Impala and Ford LTD were the common selections for buyers wanting room for families and luggage. At one point, they were dubbed the “standard size”, and compacts and intermediates were smaller alternatives.
Chevy sells twice as many Malibus as Impalas, and Toyota sells nearly 10 times the number of Camrys as it does Avalons.
Part of the difference in the Toyotas is pricing: the Avalon’s XLE’s base price of $32,285 is about $10K above that of the base Camry. Avalon Hybrids jump to $37,690 for the XLE Premium and hit $41,700 for the top Avalon Hybrid Limited, which we drove for this report.
Probably the stiffest competition the Avalon Hybrid has is from its platform-mate, the more upscale Lexus ES 300h; in fact, the Avalon Hybrid Limited costs about $1,200 more than the base ES 300h.
The two have very different appearances. The Lexus has a mostly conservative look, with the obligatory Lexus pinched grille. The Avalon, on the other hand, has the fast rear glass that is so common to most other sedans…
…and the front end has many horizontal lines.
Wheels have a premium vibe…
…and there’s some nice sculpting in the front fenders leading up to the hood. That’s the kind of expressiveness you’d expect from a product of Toyota’s California-based CALTY design studio.
Note that the Avalon’s look will change a bit for 2016 as it gets another round of updates. Heckuva massive grille on that one.
Avalon Hybrids are well-equipped. All come with push-button start, a moonroof and a backup camera.
The Hybrid Limited ups the ante with standard heated-and-cooled front seats…
…and standard power adjustments for the passenger seat, including lumbar support.
The test car had the $1,950 Technology Package, which includes Qi wireless charging for compatible phones.
Over the road, what is true of the ES 300h is true of the Avalon Hybrid – the hybrid powertrain finds this platform in its sweet spot, with silent initial acceleration and nearly seamless engine engagement. There’s usually plenty of torque at low speeds, and it spools out from a seemingly bottomless well. The Avalon Hybrid is confident, and it is blissfully quiet as it executes on your wishes.
That’s not to say that the non-hybrid V6 Avalon is chopped liver – to the contrary, the V6’s 268-horsepower rating soundly beats the hybrid system’s 200-hp net rating, and it feels muscular and direct. But the hybrid’s lower power rating is offset by its Dream Whip engagement, which reinforces the Avalon’s overall mission of relaxed luxury.
And the hybrid’s terrific gas mileage doesn’t hurt a bit: the EPA says 40 mpg combined, which is a far sight better than the V6’s 24 mpg rating. Note that the ES 300h has identical mileage ratings with the Avalon Hybrid, which is another indication of how closely related they are.
The transmission is a CVT in the hybrid, as opposed to the six-speed automatic in the V6, and it mostly stays out of the way while typically giving you the kickdowns you need to keep up the pace.
Handling is familiar to any Toyota driver, with a nippiness around town and predictable understeer in curves. No surprises, except for the Avalon’s surprisingly sharp transitional behavior in lower-speed maneuvers; the Prius could take a lesson here.
Inside, the Avalon greets you with sweeping curves and soft-touch surfaces.
The console’s darker brown accents contrast nicely with the almond leather seating.
Unlike some lesser Toyotas, the Avalon employs real stitching with its trim accents.
The big knobs are refreshing in a market where some manufacturers are looking to consolidate ancillary controls within the center screen. You can wear gloves while operating them.
Front seats are comfortable, though we’d wish for a bit more thigh support; the power adjustment doesn’t tip up the front of the cushion as much as we’d like.
The rear seat is set low to the floor, as it also is the ES 300h. But, it has plenty of legroom, almost 40 inches. Compared to the ES 300h, the Avalon sacrifices a half-inch of headroom for its raked rear glass.
The Limited includes rear climate controls and seat heaters.
One downside of the hybrid is trunk space; its 14-cubic-feet capacity is two cubic feet off the V6 Avalon, and the rear seatback does not fold down. That’s a big minus if you ever need to haul anything long.
The 12V battery is mounted in the trunk’s right sidewall.
Displays have the elegance befitting a car with the Avalon’s upscale intentions.
Overall, the Avalon Hybrid has a mix of virtues with broad appeal. There are few nits to pick, because Toyota has this formula down pat. Enthusiasts will probably bridle at the somnolence of the Avalon Hybrid’s driving experience, but it’s a bullseye for its refinement-seeking target market.
Tell us in the comments – what do you think of the Avalon Hybrid?
2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited
Base Price: $41,700
Price As Tested: $45,578
Technology Package: $1,950
Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC)
Automatic High Beam
Pre-Collision System (PCS)
Qi Wireless Charging For eBin Storage Tray
Remote Engine Starter: $499
Carpet Floor Mats/Trunk Mat: $225
Illuminated Door Sills: $379
Destination Charge: $825
Smoothness and quietness
No folding rear seat in the Hybrid
Gets pricey with all the trimmings