Grand and Efficient Sedan: Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Latest edition Toyota Avalon hits all the right marks.

After three consecutive weeks of driving hybrid electric vehicles, little did I know that the best one would be saved for last. While the Toyota Prius and the Lexus CT 200h both have a place among hybrids — the Prius for starting it all and the Lexus for embellishing the segment — the Toyota Avalon Hybrid may just be the cream of the crop.

2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
The fourth generation Toyota Avalon now offers a hybrid line.

2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

A 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited edition closed out my string of electrified models just this very week. It is a large sedan and is now in its fourth generation.

Beginning in 2013, Toyota added a hybrid model to the Avalon line. That model joins the Camry Hybrid, the Prius family and a Highlander Hybrid. Toyota not only owns the hybrid market, but it continually seeks to redefine it.

This was not my first go around with the Avalon either. Last fall, I spent a week with the 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring edition, finding an “attractive, competent” sedan serving as Toyota’s flagship. It had the right engine, a comfortable suspension, attractive exterior looks and generous cabin amenities to deliver a classy ride.

I understood that marrying these attributes to a hybrid powertrain would certainly change one thing: its performance would be sacrificed in the name of fuel efficiency.

Hybrid Powertrain System

Indeed, the Toyota Avalon Hybrid (priced from $35,555) is powered by a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine. I am not a big fan of small engines in larger cars unless they have direct injection or a turbocharger. Both are preferred. A 156 horsepower rating is not a lot to work with, but with its electric motor, the total output rises to 200 hp. Moreover, this powertrain makes 199 foot-pounds of torque. So, while coming in slower than the V-6, the hybrid system does something that no other big sedan can deliver: nearly 40 mpg fuel economy.

We’ll take a closer look at the performance numbers a bit later. First, we’ll look at the Avalon’s history. Second, we’ll review the model at hand.

The Avalon made its debut in 1995, the first large sedan to wear a Toyota nameplate. Toyota had been building big cars in Japan for years, but concentrated on the lower end of the market for the US before expanding and moving up. Even then, it chose to launch its premium Lexus brand five years earlier, including its very first large sedans.

In the Avalon, Toyota targeted Buick, especially its LeSabre sedan. The new Avalon was warmly received by the senior set and its place in the Toyota portfolio was assured. Even so, for three generations Toyota served up Avalons that were luxurious, but bland, effectively holding down the model’s sales potential.

2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited
2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited.

Fourth Generation Toyota Avalon

The 2013 edition maintains a habit that has worked well for Toyota in the past: take the highly competent Camry platform and stretch it to accommodate the Avalon, adding nearly two inches to the wheelbase and six inches overall. The side overhangs are slightly wider too, but the Avalon sits nearly a half-inch closer to the ground. The practice of platform sharing is much more common these days than what you might realize. In the Avalon, you probably won’t notice the Camry relationship — nor should you care.

The fourth generation Avalon assumes the styling convention of current Toyota models. Its signature grille is flanked by standard quadrabeam headlights (HID in the Limited). The most pronounced feature, however, is its oversized air intake/lower grille, itself flanked by fog lamps set within scalloped recesses. That intake is surrounded by brightwork trim, what provides an elegant look.

Overall, the Avalon Hybrid advances a much more vigorous look. Imposing profile characteristics, including rocker panel embellishments put forth a more stately look. The roof line sweeps back to the trunk’s edge, to advance its upscale pedigree. Attractive and stylish wrap around tail lamps and dual chrome finishers enhance this model’s rear look.

Toyota sells the Avalon Hybrid in XLE Premium ($35,555), XLE Touring ($36,750) and Limited ($41,400) trim levels. Each one adds from $1,500 to approximately $2,400 to comparable standard models, not a bad mark up for a hybrid. Keep in mind that you essentially downgrade the engine to win hybrid efficiencies.

2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

View manufacturer details and pricing

Cabin Amenities and Equipment

The Premium and Touring editions come equipped with standard dual-zone climate control and rear seat vents. The Limited edition brings in three-zone climate control to permit rear seat passengers to adjust same.

The infotainment package in the Limited offers all the bells and whistles you want including an 11-speaker GreenEdge audio system with SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, voice recognition and Bluetooth wireless technology, among other features. That represents an upgrade over the standard eight-speaker audio system found in the Premium edition and the nine-speaker system standard in the Touring edition.

All models are outfitted with a backup camera and cruise control. Dynamic radar cruise control, often marketed as adaptive cruise control in some models, is available with the Limited only. This technology ensures that you maintain a safe distance between vehicles as you move down the road regardless of cruise setting.

The instrument panel is clear and easy to configure, featuring analog and digital displays. Instead of a tachometer, you get an “EVometer” what tells you when the vehicle is operating in charging, eco or power modes. To the right is the speedometer and in the center is the driver information center — check the various driver information such as trip, distance to empty, average fuel economy and other information by flipping the switch.

Other standard features include: wood grain style interior trim with smoked chrome interior accents and door handles, ambient lighting, keyless entry, push button start, power accessories, automatic headlamps, three 12-volt outlets and four cup holders.

Leather Seating Standard

Leather seating is standard across the Avalon line and is upgraded to perforated leather in the Limited. The top-of-the-line Avalon Hybrid provides a 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support and power extension, and an 8-way passenger seat. Heated and ventilated front seats are standard with heated rear seats (outboard position only) standard in the Limited.

As far as seating comfort, the Limited provides what you expect, but not a lot more. The bucket seats are not very well bolstered, but there is no need for that: spirited driving is hardly possible even when operating in Sport mode. In the Limited, the front lip of the driver’s seat also expands out, providing improved thigh support.

The rear seat is very comfortable and holds three adults with ease. It offers three adjustable headrests and has a fold down arm rest with cup holders in the middle place. What it doesn’t do is recline or fold down, a feature found in the most recent edition. The Avalon’s 14 cubic-feet trunk space is small for the class too, so keep that in mind if your storage requirements are significant. Highlander Hybrid, anyone?

On the Road Performance

On the road, this vehicle performs as expected. You get the cushy ride and a quiet interior. You won’t get a lot of power, but you may be surprised when you step on the accelerator and the sedan moves steadily, if not briskly. One short trip taken with my family of four revealed a few things: the Avalon Hybrid can get up to highway speeds without sounding like it will break. Simply shift the driver mode to sport and you’ll enjoy better handling. Once you are at highway speeds, shift into “eco” mode and engage the cruise control — you’ll want to see how close to 40 mpg you can get.

My weeklong journey with the Avalon Hybrid yielded 36.6 miles to the gallon. I am sure that I could have squeezed more miles out of the sedan, but I was satisfied with what I got. Heck, there are some compact models that struggle to get 35 mpg and in the Avalon Hybrid you get the best of Toyota’s luxury touches thrown in.

2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

  • Sticker price from $35,555
  • Price as tested: from $41,400 (Limited edition)
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 2.5-liter 16-valve four cylinder hybrid engine
  • 156 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm
  • 156 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,500 rpm
  • 200 hybrid system net horsepower
  • 199 hybrid system net torque
  • 3.54 inches bore by 3.86 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 12:5-to-1
  • Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission
  • Wheelbase: 111 inches
  • Length: 195.2 inches
  • Width: 72.2 inches
  • Height: 57.5 inches
  • Passenger volume: 102.3 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 14 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: NR
  • EPA: 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 17 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,585 pounds (XLE Premium)
  • IIHS safety rating: Good
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 72 months/Unlimited miles
  • Hybrid warranty: 8 years/100,000 miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Georgetown, Kentucky

More Car Reviews

Active Hybrid: 2014 Lexus CT 200h

Now Competitive: 2015 Chrysler 200S

Extended Electric Range: 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-In

Raw to the Core: 2014 Dodge Challenger SRT

2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Skip the Lexus: 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring

Should I choose the Toyota Avalon or the Lexus ES? That question was posed to me recently via Twitter and I responded to the inquirer with a choose the Lexus if the pricing comes out to be the same. Then again, you may want to skip the Lexus once you get behind the wheel of the Avalon, updated for 2013 to reflect a more sophisticated and elegant presence. In other words, the Toyota Avalon loses its previous ho-hum persona for a more modern and interesting look.

2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring
2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring.

2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring

The 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring is the second highest of four Avalon trim levels. It is priced from $35,500, with the other editions priced from $30,990 to $39,650. An Avalon Hybrid is all new for 2013, adding a $1,750 price premium to each of the corresponding model lines (i.e, XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited).

Under the hood you have a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, a carryover from the previous generation model. It is used in a number of Toyota and Lexus products including the Camry. This engine makes 268 horsepower and bangs out 248 foot-pounds of torque, sufficient power to move this near 3,500-pound large sedan. Its transmission pairing is a six-speed automatic, one that can be shifted into S mode for up and down manual shifting. Steering wheel mounted paddle shifters are included with the XLE Touring and Limited editions as well.

2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring

Athletic Exterior

Toyota says that the 2013 Avalon offers a more athletic expression in its sheet metal, a point this writer recognized the instant he first saw the model. Its dimensions are ever so slightly smaller than the 2012 model, with its height, width, and length trimmed accordingly. A narrower roof line and increased vehicle tread line contribute to the Avalons now robust look.

The Avalon’s front fascia features a larger grille opening, itself flanked by poly ellipsoidal projection headlamps that offer improved lighting performance. LED daytime running lights are included with the Limited edition. Fog lamps are also part of the XLE Touring package.

Additional improvements have been made across the hood and along the body lines with sculpting present on the side sheet metal. The now lower vehicle belt line also adds to the Avalon’s more athletic look. The XLE Touring is outfitted with 18-inch silver painted alloy wheels and is available in nine exterior color choices including Moulin Rouge Mica, Cypress Pearl and Nautical Blue Metallic.

2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring

Updated Interior

Inside, the instrument panel has been widened with the upper panel gaining just over one inch and the lower panel widened by about 2.5 inches. The panel features two colorful analog displays that flank a digital driver information center. Premium hand-sewn soft touch materials cover the dashboard with chrome trim surrounding the center panel and gloss panel trim around the shifter. Almond, light grey and black are the three color schemes for the Avalon, with leather seats standard across the model line.

Standard equipment for the Toyota Avalon XLE Touring includes keyless entry with push button start, power accessories, dual zone climate control with rear seat vents, cruise control, a back up camera, a leather-trimmed tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and four cup holders. This model also comes with an upgraded Entune infotainment system with navigation, a package that includes nine speakers, SiriusXM satellite radio, a USB port, Bluetooth wireless technology, and HD Radio. An illuminated glove box, a covered center console, and five 12-volt power outlets are also included.

2013 Toyota Avalon

The front seats are comfortable with 8-way adjustment afforded the driver and 4-way for the passenger. The seats are heated, well bolstered with the only feature missing being a seat extender. Otherwise, you can find the right seating position that wont stress you on a long trip and change it to suit your needs as desired. The rear seating passengers get a folding bench seat with a center position arm rest and trunk pass through. That seating area holds three adults comfortable with sufficient leg room available.

New Toyota Avalon Features an Athletic Persona

View manufacturer details and pricing

On the Road

Start the engine, shift the transmission in gear and take your foot off of the brake and youll soon find that the Toyota Avalon is no sluggard. Twice, slight hesitation was sensed when pressing down on the accelerator, what I attributed to a cold engine. That problem went away moments later and was soon forgotten.

Handling with any larger front-wheel drive sedan can sometimes prove challenging with understeer and even oversteer suddenly appearing. Toyota manages these problems by making an Avalon that is 12 percent more rigid overall, including 23 percent more rigid at the rear. Moreover, the suspension system has been tuned to provide improved flat cornering. Front and rear stabilizer bars, pillow ball joints, and a dual-link suspension team up to deliver one of the better handling exercises for a vehicle in this class. All-wheel drive is not available with this model, but that added weight and cost are hardly missed here.

2013 Toyota Avalon

Shopping Considerations

Although losing Avalon sales to Lexus still keeps sales within the corporate family, the Toyota Avalon merits a close look. Its chief competitors include the Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Impala and the Hyundai Azera. Rear-wheel drive models such as the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300C also compete. Well equipped versions of these sedans each range in price from $35-40,000, which puts the $36,470 Lexus ES 350 sedan within play.

Having not had the advantage of comparing these two similar models I cannot recommend one over the other. What I can say is that the Lexus name carries a certain cachet that might have you looking at the ES 350. Then again, you may simply choose to skip the Lexus to get behind the wheel of an attractive, competent Toyota Avalon sedan. And there is nothing wrong with that decision.

2013 Toyota Avalon

2014 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring

  • Sticker price from $35,500
  • Price as tested: $36,715
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine
  • 268 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
  • 248 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,700 rpm
  • 3.70 inches bore by 3.27 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.8-to-1
  • Six-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 111 inches
  • Length: 195.2 inches
  • Width: 72.2 inches
  • Height: 57.5 inches
  • Passenger volume: 103.6 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 16 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds
  • EPA: 21 mpg city, 31 mpg hwy.
  • Regular grade gasolineta
  • Fuel tank: 17 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,461 pounds
  • Vehicle assembly: Georgetown, Ky.

Further Reading

2013 Toyota Avalon Loses the Blah, Embraces the Wow Factor

Toyota Avalon Replacement Set for New York Debut

7 Keys to Buying Your Next Car

On the Road With the 2013 Toyota Tundra Limited 4×4

Toyota Avalon photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.