Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com
September 25, 2013
Can a vehicle have a midlife crisis?
If your answer is the "Toyota Avalon', then the answer would be yes. For the past two generations, the Avalon was positioned for older buyers who wanted to stay in the Toyota family. This plan worked for sixteen years, but it also earned the Avalon the dubious honor of the Japanese Buick. Ouch.
With the third-generation Avalon, Toyota had a quandary. Do they stick with the old person's car or do they go down a different road? They went with the latter option and made the Avalon younger. Toyota turned to their U.S. branch and gave them a mission; design and build an Avalon that attracts a younger audience. 'Younger' in this case is 40 to 60 year olds.
Going younger to attract a younger audience? I decided to find out if that was possible and an Avalon Hybrid was dropped off for a week.
The Avalon Hybrid is one of the more striking full-size sedans on the market today. A coupe-like roofline is the major styling point of the Avalon, helping the vehicle look much more youthful. The front end utilizes a two-tier grille layout. The bottom grille is large and wide, somehow reminding me of an Aston Martin. On top is a slim chrome bar the extends the length of the front end and features Toyota's emblem. The side features sculpturing along the doors and a distinctive line running from the front door to the trunk lid. There are also a fair number of hybrid badges throughout the Avalon Hybrid's body.
Moving inside, the Avalon Hybrid is very well-appointed. In the Limited trim, you get leather throughout and stitching on the dashboard and door panels. The only item I wish Toyota would fix is the wood trim since you can tell it's plastic. Build quality is excellent.
The Avalon Hybrid's center stack is one of the nicest stacks I have seen and used in awhile. You have a textured material surrounding the six or seven-inch touchscreen and climate control that feels very premium. There is also Toyota's IntelliTouch controls, which is what the brand calls the capacitive buttons throughout the center stack. Toyota deserves a lot credit with their IntelliTouch controls since they don't require someone to hit them about seventeen different times to have something happen. Touch it once and an action happens.
My Avalon Hybrid came equipped with the seven-inch touchscreen which brings forth the infotainment system from Lexus. I have to say this is much better than the infotainment system used on the six-inch screen since its much better to look at and use on a daily basis with a much newer interface that has larger touch points and a bit more color.
Comfort is mostly excellent throughout the interior. Driver and passenger get a set of leather seats with power adjustments and the choice of either heat or ventilation. Backseat passengers get loads of legroom. Headroom can be tight for taller passengers due to the sloping roof. On the Limited trim, backseat passengers also get heated seats. Nice touch.
Enough about the comfort and luxuries, lets dive into the powertrain.
Under the Avalon Hybrid's hood is Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system which pairs a 2.5L Atkinson-Cycle four cylinder (156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque) and an electric motor (105 kW and 199 pound-feet of torque). Total output stands at 200 horsepower. A continuously-variable transmission routes the power to the front wheels.
With a curb weight that's over 3,500 pounds, the hybrid's powertrain specs seem a bit low. However, the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain is very much up to the job. It takes a few ticks longer to get up to speed when compared to the V6, but it offers the same smoothness and refinement. The CVT doesn't make itself known to everyone unless you floor the throttle and whine of the transmission appears.
You have the choice of four different drive modes on the Avalon Hybrid to alter the behavior of the engine and other bits. They include;
- EV Mode: Allows a vehicle to travel on electric power for a short distance
- Eco Mode: Increases the resistance to push down on the pedal, adjusts engine and climate control for better fuel economy.
- Sport Mode: Adjusts throttle and steering response
- Normal Mode: Balance between Eco and Sport
To change from one mode to another, there is a set of buttons just behind the gear selector.
For the majority of the week, I left the vehicle in Eco and found it to be ok in normal driving. There were times when I switched it back to normal or to sport to get moving and keep up with traffic as the throttle response wasn't there.
The 2013 Avalon Hybrid is rated ay 40 City/39 Highway/40 Combined. During the course of a week, I averaged 40.7 MPG in mixed driving. Very impressive.
As I wrote in my first drive of the Toyota Avalon and Avalon Hybrid last November, I described the handling characteristics as being Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde since it was smooth and comfortable when driven normally, but becomes surprisingly agile when pushed. I want to revisit that for a moment.
Compared to the Chevrolet Impala and Kia Cadenza I recently drove, the Avalon Hybrid isn't as smooth or comfortable. I found that it would let more bumps and road imperfections into the interior. This is due to the Avalon's suspension tuning leaning more towards sport than comfort. As for driving fun, the Avalon is still tops in this class. The suspension keeps the Avalon Hybrid's body roll in check and the steering has the heft and feel that you'll find in sporty vehicles.
Toyota has seemingly pulled off a fountain of youth trick with the Avalon Hybrid. A vehicle which was the equivalent of the couch you would find at your grandparent's house has undergone massive transformation into a well-done full-size sedan that offers a fine blend of fuel economy and a somewhat sporty drive.
Sometimes a midlife crisis is a very good thing.
Disclaimer: Toyota provided the Avalon Hybrid, insurance, and one tank of gas.
Model: Avalon Hybrid
Engine: 2.5L 16-valve DOHC with VVT-i Atkinson-Cycle Four-Cylinder, Electric Motor
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Continuously-Variable Transmission
Horsepower @ RPM: (Gas) 156 @ 5,700; (Electric) 105 kW @ 4,500; (Combined) 200 @ N/A
Torque @ RPM: (Gas) 156 @ 4,500; (Electric) 199 @ 0 - 1,500 rpm; (Combined) N/A
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 40/39/40
Curb Weight: N/A lbs
Location of Manufacture: Georgetown, Kentucky
Base Price: $41,400.00
As Tested Price: $44,853.00* (Includes $795.00 destination charge)
Technology Package - $1,750.00
Blizzard Pearl Paint - $395.00
Floor and Trunk Mats - $225.00
Wireless Charging Capability for eBin - $200.00
Emergency Assistance Kit - $59.00
First Aid Kit - $29.00