When Toyota announced its redesigned 2013 Avalon flagship last year, among the most significant revelations was it would offer a hybrid version alongside the traditional V6.
The move is part of Toyota’s ongoing effort to introduce hybridized examples of its various models and it was a good time to do it.
Why? Because the Avalon Hybrid got what is essentially the Camry Hybrid’s powertrain. This Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) system had just been re-worked for 2012 yielding improved efficiency, power and driveability.
You’ve heard of trickle-down technology? The Camry Hybrid starts around $9,400 less than the Avalon Hybrid, so perhaps this is trickle up? And, by the way, Toyota trickled it up further too, as the Lexus ES 300h received the same powertrain this year as well.
If you’ve not noticed, Toyota dominates the hybrid vehicle market and its trademark HSD full-hybrid technology significantly helps a given model’s fuel economy and emissions with little, if any perceptible downside.
As for its styling, the five-passenger 2013 Avalon was revised with the aid of Calty Design Research of Newport Beach, Calif. and Ann Arbor, Mich. Toyota says this is the “most American Avalon yet,” which presently is perceived as a good thing.
In years past, some American cars were panned for marginal quality. The previous U.S.-built Avalon exuded an Asian design influence, but actually aspired to American-ness in other ways. It was always a plush car, but its road dynamics and the demographic that gravitated to it caused some to liken the Avalon to a Buick.
The 2013’s crisp new form is designed to appeal to 40-60 year olds – and older and younger buyers can also appreciate its tauter handling to match its more purposeful and flowing lines inside and out.
Instead of the standard Avalon’s 265-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6, the 3,585-pound Avalon Hybrid does fine with 1-liter less displacement and two fewer cylinders to burn gas.
Its 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four is enough because its 156 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, and 156 pounds-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm is supplemented by 199 pounds-feet of electric motor torque from 0-1,500 rpm and 141 electric horsepower at 4,500 rpm.
That’s somewhere around half its power potentially coming from a gas-free, and emissions-free source. The total HSD system is rated at 200 horsepower. Toyota doesn’t divulge the torque total, and as is typical, rated horsepower is less than the gas-plus-electric total because the engine and motor peak at different points.
The Avalon Hybrid actually uses two high-output electric motor/generators. Motor/Generator 1 (MG1) is used to start the gasoline engine and generate the energy returned to the battery to power the system. Motor/Generator 2 (MG2) is primarily responsible for electric drivetrain propulsion and regenerative braking.
And if you’re wondering, the Camry Hybrid’s powertrain is sufficient for the Avalon, which is six inches longer at 195.2 inches, half an inch wider at 72.2 inches, but its curb weight is only 141 pounds more.
Its aerodynamic profile – another major variable determining performance – is comparable too, with a coefficient of drag of 0.28 versus the Camry Hybrid’s 0.27.
The Avalon Hybrid has run 0-60 at around eight seconds or a few-tenths less. In exchange for maybe a second-and-a-half in quickness compared to the six-cylinder, the hybrid boasts 40 mpg combined. This is a huge gain over the six’s 24-25 mpg combined, and the hybrid costs as little as $1,750 more depending on trim. The Avalon Hybrid’s EPA rating is also favorable against other higher performance-oriented hybrids.
Powering the electric motor is a 244.8-volt nickel metal-hydride battery comprised of 34 modules made up of a total of 204 cells. It’s stored in the trunk and costs two-cubic-feet of storage compared to the V6 Avalon leaving a still-respectable 14 cubic feet of volume.
Three propulsion modes enable the driver to select the car’s degree of tameness or aggressiveness. Skewing toward ultimate economy is EV mode which – assuming sufficient battery charge – allows all-electric driving up to a mile at under 25 mph. Another fuel-saving mode, Eco, notches back throttle response and the HVAC system to save energy.
And then you have Sport mode activated like EV and Eco by a center console button or by moving the shift lever to the left from Drive. Sport mode simulates multiple gears in the CVT, a digital tachometer appears in the center display, and shift points are at redline. Also, the rpms may increase noticeably if you shift to Sport on the road as the CVT mimics a downshift.
In all, the HSD system won’t likely disappoint many people wanting a well-appointed $36,000-$40,000-plus sedan that still has enough get up and go.
Toyota is quite proud of how the 2013 Avalon turned out, and has been promoting it front and center to the media and public alike.
“The point of the new Avalon is to show the market that ‘Toyota is Back!’ It will lead the charge for great styling, great handling performance, and the highest and best level of technologies,” said Randy Stephens, Avalon chief engineer.
The company spends a lot of adjectives in describing its widened and lowered stance and other nuances of its “athletic” new sheet metal, but with all the photos here, we’ll spare most of the descriptors and let you judge for yourself.
It is a debate between the Avalon and Lexus ES hybrid cousin as to which is prettier.
One innovation worth noting is the Avalon’s “industry-first Quadrabeam™ headlight cluster” which lights the way – and very effectively we’ll add.
It consists of a double-eye design plus inner high beams with two square glass condenser low beam lenses. A choice of halogen and High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs is available for these low beams.
Also worth mentioning is the recessed front grille. It’s remotely reminiscent of the attractive flush-mounted Aston-Martinesque design Ford has incorporated in its Fusion and several other models.
Noteworthy as well is even the mirrors were re-engineered. These multi-tasking units offer a turn signal lamp, electrical adjustment, heater, memory positioning, a puddle lamp, available Blind Spot Monitor indicator, and electro-chromatic glass.
We did not exhaustively describe the exterior because a picture says a thousand words, but here are five adjectives for the interior of the XLE Touring version we drove: open, spacious, airy, tasteful, classy.
A feeling of quality is imbued as is functionality. Everything is at hands-reach, and there are enough strategically placed cubbies and cup holders adding to the comfort quotient. Included are three 12-volt DC power outlets, one USB and one 3.5mm AUX jack for connecting portable devices.
Widened this year, the digital instrument cluster is logically arranged, with redundant steering wheel controls for infotainment and display to reduce distracted driving potential.
The standard audio system uses a 6.1-inch touch screen which doubles as the back-up camera’s viewer and displays info and audio functions for its Toyota’s Entune-equipped multimedia system.
Two types of climate control systems are available: one with three-zone independent temperature control and another with two-zone temperature control.
LED accent lights illuminate the center-front mounted storage tray, the two cup holders, and glove box.
The leather-covered, electrically heated seats in our car were sufficiently bolstered and all-day comfortable.
As mentioned, what really caught our eye in our almond-colored interior was the tasteful contrast.
The faux wood dash trim, almond colored stitched soft-touch material, and smoked chrome trim may not have cost Toyota as much as real wood, leather and metal, but the care of their orchestration is evident.
Their effect for the “Almond” interior scheme is an aesthetically pleasing and balanced composition of light tones, chocolate brown, black and dark chrome.
Other color schemes available are light grey which Toyota says stays cooler and creates a modern interior space; and black said to offer a greater sense of driving performance.
Space for long legs is good also. At six-feet-tall, with 34-inch inseam, front legroom was plentiful. And backseat room was enough with the driver’s seat slid all the way back. Toyota says front legroom is 41.6 inches and rear is 39.2 inches.
It’s spacious for a “midsize” car, has been compared to larger cars, and Toyota is actually making a bid to take up some of the livery business left by the now-retired Lincoln Town Car.
Pressing the push button starter causes a discrete chime to alert the vehicle is operational. Otherwise, the engine does not come on unless you shift and press the accelerator or the HVAC system demands it.
Two-hundred horsepower is less than the regular Avalon’s 3.5-liter six with 248-horsepower and 248 pounds-feet torque, but it’s enough to occasionally spin the front wheels and engage the traction control.
Acceleration is smooth. Transitions between gas and electric are essentially imperceptible. The vehicle works with an appliance like efficiency – and while that sounds good to some – this can still be a sticking point to drivers with a high-performance mindset.
Some reviewers have already said the Avalon is not especially “fun to drive” but we’ll say this all depends on what you consider fun.
The Avalon Hybrid is not an outright poke at the expense of ultimate efficiency, but it sure won’t sprint like a $54,200 Infiniti M35h hybrid, or one of several German performance-oriented hybrids.
Its 0-60 time is acceptable, as are its capability to travel at all reasonable highway speeds, and on-the-go passing power. The car has no difficulty going with or beyond “the flow.”
While cornering briskly, its front MacPherson strut suspension with stabilizer bar and rear independent dual-link suspension with stabilizer bar keep body roll acceptable.
It can be cornered at 85-percentile with confidence, and handles various bumps with compliant damping.
That said, its low rolling resistance 215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4 tires are not cat claws allowing you to push the Gs so hard that the blood rushes to one side of your head.
And this is where a fine point can be made about what automotive reviewers normally only imply.
Sedans like the Infiniti M35h that might even hold their own at a track day or drag strip are more “fun to drive” because they are a blast well into the red zone. They also feel overqualified at more sedate speeds, this is true.
The Avalon is not in this echelon and – perhaps just as well – it does not aid and abet your inner-Type A aggressiveness as some high-performance sedans seem to be able to.
It will however fully meet the requirements of people who don’t want to drive like the automotive equivalents of tigers on the prowl while possibly also looking behind hoping not to see flashing red and blue lights.
Braking performance from the Avalon Hybrid is also up to the task from its ABS-equipped, Brake Assist (BA), regenerative brakes. Up front are 11.65-inch ventilated discs and in back a similar design is 11.06 inches.
Toyotas are normally quiet, and being a hybrid that runs on electricity part time, the ride is especially hushed. On the boil, the CVT does intrude into the cabin and can sound kind of blah and off-note from what the car is actually doing. To a performance car aficionado accustomed to more purposeful exhaust music, it can be a bit of a cacophony.
The Sport mode can remedy this, as it simulates shift points, and holds gears longer on deceleration.
This will however cost efficiency and if you actually do drive it like a sports car expect to sacrifice a 8-14 mpg from its advertised 40 mpg. Maximizing efficiency with this sizable sedan takes a steady hand in EV or Eco mode, no jack-rabbit starts, no high-speed running – in other words, no “fun” as we’ve unofficially established the definition to be.
Of course it’s also fun to bypass the fuel pump more often, and some people like to make it a game to see if they can beat the advertised fuel economy. This is possible, but care will have to be taken.
Overall, the Avalon Hybrid does a fine job from sporty to Spartan. It would be a good choice for a multi-state driving tour, and makes light work of daily commutes.
Lots of safety is baked-in or available starting with 10 standard airbags and a lightweight body utilizing more high-tensile steel. Toyota says it sets new benchmarks for rigidity, handling, and crashworthiness.
The car can be equipped with two different millimeter-wave radar systems, one being a Blind Spot Monitor which lights a side mirror icon to warn of cars approaching alongside in parallel. The other radar system is
Rear Cross Traffic Alert that warns of low-speed cross traffic behind the car.
Also available is Dynamic Radar Cruise Control that uses a radar sensor to help control speed and keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front.
Hybrid competition is on the rise, but shoppers wanting an upper scale high mpg sedan may consider the slightly higher-line, but functionally and dimensionally almost identical Lexus ES hybrid.
The ES 300h starts at $39,250 before destination charge. The Avalon Hybrid starts at $35,555. The Toyota is offered in three trim levels – XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and Limited. with options available, and does cross into Lexus price territory. Both cars offer the same EPA-rated mileage and horsepower, so depending as much on choice of nameplate, buyers essentially have to decide between a Lexus 300h or Avalon.
Another possibility would be Lincoln’s redesigned MKZ hybrid.
A handsome car to most eyes, its boasts 45 mpg city, highway and combined, starts at $35,925, and is a car Ford hopes will also breath life back into its upscale brand.
Unknown at this point is whether the Lincoln will meet these ambitious advertised numbers. It may, but it uses the Fusion Hybrid’s powertrain rated in that car at 47 mpg, and word has it the Fusion has a hard time getting above high 30s in the real world even when carefully driven.
Beyond the Lincoln are others, including the Fusion Hybrid, VW Jetta Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. These cars are down a peg in status and panache, but all freshly revised, and perform admirably for significantly less outlay.
And if after surveying alternatives you come back to the Avalon Hybrid, that would be a good choice. It’s an enjoyable car, nicely revised this year, and poised to continue earning a solid spot in the sales charts in years to come.