Merging elements from the Lexus ES 300h and the Camry Hybrid, the 2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid delivers on that for which it’s advertised.
What’s that? It’s a roomy, mid-sized sedan positioned as a range topper that also gets quite respectable fuel mileage – its 40 mpg combined is 16 mpg better than a six-cylinder Avalon, actually.
Carried forward with no significant changes for 2015, the hybrid system was the big news in 2013 as an addition to the fully refreshed fourth-generation Avalon which got sharper lines in an attempt to appeal to younger buyers.
Here, “younger” would mean mid-40s as a median age, as opposed to those from the more mature set who might also, say, go for a Buick, or so went the clichés.
Having ditched some of that image – it will still be appreciated by seniors however – we’ll note the Avalon is due for a mid-cycle refresh, and the 2016 model promises more aggressive lines.
It’s not a complete overhaul however, and the 2015 Avalon Hybrid remains a competent car and one hybrid that can pay off compared to non-hybrid variants. Last year its sales ranked it 11th best among the field of nearly 40 U.S. market hybrids. Its closest sibling, the Lexus ES 300h, ranked seventh.
Both cars are very similar in dimensions, power, mpg, drive experience, luxury and refinement. The Toyota is more discrete in wearing a T instead of an L and whether it makes sense to get one or a Lexus or wait till later this year for the 2016 will depend on pricing and priorities.
Replacing a thirsty 265-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 from the non-hybrid Avalon, the four-cylinder hybrid system in the 3,585-pound Avalon Hybrid is plenty peppy – and this Hybrid Synergy Drive system is shared by the ES 300h and Camry Hybrid.
Specifically, motivating it is a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four itself with 156 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, and 156 pounds-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. This gas engine’s power is supplemented by 199 pounds-feet of electric motor torque from 0-1,500 rpm and 141 electric horsepower at 4,500 rpm.
The total system is rated at 200 horsepower which is routed to the front wheel via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). 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 has run 0-60 mph at around eight seconds or a few-tenths less. The loss of maybe a second-and-a-half in quickness compared to the six-cylinder could be worth it to net 40 mpg combined instead of 24 mpg for the six cylinder.
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.
Although the Avalon line is pending a refresh, it remains a contemporary car and inside, with functionality augmented by an open, spacious, and nicely appointed design.
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. A new wireless phone charging capability is also offered.
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.
Space for long legs is good also. At six-feet-tall, with 34-inch inseam, front legroom was plentiful. And back seat 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.
On the Road
Pressing the push button starter causes a discrete chime to alert you 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 enough to occasionally spin the front wheels and engage the traction control.
Acceleration is smooth and transitions between gas and electric are essentially imperceptible.
The Avalon Hybrid is not an outright poke at the expense of ultimate efficiency, but it sure won’t sprint like a Lexus GS or Infiniti Q50 sport hybrid, or one of several German performance-oriented hybrids.
Its get-up-and-go never feels like much more is needed for any ordinary or even hurried driving. And, its capability to travel at all reasonable highway speeds is plenty, as is and on-the-go passing power. Nor does the 112-mph car have any difficulty going with or beyond “the flow.”
Its highway manners we can fully attest to, as we drove 1,300 miles in a couple days from Philadelphia to Detroit and back where it returned around 34 mpg factoring varying speed limits and while using the adaptive cruise control in battery-sapping frigid weather. The cruise control will maintain a space gap which means it will also accelerate back to speed when the way is clear. This type of driving does use extra gas, and 34 mpg is respectable considering the varying drivetrain loads and speeds on highways posted as high as 75 mph.
It’s an outstanding highway car and all-day comfortable. In the dead of winter, through Ohio at -8 degrees F the seat heaters and HVAC kept things cozy.
Aside from straight highway driving, making tracks, combined fuel economy increased to around 37 with mixed acceleration and still in very cold weather. At other times with a 2013 version of the same car under more temperate conditions, we’ve hit EPA numbers and above.
On backroads, as mentioned, it’s not a sports car, but is competent enough.
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. On the boil, the CVT noise 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.
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.
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.
The car is 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, as tested, 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 $40,425 including delivery charge. The Avalon Hybrid Premium starts at $36,630, and is accompanied by the Avalon Hybrid XLE Touring ($37,825) and Avalon Hybrid Limited ($42,475).
Compared to the Avalon XLE Premium non-hybrid, the base Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium costs $2,360 more.
Both the Lexus ES and Avalon Hybrid 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 a rated 45 mpg city, highway and combined and Ford is unique in that it does not charge a hybrid premium over the non-hybrid to get it.
Beyond that, more choices can be seen in our comprehensive Dashboard which surveys the entire U.S. alternative energy car market.
But if you come back to the 2015 Avalon – or wait for the revised 2016 – know this is an evolved car that can be very satisfying and its extra 16 mpg with refinement and satisfying experience can easily make it worth the hybrid surcharge.