What it is: The Avalon is Toyota’s full-size sedan and it comes in both traditional engine and hybrid versions. My test model was the hybrid, which commands only a $1,000 premium over the non-hybrid model. The relatively small gap in pricing is due to the standard model having a 301 horsepower V6 and the hybrid coming with a 176 horsepower four-cylinder that is combined with a 118 horsepower electric motor. Unfortunately, you don’t get to add those numbers together with Toyota reporting the combined horsepower rating as 215 horsepower.
Toyota has also elected to go with a NiMH battery pack, not a lithium ion version. NiMH is cheaper, but weigh roughly 25 percent more and take 20 percent more volume. Not as much of a concern with a larger car, like the Avalon. The gas savings are potentially huge if you choose the hybrid. The V6 is rated at 22 city/32 highway/26 combined versus the hybrid, which gets 43 city/44 combined/44 highway. I have a pretty good idea of the image of an average Avalon owner and I think that most of them would not fully utilize all 305 horsepower in the V6, so the hybrid would be an excellent choice.
The Avalon is all new and Toyota’s aggressive exterior design has been applied. While the exterior looks more Lexus, the interior is still more Toyota with large buttons on the infotainment system and visual similarities to the previous model. Avalon buyers tend to be repeat customers, so you don’t expect Toyota to shift too far away and risk alienating purchasers.
Toyota has added Apple CarPlay, but frustratingly, not Android Auto. Toyota does offer a remote connect application for Apple Watch so you can remote start your car directly from your phone, and if I ever see an Avalon owner do that, I would probably fall over dead from surprise.
Driving the Avalon Hybrid was great. I did miss some of the extra horsepower, but the large amount of electric torque available from low RPMs makes up for it. The Avalon is buttery smooth on the road and I would have zero qualms at throwing a few friends in the car and loading up the massive trunk and driving on any road trip.
Toyota offers three trims: the XLE ($36,500), XSE ($39,000) and the Limited ($42,800.) I think the one to buy is the XSE. The extra $2,500 is mostly appearance items, but it looks like a Lexus GS F-Sport for under $40,000 (especially in the Ruby Flare Pearl color).
Upsides: Hybrid model is a big value. Greatly improved exterior.
Wrap-up: Color me surprised, but Toyota made the Avalon cool. Now, it’s not the coolest kid in school, but it’s certainly blossomed with the latest iteration. It’s extremely comfortable, looks great, is fun to drive, gets more than 40 MPG in the city, and costs under $40,000. Not too much more to say. The Avalon likely won’t be saving the industry-wide sedan sales slump, but existing Avalon owners looking for an upgrade will have plenty of reason to do so.
All photos courtesy of Toyota North America.