Toyota is the undisputed hybrid champ. Its Prius line is a household name, with buyers across the country fighting to purchase them like the last batch of Twinkies. But the company offers more economical automotive alternatives than just Prii. There’s an amped-up Highlander crossover as well as an electrified version of the ever-popular Camry. In an effort to leave no sliver of the market uncovered, the company is launching yet another hybrid with the 2013 Avalon.
|1. The Avalon Hybrid is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that’s supplemented by an electric motor. Total system output is 200 hp.
2. Hybrid Avalons deliver up to 40 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. That makes for a combined rating of 40 mpg.
3. Toyota is targeting younger customers with the 2013 Avalon by cranking up the style and making it more fun to drive. Today, the car’s average buyer is in their mid 60s.
4. Toyota will offer a fleet-focused model to help fill the vacuum left by the discontinued Lincoln Town Car and they’re gunning to sell between 500 and 1,000 livery models in the first year.
This flagship sedan signals a bold, new direction for Toyota as the Japanese juggernaut is starting to deliver more passionate vehicles. The latest Avalon goes after younger buyers that want, in the words of Joel Fukumoto, a Product Education Manager at the University of Toyota, “less of a car that you ride in and more of a car that you drive.”
“You always want the feeling of the sketch to be put in the real product,” said Miljan Jevremovic, Exterior Designer at Toyota and beaming father of the new, fourth-generation Avalon. He’s responsible for the initial drawing that became the basis of the car’s design.
Previous versions of the Avalon were about as exciting as a podiatrist’s waiting room. Breaking with this tradition, the 2013 model is strikingly similar to Jeremovic’s drawing. His idea survived the arduous product-development gauntlet making it from pen and paper to steel and stampings. He describes his initial illustration as “loose and fun;” it was something he quickly created at the end of a long day. The fact that his sketch got chosen out of hundreds of other drawings is a monumental achievement for a designer in his mid 20s. The fact that the company went with such a decisive look for the car is no less significant.
The Avalon Hybrid has a refreshingly in-your-face appearance, something that’s been totally lacking in other Toyotas. It features an expansive lower-grille opening, sculpted flanks and a long, arching roof. The character line running along the body-side is an interesting flourish and one that was particularly challenging to produce. It features a double-negative shape – two convex surfaces coming together. According to Jeremovic, Toyota had to develop new metal-bending techniques to manufacture it.
Aside from its overall appearance, another area the 2013 Avalon Hybrid excels in is paint quality. Shiny and rich, it looks deeper than the Marianas Trench. The opulent finish is like a confectionary treat from a high-end pastry shop. Urges to lick the car’s glimmering paint were primal and barely resisted.
Following its exterior cues, the interior is just as expressive. Open a door and it’s immediately obvious the new Avalon dispenses with its insipid past. The dashboard is a jamboree of swoopy shapes, hand stitches and cutting-edge electronics, features that would have been almost unthinkable in previous Toyotas.
There’s a lot to like about the cockpit. Materials are soft, the fit and finish is good and the standard leather-clad seats are cross-country comfortable. Toyota is quick to point out the chairs are more aggressively bolstered than the ones in today’s car, something that ties in with its sportier dynamics.
Sliding into the rear seat, things are just as upbeat. The Avalon’s back bench is comfy and spacious, with ample leg and headroom. Curiously, the previous generation’s reclining rear seats were deleted. Equally peculiar is the absence of fold-down backrests. A small pass-through in the center armrest is provided, though.
The Avalon’s cabin may be posh but there are some drawbacks. The dashboard is draped in reflective “smoked chrome” accents. This bright work jazzes things up but it could pose a problem for drivers sensitive to glare, especially if they live in sunny areas. To be fair this may not be an issue; AutoGuide tested the Avalon Hybrid in Michigan on a depressingly overcast day. If you’re interested in the car and can’t stand blinding reflections make sure you test drive it when the sun is out.
At highway speeds things are relatively calm, although the Avalon seems a little louder inside than some of its competitors. A Toyota spokesman said they didn’t want to make the interior too quiet or people wouldn’t be able to have a conversation. Right . . . the car’s louder so people can talk more easily. We’re not buying it.
All Avalon drivers are treated to a keyless entry system with push-button start. But the fob is strictly municipal in its appearance with about as much flair as a voting booth. Sure, it gets the job done with all the functionality you’d expect, but a car this stylish, with this level of detail, deserves an equally upscale key. Toyota could learn a thing or two from Chrysler’s haute couture fobs.
The Avalon Hybrid shares essentially the same electrified drivetrain as the Camry Hybrid. This consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder powerplant that delivers 156 horsepower and an equal serving of torque. Helping it run as efficiently as possible, the engine utilizes something called the Atkinson cycle. It’s a slightly modified four-stroke combustion process that delays the closure of the intake valves during the compression stroke, a strategy that improves efficiency.
The engine is matched to an electric motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Combined, it delivers a total of 200 horsepower. On paper that doesn’t seem like enough oomph for a car weighing nearly 3,600 pounds, but thanks to a quick-witted continuously variable transmission (CVT) it moves quite well. Acceleration is surprisingly strong at all speeds. Toyota estimates it will sprint from zero to 60 miles an hour in roughly 8.0 seconds.
On the fuel-economy front, electrified Avalons are expected to deliver 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 on the highway, making for a combined rating of 40 mpg. Six-cylinder cars can only muster an estimated 21 city, 31 highway.
DRIVERS NO LONGER TAKE A BACK SEAT
Toyota’s latest Avalon shares the same basic architecture as the outgoing model, which is a fine starting point for a large sedan. It inherits a rigid structure, acres of interior space and five-star safety. But today’s version is anything but driver-focused.
“I think the biggest challenge is we’re repositioning the car from a highway cruiser” said Fukumoto. Toyota has emphasized dynamics with the 2013 Avalon and it shows. The car’s ride is unexpectedly firm and body roll pretty well controlled. You’ll never confuse it with a Scion FR-S, but it is more engaging than before.
Impacts served up by Michigan’s third-world roads are met with some starchiness in the suspenders, an unexpected upgrade. Also, the electrically boosted power steering has more life in it than you might expect.
Like the standard Avalon, hybrid models come with a long list of standard safety features and can be ordered with all kinds of high-tech goodies. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is available. Other options include a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, high-intensity discharge “Quadrabeam” headlamps and a power sunshade. Cruise control and a backup camera are standard fare, as are “IntelliTouch” capacitive controls for the climate and audio systems.
Just like the regular model, hybrid owners can adjust the way their Avalon feels. Three different drive settings are available. EV mode runs the car solely on electric power. A full battery contains enough juice to move the vehicle about one mile at speeds up to 20 miles an hour. Eco mode emphasizes frugal driving by reducing throttle response and backing off the climate-control system. Sport mode, as its name suggests, heightens the vehicle’s reflexes by improving accelerator tip-in and tightening the steering feel.
The most affordable Avalon Hybrid is the XLE Premium, which stickers for $35,555. That’s $2,360 more than a comparable V6 model. The XLE Touring flavor comes with more features and starts at a slightly pricier $37,250. The Avalon Limited carries a manufacturer’s suggest retail price of $41,400. That’s $1,750 more than the comparable top-of-the-line gasser. All prices listed exclude shipping and handling fees, which are an additional $760.
Along with its six-cylinder sibling, the 2013 Avalon Hybrid marks a new direction for Toyota. It shows what the company can do when it focuses on building emotional products. The car’s exterior design is bold and distinctive, its interior cushy and well appointed. In hybrid form it’s pleasant to drive for a large sedan and its powertrain delivers fuel economy that’s nothing short of impressive.
Competition in the full-size segment is probably tougher than it’s ever been. Vehicles like the Hyundai Azera, Chrysler 300 and Buick LaCrosse are all capable challengers. Luckily for Toyota the Avalon is every bit their equal and thanks to a high-MPG hybrid offering, probably more.