Ask AutoGuide No. 11 – Toyota Avalon Hybrid vs. Chevrolet Impala vs. Subaru Outback

Ask AutoGuide No. 11 – Toyota Avalon Hybrid vs. Chevrolet Impala vs. Subaru Outback

It may not be perfect but the United States is a great country. America has her share of problems, both past and present, but for the most part this nation is pretty sweet; when it comes to being awesome we’ve done better than most.

This land is your land, this land is my land; it’s home to freedom and possibility, abundance and Coney dogs. Hundreds of years ago the U.S. was courageous enough to stretch clear across an entire continent, bold enough to caress two oceans at the same time and smart enough to never let the other one find out.

That intrepid, flirtatious attitude is alive and well today. Americans boldly go where others refuse and tackle issues no one else will; we even tolerate hipsters and live-action roll-playing. If this roiling kettle of patriotism gets any closer to boiling over the AutoGuide Oracles’ ocular organs will erupt with tears of pride and thankfulness.

America is a land of endless expanses, suburbia and the open road. Our Interstate Highway System connects small towns with major population centers; it’s like an asphalt internet, an analog Cyb3rw3b. Thankfully the real net isn’t constructed of crumbling bridges and potholes.


Bumps, cracks and frost-heaves are an unfortunate reality of motoring in ‘Murica. With miles and miles of miles and miles it’s not always easy to maintain our infrastructure the way it should be. This necessity was the mother, or at least the wet nurse of invention; it spurred the wide-spread adoption of smooth-riding, comfortable cars. Traversing disintegrated pavement in a rough-riding sports car is hardly enjoyable, nor is having your adiposity quiver like a Doberman’s dewlap, hence the need for smoothness.

This week Bob dispatched a communiqué asking for assistance. He’s in the market for something that at first glance sounds like an automotive paradox. He wants a fuel-efficient large car. Generally big does not equal economical, but thanks to modern technology the two are no longer mutually exclusive.

Robert has between $25,000 and $40,000 to spend. He wants technology, lots of safety features and good fuel economy. Long-term reliability is critical as well since he plans on driving this vehicle into the ground. What’s a sedan fan to do? Where can a four-door aficionado turn for advice? He’s come to the right place.

Suggestion #1 – 2014 Chevrolet Impala

Information Card -- Chevrolet ImpalaRight now Bob’s vehicular stable consists of a 2005 Subaru Outback and a ’95 Acura Legend. As you can tell he leans toward imported auto-mo-beels but he’s not totally opposed to Detroit iron. The last American car he owned was a ’66 Mustang, which likely provided a flurry of memories, but not necessarily all of them good. Corresponding via electronic mail he wrote he would consider a Big Three car if they really “knocked it out of the park.”

Just like his baseball reference, Chevrolet is about as American as it gets, never mind that it was founded by a Swiss-born Frenchman. Keeping our large-car tradition alive is the Bow-Tie brand’s redesigned Impala.

Long a staple of rental lots this full-size sedan has been completely transformed for the 2014 model year, going from fleet queen to prom queen. The previous car was the potted meat of the automotive world, cheap, mushy and of questionable origin, but the ’14 version is like surf and turf at a fine steakhouse.

The car’s exterior design has gone from anodyne to awesome, its interior municipal to magnificent. But there’s a whole lot more to this vehicle than just handsome styling. To keep up with its competition the new Impala can be loaded with enough high-tech safety and convenience features to make the Bill Gates apprehensive.

While the car has not been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) just yet it comes standard with 10 airbags, so it should be plenty safe. Like many new vehicles it will probably earn at least “Top Safety Pick” status, how could it not? There are more inflatable devices in the cabin than at a balloon-industry convention.

Helping lessen the driver’s burden 2014 Impalas offers all kinds of advanced assistance features. A collision-mitigation system, lane-departure and forward collision warning are but a few of the items available. It also comes with blind-spot alert, a backup camera and full-speed-range adaptive cruise control. If technology and safety are what Bob’s after this car is hard to top.

But wait, if you order in the next 15 weeks they’ll throw in six months of OnStar service, ABSOLUTELY FREE!

SEE ALSO: 2014 Chevrolet Impala Review

While not quite a Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors, buyers have three different options from to choose from in the engine room. The base powerplant is a 2.5-liter EcoTec four-cylinder. It’s thrifty and efficient, delivering 196 horsepower and up to 31 miles per gallon on the highway.

The biggest engine available is a 3.6-liter V6. It puts out a muscular 305 horses but is only slightly less efficient than the four-banger, offering up to 29 MPG on the open road, which is nothing to sneeze at.

For maximum efficiency a thrifty eAssist version will be offered toward the end of the year. The heart of this hybrid drivetrain is a 2.4-liter gasoline engine. Output is slightly less than the base four, but at 182 horsepower it’s not far off.

Where eAssist really shines is in the fuel economy department. Impalas equipped with this drivetrain should manage 25 miles per gallon in the city and up to 35 on expressway jaunts. Small cars from just five years ago had trouble delivering such impressive numbers.

Base price for a 2014 Chevrolet Impala with the 2.5-liter engine is about $27,500. That’s not too shabby for a large car with an attractive design, comfortable interior and 10 airbags. Throw in a ginormous trunk and impressive fuel economy and this Chevy can handle just about anything.

Suggestion #2 – 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Information Card -- Toyota AvalonWhat’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “hybrid”? It’s probably Prius, and by extension Toyota. The Japanese auto-giant is practically synonymous with electrified vehicles, selling more of them than any other company.

Just like the Impala, Toyota’s Avalon has been completely transformed, going from dull to dreamy in one fell swoop. Every previous version of the car was critically boring, sleepier than nap time at Golden Sunset Retirement Community, though at least the Avalon’s seats remained dry.

Driving one of these antiquated Avalons was about as enjoyable as birthing a television set; one of those old-school rear-projection behemoths that were terrible at everything except taking up huge amounts of floor space.

Luckily for large-car customers the new Avalon is a revolutionary product for Toyota. It’s actually got swagger and presence; it no longer looks like a watered down Buick Lucerne, one of the blandest cars ever built. It’s the result of the company’s push to deliver more exciting, emotional products, and Toyota deserves a big pat on the back because they succeeded, but they didn’t ruin the car in the process.

Out on the road the Avalon, even in economy-minded hybrid trim delivers an engaging driving experience… for a large sedan. It’s no Scion FR-S, but it’s no longer a snooze-factory, either. The ride is smooth but the car still handles pretty well; it’s a nice balance.

It’s powered by a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine that delivers just 156 horsepower, which sounds pitifully quaint, but this vehicle is full of surprises. It’s augmented by a 105 kW electric motor that’s amped up by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Total system power is more respectable at 200 ponies.

Despite its low horsepower rating the Avalon actually accelerates pretty briskly. Merging with fast-moving highway traffic is no problem, but efficiency is the Avalon’s trump card. The car promises an amazing 40 miles per gallon in urban driving and 39 on the interstate – numbers that quite simply destroy the Chevy’s Impala eAssist hybrid.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Review

In the unfortunate event of a crash the Avalon protects its occupants with an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating. The car has not been put through the fear-mongering organization’s new, and very rigorous small-overlap test.

When it comes to standard equipment the Avalon is offered with much of what you’d expect in a modern, large sedan. A moonroof is part of the deal as is a backup camera, rear-seat air vents and dual-zone automatic climate control with an air filter to keep pollution and allergens at bay, or at least out of the cabin.

The Avalon is an excellent large car, but greatness ain’t cheap. Chevy is happy to sell you a stripped-down Impala but the Avalon Hybrid is considerably richer than its domestic competitor. Base price for the car is a few hundred bucks more than $36,000, including shipping and handling. Of course that’s still within Bob’s budget but it’s close to the upper limit. Pricey or not the car does not disappoint.

Suggestion #3 – 2013 Subaru Outback

Information Card -- Subaru OutbackIn an effort to pinpoint Bob’s automotive needs and desires we’ve explored some of the freshest options in the large-sedan segment. The Chevy Impala and Toyota Avalon both offer some compelling plusses and crippling minuses, but now it’s time for something completely different, a product so far out of left field it comes from first base. The vehicle in question is the Subaru Outback.

Toss an extra shrimp on the barbie, this Australian-themed crossover is a familiar option; Robby already has one from the exciting 2005 vintage in his automotive cellar (read: garage).

This crossover is a modern cure for station wagony. If you lust after a spacious vehicle with car-like dynamics this could be the answer to your vehicular prayers. It delivers fryer-basket full of features in a practical, efficient package, all without the stench of burnt oil… at least not for the first decade.

When it comes to schlepping the Outback is ready for action. With the rear seats folded it offers more than 71 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume. The best the Avalon can muster is just 14 cubes for luggage or other sundry miscellany.

Upholding Subaru’s commitment to quirkiness the Outback is powered by one of two boxer engines, a layout not used by many manufacturers. The base powerplant is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that posts 173 horsepower on its stat sheet. A 3.6-liter six-shooter is the up-level choice, delivering 256 horsepower.

To maximize fuel economy Bob has no choice but to go with the base engine and the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is a $1,000 up-charge. On the highway this combo can stretch a gallon of gasoline up to 30 miles, a far cry from the Avalon Hybrid’s efficiency rating. A six-speed manual is the standard gearbox and the enthusiast’s choice.

Base price for an Outback so equipped is a little more than $24,000, making it a very strong value, especially when you factor in the standard all-wheel drive system. Unfortunately it falls short in the opulence department. Sure, it’s got a host of safety features from brake assist to side-curtain airbags, but Bob would probably want to spring for the limited model, which starts around 30 grand.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Subaru Outback Review

One options box he’d absolutely have to check is Subaru’s EyeSight system. This driver-assistance technology incorporates adaptive cruise control, land-departure warning and a pre-collision braking system that will stop the car automatically to avoid a crash. It comes bundled with a navigation system and adds about $4,000 to the price tag.

As for safety the Outback earned “Top Safety Pick +” honors meaning it’s better than the best, if that makes sense, which it shouldn’t since the IIHS is just trying to confuse people.

Unlike the region it’s named after the Subaru Outback is neither vast nor barren. It’s a smart-sized vehicle with lots of standard and optional equipment. G’day mate!


What installment of Ask AutoGuide would be complete without some Dishonorable Mentions? These vehicles come close to the mark but aren’t quite worthy of a full recommendation. Think of them as good students trapped at community college.


The Ford Taurus is a large sedan with a stylish body and some interesting features. Buyers can choose between three different engines, from an economical four-cylinder to volume V6 to a fire-breathing twin-turbo; there’s something for everybody and every budget. For Bob we’d recommend a bull with the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost powerplant. It delivers a responsive 240 horsepower and up to 32 MPG. The car is super safe but ultimately it’s let down by its space inefficiency. The passenger compartment is unacceptably cramped for one of the largest sedans on the road. Also, Ford’s fuel economy claims are likely to be bogus. The Taurus is a good car but not a great one.


The Volkswagen Passat is an intriguing option. When equipped with the optional diesel engine and a manual gearbox it delivers and EPA estimate of 43 MPG highway. With an 18.5-gallon fuel tank the car has a theoretical maximum range of nearly 800 miles! Past quality issues and a relative dearth of features hold the Passat back. Like the other cars discussed this installment of Ask AutoGuide it’s also a “Top Safety Pick,” as is the Taurus.


Bob is the patient this week and he needs a healthy dose of luxury, safety and long-term reliability. What’s the best car for him?  Here’s our final report.

2013-Subaru-Outback-InteriorLet’s start with the Outback. This capacious Subaru offers cargo volume, decent fuel efficiency and a proven track record for quality. If Bob lives in an inclement-weather area standard all-wheel drive could be a godsend. But ultimately the Outback isn’t that opulent nor does it feel particularly special, plus he already owns one, so why buy another? It’s a terrific vehicle but we’re pushing for something else.

2014-Chevrolet-Impala-RearUnlike the Subaru, Chevy’s Impala is loaded with character. It’s a stylish and spacious large sedan that shares nothing with its rental-grade predecessor. The car’s very newness is highly appealing, but it’s also the vehicle’s greatest drawback. With no medical history on file we have no idea how the Impala will hold up, and Chevy isn’t exactly known for faultless reliability. Also, a full-size car named after an agile African antelope is as inappropriate as it is oxymoronic. This Chevy’s a looker and a great contender.

2013-Toyota-Avalon-BadgeOf course that leaves one vehicle left, the Toyota Avalon Hybrid. This amped up sedan won everyone over with its combination of emotional styling, spacious interior and unassailable fuel economy. Its combined rating is 40 MPG! Throw in legendary Toyota reliability and you have a recipe for success, and victory in this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide.

As always, good luck Bob in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.

If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to [email protected]. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.