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2018 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Review by Steve Purdy +VIDEO

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Review by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

The demographic niche into which I fit will give a hint to the reason I like this week’s review car so much. It is the Toyota Avalon, front-wheel drive, full-size, near-luxury sedan. I say “near-luxury” to describe this top of the line car from a mainstream brand because it has the look, feel, ambiance and content barely distinguishable from sedans from premium brands like Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti and even the Germans.

Beginning life as a 1994 model the first Avalon replaced the Cressida as Toyota’s full-size sedan. As plain as white bread in those days it was as competent as anything on the market and imbued with Toyota’s legendary quality. The original Avalon shared the Camry platform with front-wheel drive and V6 power becoming a quintessential old person’s car along with full-size Buicks and the last generation Crown Vic and Grand Marquis.

In 2013 the Georgetown, KY-built Avalon began its fourth generation on essentially the Lexus ES platform, also front-wheel drive. Vastly improved over the generations, this new one is as aesthetically interesting as a craft-baked ciabatta, still as competent as anything in the market and still characterized by Toyota quality. No longer just an old folks’ car.

Our test car this week is the Avalon Hybrid rated at 40 mpg on the highway and the city. That’s an impressive number for a full-size sedan. We managed around 34 mpg on this coldest week of the year and mostly extra-legal highway speeds - not its forte. The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system is perhaps the most evolved system of its kind since Toyota pioneered the system in the 1990s. It uses a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine supplemented by lots of nickel metal hydride batteries and motor-generators that all add up to a net of about 200 horsepower. A modern and sophisticated CVT and lots of electronics keep it working at its most efficient. You do have, though, eco and sport modes to change the algorithms a bit to maximize mpgs or sporty feel.

The Avalon’s design, in my view, could contend for “most improved” honors over its original in terms of just about every measure of styling, functionality, mechanical sophistication and user friendliness.

Company boss, Akio Toyoda, pronounced not long before the newest Avalon was designed, that Toyota would no longer embrace unexciting vehicles and he has kept his word. Since that time Toyota products across the board have gotten much more personality and Avalon led with an exaggerated, gaping lower grille, squinty, wrap-around headlight bezels and deep cheek vents. Graceful sculpting around the flanks leading to an expressive rear view. Standard 17-inch wheels are just big enough to fill the wheel wells making for a modestly athletic stance.

Inside it is even more charming. Excellent quality materials, aesthetics, fit and finish will make you feel like you’re in a Lexus. A complex dash design, nice stitching and good ergonomics contribute to that. The best feature inside, I contend, may be the center stack that leans out of the vertical plane at the bottom, sloping gracefully so that the multi-function control screen comes within much easier reach of the driver. Knobs for the audio and touch controls for most other functions work well. Touch controls for the HVAC are better than those on the Cadillac. A handy cubby opens up at the bottom of the center stack where we find the auxiliary, USB and power outlets in easy reach. And, here’s an interesting anomaly: an analog clock, a feature I’ve often touted as a sign of elegance in luxury cars and pretenders to that category, is rendered electronically within the digital readout on the lower center stack. My only suggestion would be that Toyota offer the striking bamboo trim that Lexus used to offer with their hybrids.

Ingress and egress, at least through front doors, is better than many cars in its class as confirmed by this big guy’s experience. Standard leather seating is generous and comfortable both front and rear. Our rear seat passengers this week raved about the room and feel back there. Rear seatbacks do not fold but a pass-through is incorporated into the center for skis or other long things. The deep trunk will hold 16 cubic-feet of your stuff.

We found the driving dynamics amazingly good with better-than-expected acceleration, well-balanced suspension and surprising agility. While we did not treat it as if we were on the race course, we did push it hard enough around our country roads, freeway ramps and other challenging environments to get a good feel for its competence. The chassis feels sturdy and tight across our rough railroad crossings and potholed roads. It is a quiet as any luxury car inside and the heater gets up to temp quickly on these bitterly cold days. I’ll give the heated seats barely passing grades, though, as I could barely tell they were on.

Avalon Hybrid comes in three trim levels beginning with the XLE showing a base price of $37,500. Our top-of-the-line Limited begins at $42,800 and is pretty well loaded at that price. We have just a couple minor options and our bottom line with destination charge is $44,300.

In spite of the brand’s well-earned reputation for dependability and quality Toyota’s new car warranty covers the whole car for only 3 years or 36,000 miles and 5 years or 60,000 miles on the powertrain.

Avalon need not just appeal just to old folks or white bread lovers anymore – it should attract style-conscious younger sourdough aficionados as well. And, I’m one of ‘em.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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