Extensive safety, three highly specified trim levels, and a solid build quality all make the Toyota Avalon Hybrid feel it should be in a pricier segment. A 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine pairs with an electric motor to produce combined outputs of 200 horsepower. Power is routed to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission. The top-spec Limited trim includes tri-zone climate control, ventilated front seats, and heated rear ones for extra comfort. Standard safety includes autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning.
Nowadays, every manufacturer offers a mid-sized hybrid sedan. But if we look at the full-sized segment, there are but a few – and one that’s pioneered the segment since introduction in 2013. It’s no surprise it would be a Toyota product – pioneers of the Prius, and in this segment, with the Avalon Hybrid. But now with dated battery technology, the Toyota is starting to look like a relic – relegated to the pages of the hybrid history books. With few competitors, the Avalon’s biggest challenge comes in-house from the Lexus ES 300h, though the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid may also compete for potential buyers’ affections.
The Avalon’s interior is largely one of high quality and a logical layout. However the ergonomics have flaws, with controls hidden by other items in the cabin, and a lack of telescopic movement on the steering wheel making it difficult for all drivers to find an ideal seating position. Visibility is by no means poor, but looking rearward there are several blind spots that optional parking sensors easily resolve. The rest of the seating position is decent though, with comfortable seats offering good support and a good range of adjustment. Rear occupants get treated to the same luxury as the font pair do – plenty of space for both tall and short passengers.
In this hybrid version, trunk space is however compromised. The battery pack is stored under the floor of the trunk, and whilst the standard Avalon boasts 16 cubic feet, the Hybrid’s figure is reduced to just 14 cubes. The rear seats also don’t fold.
Softly sprung suspension has both benefits and downsides. On the upside, the ride is cloud-like in its levels of comfort, soaking up the road as you float along the highways and byways. But on particularly bumpy roads the ride can be easily unsettled and overwhelmed by virtue of its softness, and the ride can become overly floaty. The steering in the Avalon Hybrid is light in all scenarios, but it is direct, which makes tight maneuvering decently easy. But it doesn’t really inspire much confidence, and paired with the bouncy ride, the nose becomes heavy and is prone to understeer when pushed beyond its limits.
While modern hybrids have mostly been tuned to pair their systems together imperceptibly, the brakes in the Avalon Hybrid take some getting used to. The responses are unusual at best, with its mild regeneration causing awkward initial brake feel. That said, the brakes aren’t impeded by the funny feel.
The Avalon Hybrid combines drive from a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle combustion engine (156 horsepower, 156 lb-ft of torque) with a 141hp, 199 lb-ft electric motor for a combined system output of 200hp. The electric motor is supplied by a 1.6kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery pack that enables very short, low speed journeys without use of combustion. The EPA rates the system at 40/39 MPG on the city/highway scales. Drive is sent to the front wheels, via a hybrid-norm continuously variable transmission to make the most of the efficiency.
The Avalon is featured with three trim lines, all well equipped. The XLE Plus features a sunroof, power rear sun shades, heated power adjustable front seats, and a rear-view camera. It also incorporates adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning as standard. The XLE Premium includes wireless charging and navigation, with blind spot monitoring for added safety. The Limited model adds Xenon lights, tri-zone climate, ventilated front seats, and heated rear ones. The Toyota Avalon’s generous safety specification earned it the title of IIHS Top Safety Pick + for 2017.
The Avalon is an old school iteration of fairly new tech. It may be dated now, with plug-in rivals emerging, but it caters to what Toyota buyers are after – safety, comfort, and economy. It offers a luxury nameplate package, at a fraction of the price.