By Bruce Aldrich, Contributing Edtior
The 2013 Toyota Avalon will debut in December, and the fourth generation sedan has a new mission statement — excitement. The car has a entirely new look, an upgraded interior and better handling. Expect to see design cues from the Avalon in future Toyotas.
The real news is the hybrid Avalon. The hybrid drivetrain is the same used in the hybrid Camry. This Synergy Drive system uses a 2.5-liter gas motor, combined with an electric motor to provide 200 horsepower.
I prefer the hybrid Avalon over gas models. The hybrid does everything the gas model does, but with less drama. The constant velocity transmission (infinite gears, unlike just six in the gas car) provides perfectly smooth acceleration and significantly improved gas mileage over the gas models. Expect 0-60 times of eights seconds flat with highway mpg at 39.
I immediately noticed the upgraded interior entering the new Avalon. The cheap plastic bits are gone, conveying the feel of an upmarket car. Phone connectivity and the latest safety gadgets, such as blind-spot monitoring, radar speed control and rear cross traffic monitoring are all available.The leather-wrapped steering wheel looks like it could be at home in a sports sedan. Gauges are large and easy to read. Toyota omitted the silly arcade game displays prominent in other hybrids. Radio and climate controls are separated so there is no confusion.
However, the touch-activated switches (called IntelliTouch) are sometimes frustrating to use. A driver can inadvertently touch and change something her or she didn’t want changed.The hybrid Avalon has three selectable drive modes: Sport, ECO and Ev. The Sport mode is the “performance” setting your teenager would use when he borrows the car for date night. In this setting, the throttle response is increased, the power steering boost is reduced for a firmer wheel feel and maximum output from the Synergy Drive system.
The standard setting is ECO. This setting maximizes fuel savings across all driving conditions. ECO reduces throttle response, and modifies the air conditioning operation. The EV mode helps to keep the car in electric-only mode longer at low speeds. Use this mode when puttering around on your retirement campus.The hybrid Avalon is fun to drive. Toyota engineers stiffened up the chassis by adding several structural braces and tuned the suspension for what they call “sporty driving.” The car handles well in the curves and maintains its composure over bumps.
The new electric power steering improves fuel economy, but I like it because it has a better feel of the road. The brakes seem fine, although you can hear a light whine as the regenerative braking system activates to charge the batteries.
The battery pack weighs about 150 pounds and takes up two cubic feet of trunk space. The cells in the battery pack are Nickel Metal Hydride. The battery is charged by regenerative braking and the gas motor.
I usually don’t like hybrid cars, but the Avalon works so well I recommend it since there’s little to compromise in the hybrid Avalon over the gas models. The handling is the same and the gas mileage is a stellar 39 mpg highway. The hybrid Avalon isn’t going to win many drag races, but it still has ample acceleration.
There are other midsize premium cars to consider, but the Avalon might be the one to choose if you want a hybrid. Toyota is pricing the hybrid around $2,000 more than the gas models. Also look at Avalon’s stablemate, the Lexus ES 300h, which starts at $38,850.
2013 Toyota Avalon Facts & Figures
XLE Premium, $33,195, $35,555.
XLE Touring, $35,500, $37,250.
Limited, $39,650, $41,400.
3.5 liter V-6, six speed transmission: 21 mpg (city), 31 mpg (highway).
Synergy Drive, CVT transmission: 40 mpg (city), 39 mpg (highway).
Contributing editor Bruce Aldrich, a lifelong car enthusiast, is a multi-media journalist who specializes in automotive, travel and sports topics. Visit his websites: TahoeTruckeeOutdoor.com and IMtahoeLive.com.