2020 Toyota Avalon defines ideal hybrid sedan

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Hybrid car owners often compromise. They embrace the superior gas mileage and environmental concerns mixed-engine vehicles offer. But odd-looking exterior designs, limited interior space and lackluster acceleration provide frustration.

As such, many potential new buyers have dismissed the hybrid market. It’s why the segment has rarely reached 3 percent of yearly industry sales in the United States since the Toyota Prius debuted 20 years ago. It was the country’s first mainstream hybrid.

The 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is largely unchanged from last year’s second-generation debut. The Avalon gas-only model was unveiled 25 years ago. The hybrid trim was introduced in late 2012 as a 2013 model. It’s also among the few alternative fuel sedans that don’t fit the staid stereotype.

The 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid holds its own against strong competition.
The 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid holds its own against strong competition.

With its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine joined by two electronic motors, the Avalon produces 215 horsepower. It advances with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive. The batteries have different tasks, one operates as a generator, engine starter and charges the hybrid battery. The other battery operates the front wheels and captures braking energy during regeneration. The hybrid battery pack is sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH).

2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid: acceleration authority

The gas-only V6 Avalon accelerates from 0-60 miles per hour in 6.1 seconds, about 1.5 seconds faster than the hybrid model. But the latter doesn’t drive “slow.” It feels like it’s moving faster than its ratings.

With its confident driving feel, the five-passenger sedan scoots along with authority for its class. Its gas mileage averages are an industry anomaly — 43 miles per gallon in city driving, 43 mpg on the highway.

The fuel efficiency is good, but not the best in class. The Toyota Camry Hybrid gets 51 mpg in the city, 53 mpg on the highway; the Honda Accord Hybrid (48/47 mpg city/highway); and the Toyota Prius Prime (a plug-in hybrid) 54 mpg city/highway combined.

While about $1,000 less than the hybrid’s $42,259 total, the gas-only Avalon mileages are far lesser, 22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway.

If fuel economy is a prominent reason in choosing a hybrid, the Avalon’s slightly higher cost won’t take long to recoup.

The last non-compromise potential Toyota Avalon Hybrid buyers should note: Toyota has positioned the electric motors strategically. It means it has the same 16.1 cubic feet of trunk space as its gas-powered sibling. The rear seats also fold flat.

Standard safety and technology features are generous throughout the Toyota lineup. The Avalon Hybrid safety considerations include: forward collision warning with automatic braking, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.

Tech features include Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay, a 9-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera, a Wi-Fi hotspot, the Toyota Entune system with smartphone-based navigation, four USB ports and an eight-speaker audio system with satellite radio. Android Auto integration is not offered.

The XLE and Limited trims add lots of luxury-leaning features, leather upholstery, a JBL sound system, wire charging pad, head-up display and heated front and rear seats. The reviewed sport-oriented trim adds 18-inch wheels, a sunroof, aluminum interior accents and suede-trimmed seats.

Toyota and its upscale Lexus division remain proponents of oversized, angry-looking front grilles. The design doesn’t compliment the Toyota Avalon or the Lexus flagship LS. It’s an aggressive characteristic on vehicles that don’t need overstating.

But an ugly front-end doesn’t make the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid a dealbreaker. With its smooth, quick ride, upscale interior traits, superior fuel economy and environmental strengths, it’s worthy of strong consideration.

It gives hybrids a good name, and it’s a rare example of an alternative-fuel vehicle being a better choice than its gas-only family member. What more could a manufacturer want? Consumers getting a better car as a hybrid? It’s hard to imagine.

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