Sadly big comfortable sedans are about as popular these days as a new Nickelback album or The Dixie Chicks at a Texas veterans fundraiser.
Too bad because as passé as big sedans are, they can move a family of five in smooth, quiet comfort and also beat the exhaust pipes off a big SUV or Crossover for gas mileage. This week’s test car, a beautiful Parisian Night Pearl (dark metallic blue) Toyota Avalon Hybrid is a sparkling example.
The Avalon does basically everything well. Its ride is near perfect, comfortable and well controlled. This is no floaty boat as in olden days when sedans seemed to ooze down the highway. Avalon’s four-wheel independent suspension handles rough roads with ease. Yet the car is responsive enough to feel well connected to the road.
That Sport setting, engaged via a button on the console, also brings to life the silky smooth 2.0-liter I4 that’s coupled with a hybrid system that powers an electric motor at low speeds when gas engines are at their least efficient. Like other hybrids that electric power comes from batteries that are juiced up by a regenerative braking system.
The engine and hybrid power give the car 200 horsepower and a torque rating of 156, but the car’s enthusiastic acceleration comes mostly from its gas engine that uses the Atkinson cycle to be more fuel efficient while also offering more lively power. Most Mazda engines now feature this, or a similar system, to boost efficiency and output.
I almost forgot this was a hybrid it had such pop. But the super quiet operation and a slight electrical whine upon deceleration give away the hybrid system. That won’t bother a driver, or passengers, nor will the Avalon’s efficient operation.
I got 34.6 miles per gallon in about 60% city driving and had gotten 36.8 mpg in a previous test. I used the Sport setting more this time. The EPA rates this at 40 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. It sips regular unleaded.
Mine was the XLE Premium model, the mid-level Avalon, with a list price of $38,700. With only one option and a $895 delivery fee the test car hit $39,789. A base XLE Plus starts just beyond $38,000 and the upper end Limited lists at $43,435.
A gas-powered Avalon starts about $34,000 and features a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 268 horsepower and is rated 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
Inside, the Avalon is extremely quiet and this one had a black over light gray leather interior, the dash top being black and the lower part gray. The seats were gray leather. The center stack had a textured black facing with gloss black trim by the console’s shifter, while the dash’s side air vents, the door pulls and armrests featured chrome trim.
The stack’s screen is moderately sized, but easy to see and use. Unlike many touchscreens for radios and navigation, this one works even while a driver is wearing gloves. That’s rare and Toyota calls this capacitive touch switches, which is just like the onscreen buttons on a smart phone. This is the ultimate in user friendly.
Climate controls worked easily too with one exception. The temperature buttons required a bare hand to increase or decrease the temperature, a minor inconvenience to be sure.
The touchscreen also had six presets per page and they too were capacitive, so easy to use. There are big knobs for tuning and volume, plus buttons on the tilt/telescope steering wheel hub to make adjustments.
Seats were extremely comfortable with good side and hip support. These are power seats up front and included multiple-level heat adjustments with about 10 settings. Just turn the knob on the console to your desired toasty level. No cooled seats in the test car.
I need to mention that the passenger’s seat height also is fine. That had been a problem in an earlier Avalon I’d tested. Naturally the Toyota is roomy and seats five adults comfortably. Head and legroom in back are generous and the trunk will carry 14 cubic feet of luggage, that’s about 2 feet shy of a non-hybrid Avalon. Note too that the rear seat does not split, nor fold down as the hybrid batteries are stored below the rear seat and trunk.
Overhead is a sunroof, a HomeLink system and the car’s thick visors will slide when flipped to the side.
Safety devices abound too, and all are standard on the Avalon. Toyota calls this Safety Sense P and includes automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision automatic braking, pedestrian detection and lane departure and assist. Plus there where what now seems the usual blind-spot warning system and rearview camera.
Not on the safety front, but another electronic wonder and now necessity, the car comes with a wireless smart phone charger tucked under the center stack.
There’s not much not to like with this hybrid. In fact, I had no complaints. There’s a reason why hybrid sales continue to grow and the Avalon is one of them. For the record, Toyota recently announced it has now sold more than 10 million hybrid models worldwide. So if you thought hybrids were a fad, or only for greenies, you may want to think again.
FAST STATS: 2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium
Hits: Smooth operator with boulevard ride, light handling, good power in Power mode, and roomy five adult interior. Comfy well laid out interior with heated front seats, sunroof, standard full complement of safety features and wireless smart phone charger.
Misses: I’m thinking, I’m thinking.
Made in: Georgetown, Ky.
Engine: 2.5-liter I4, hybrid, 200 hp
Transmission: Automatic CVT
Weight: 3,594 lbs.
Length: 195.5 in.
Wheelbase: 110.9 in.
Cargo: 14.0 cu.ft.
MPG: 40/39 (EPA)
MPG: 34.7 (tested)
Base Price: $38,700
Invoice: $35,717 (includes delivery)
Carpet trunk mat set, $224
Test vehicle: $39,789
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage