2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid road test

The 2020 Avalon Hybrid is sold in three front-wheel drive trim levels with starting prices of $37,955 to $44,255. The Parisian Blue tester was $43,011. (Mark Maynard)

Looking sharp at 48.2 mpg

As gasoline prices roll upward despite the ongoing pandemic, drivers in need of new transportation begin seeing green. First, it’s the green of money flowing into the tank and then it’s wondering if the green of hybrid energy could actually help save the green from exiting the exhaust pipe. It is a complex value equation.

It has always been a point of frustration for me when I am not able to achieve the fuel economy that the EPA and manufacturers say I should be getting in whatever vehicle I’m testing. Occasionally I can achieve the combined city/highway rating, but seldom have I ever met the city and highway ratings separately.

The Avalon’s wider body has a broad coupe-like feel to the cabin. And despite the lower roofline, front headroom of 38.5 inches should accommodate most drivers. (Mark Maynard)

On mileage runs, I apply a cheat sheet of frugal driving techniques. I will dutifully set the cruise to the speed limit or a couple notches above to not be the laggard in the lane. I will be gentle with the gas pedal, but daily driving sometimes requires otherwise and those heavy-acceleration moments must be factored and forgiven.

I typically drive a couple hundred miles in a week’s evaluation and I note the mileage variances through the onboard computer.

The driver area has enough width for smart placement of switches, gauges and controls. Sightlines are unhindered at the side mirrors or over the shoulder. (Mark Maynard)

The Avalon Hybrid, powered by Toyota’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder and dual motor generators, has EPA fuel economy ratings of 43 mpg city, 43 highway and 43 combined.

On a mileage run in a 2020 Avalon Hybrid XSE, I left the house with an average mileage rating of 38.5 mpg, which certainly isn’t bad for a large-midsize sedan such as the Avalon.

There is near-Lexus refinement to the cabin materials, including the neatly stitched Softex and Ultrasuede upholstery. (Mark Maynard)

In just a few miles the average had clicked upward to 40-plus mpg. Soon it advanced to 43 mpg and then on to 45 mpg. I kept driving just to see where it might stop. After running out of time and highway, the counter had turned to 48.2 mpg. And it might have gone higher were I using the Eco mode. But I noticed that above 70 mph, the wind resistance caused diminishing returns.

I have experienced mileage ratings approaching 50 mpg and higher, but that is typically in smaller hybrids or a plug-in hybrid. Clicking off 48.2 mpg seemed an impressive feat and an invitation to consider this large sedan as a daily commuter. With its 13.2-gallon tank, the cruising range could be close to 600 miles, which for the hypercommuter would mean possibly just one midweek fill-up.

And with all of the Avalon’s safety equipment and driver-assist technologies, it is a much more rewarding — and comfortable — experience than having to sacrifice vehicle size for mileage.

Pricing

The 2020 Avalon Hybrid is sold in three front-wheel drive trim levels with starting prices ranging from $37,955 for the XLE, $40,455 for the XSE (today’s tester) and $44,255 for the Limited; pricing includes the $955 freight charge. (AWD is not available.)

The XSE tester was $43,011, including the biggest extra of $1,720 for the JBL premium audio system with 14 speakers and 9-inch infotainment touch screen. Standard XSE equipment includes eight-way power adjusted front seats (heated) with driver lumbar, smart key locking with push-button ignition, electric parking brake, a rearview camera with guidance lines and wireless phone charging.

Find Toyota customer incentives here. As a Customer Support Program, the first payment can be deferred for 90 Days. Currently offered are a zero percent APR for 60 months (for buyers with Tier 1 credit ratings) or a $2,500 cash back offer, also available for gas Avalons.

Toyota’s hybrid powertrain of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and dual motor generators has EPA fuel economy ratings of 43 mpg city, 43 highway and 43 combined. (Mark Maynard)

No greenie-weenie

There was a refreshing independence to the styling of the test car in its handsome Parisian Night Pearl paint (dark blue), gray Softex (leatherlike) and Ultrasuede upholstery and glossy graphite-gray 18-inch painted alloy wheels. The interior approaches Lexus refinement in the quality of materials and tasteful design.

It did not scream “I’m a greenie-weenie driving a hybrid. Look at what I do for planet Earth.” Actually, I was surprised when men, mostly, stopped for a longer look. The mouthy grille is a choke point for some, but the “Godfather” cheeks are becoming ubiquitous; blame European pedestrian safety standards to create a front end that is less scythe-like. But drivers will always know the Toyota or Lexus or BMW when it pulls up behind.

The 18-inch Bridgestone Turanza EL440 touring tires have a protective lip to help guard against wheel scrapes. (Mark Maynard)

The redesign

The fifth generation Avalon was redesigned completely last year. Toyota says the styling “embodies consumers’ overarching desire for high-caliber, design-centric, technologically-savvy modes of attainable, premium transportation.”

The large-midsize Avalon is designed and built in the U.S. The interior and exterior design makeover was done at Calty Design Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. Engineering work was done at Toyota’s R&D center in Saline, Mich. And production is in Georgetown, Ky.

Body lines

Based on the Toyota New Global Architecture, the redesigned Avalon, is slightly lower, wider and longer than before with some new steel stamping methods to get the sharp angles for the more sculpted body panels. You can see the precision in the door handles, Toyota says, and how they integrate with a distinct character line and in the lower body line at the front wheels.

The rear cabin was extended 7 inches with an elongated, downward-tapered quarter side glass. The 0.31-inch corner angle is the tightest ever for Toyota.

The roofline of the body is lower by 1 inch (now at 56.5 inches). The cowl (dashboard area) was lowered a little more than an inch and the rear deck by about ¾ of an inch. Overall width is up by 0.8 inch, now at to 72.8 inches, and the wheelbase is 2 inches longer, now at 113 inches.

The redesigned Avalon is slightly lower, wider and longer than before with some new steel-stamping methods for more sculpted body panels. (Mark Maynard)

Elbow room

The cabin is well soundproofed so there is not much engine noise at highway speeds. And because cabin is so well soundproofed, there is some texture and hardness from the Bridgestone Turanza EL440 (235/45) all-season tires. But their sidewall design includes a lip as slight protection against curb damage.

The wider and lower body has a broad coupe-like feel to the cabin. And despite the lower roofline, front headroom is the same at 38.5 inches without the sunroof or 37.4 with it.

There is enough cabin space that driver sightlines are unhindered forward, side or back. And there is smart placement of controls, switches and screens.

Back seat legroom is an asset with 40.4 inches to stretch out. The seats have adult-class thigh support, a comfortable seatback angle, padded fold-down armrest with can holders and two USB charging ports.

The back seat is adult-class with 40 inches of legroom and a comfortable seatback angle. (Mark Maynard)

Powertrain

The turbocharged, four-cylinder powertrain pulls like a six-cylinder in most situations, but forceful acceleration is thin above 65 mph.

Toyota’s hybrid system is so efficient it makes a traditional internal-combustion engine seem like an underachiever. It uses two permanent magnet motor generators to power the hybrid system. Motor Generator 1 functions as the engine starter and charges hybrid battery (max. voltage AC 650-volt) MG-2 drives the front wheels and supplies regeneration during braking (88 kW).

The nickel-metal hydride battery isn’t as high-tech as using the more energy-dense lithium-ion battery, but it’s not as expensive to replace, either. And Toyota now warrantees its hybrid battery for 10 years from date of first use to 150,000 miles, whichever comes first. All other hybrid components are covered for 8 years or 100,000 miles.

The electronically controlled continuously variable transmission functions without any of the typical rubber-banding as the turbo and transmission catch up and connect. There is no delay of forward motion. There are drive modes of Eco, Normal and Sport, but my mileage count was done in Normal mode and when I needed some extra kick to hold my line in traffic, Sport sharpens acceleration without being wildly aggressive.

There is a refined roll to the steering wheel and absolute stopping force, without grabbiness, from the regenerative braking system, with 12-inch ventilated front rotors and 11-inch solid rotors rear.

An easily achieved 48.2 mpg on the highway. (Mark Maynard)

Safety Sense P

The Avalon earns a safety rating of Top Safety Pick-Plus by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety and an overall top five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Standard safety features include 10 air bags, blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert and Toyota Safety Sense P, which includes a precollision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and full speed range dynamic radar cruise control.

Why Avalon Hybrid?

The Avalon is, essentially, a longer and bolder version of the Camry, which shares the same hybrid powertrain. But the 3.8-inch longer Avalon feels more substantial and has a much roomier back seat with 2 inches more legroom.

The Avalon costs about $10,000 more than a Camry Hybrid, but there is value in how quietly and confidently it feels protective in a turbulent world.

With 16 cubic feet of trunk space, there is plenty of luggage capacity for a weekend getaway with friends. (Mark Maynard)

2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XSE
Body style: large midsize, 5-passenger, front-drive sedan
Engine: 176-hp, direct-injection 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; 163 lb.-ft. torque from 4,600-5,200 rpm
Hybrid power system: 2 permanent magnet motor generators and nickel-metal hydride battery pack
Voltage: 244.8 volts; 204 cells, 1.2-volts per cell)
Total system power: 215-hp
Transmission: Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) with sequential shift mode
Fuel economy: 43/43/43 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 or higher octane

SPECIFICATIONS
Fuel tank: 13.2 gal.
Trunk space: 16 cu. ft.
Front head/leg room: 38.5*42.1/ in. *37.4 in. w/moonroof
Rear head/leg room: 37.9/40.4 in
Length/wheelbase: 195.9/113 in.
Width/height: 72.8/56.6
Curb weight: 3,671 lbs. (3,704 lbs. Touring)
Turning circle: 38.7 ft.

FEATURES
Standard equipment includes: smart key entry with push-button ignition, Softex and Ultrasuede front seats, heated front seats, 8-way power front seats with driver lumbar, wireless charging, electric parking brake, 18-inch gray-painted alloy wheels with 235/45 Bridgestone Turanza EL440 all-season tires, rearview camera with guidance lines, 9-inch infotainment touch screen, 6-speaker audio system, Bluetooth phone and music, 4 USB charge ports
Safety features include: 10 air bags, stability and traction controls, blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, hill-start assist, brake assist and Toyota Safety Sense P, includes precollision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, full speed range dynamic radar cruise control

PRICING
Base price: $40,455, including $955 freight charge; price as tested $43,011
Options on test vehicle: Preferred accessory package, $377, includes carpeted floor mats, trunk mat, cargo tote and rear bumper applique
Where assembled: Georgetown, Ky.
Warranty: 3-years/36,000-miles bumper to bumper with 2 years free scheduled maintenance; 5-years/60,000-miles powertrain

Current Toyota customer incentives include a Customer Support Program to defer the first payment for 90 Days. Also offered are a zero percent APR for 60 months (for buyers with Tier 1 credit ratings) or a $2,500 cash back offer, also available for gas Avalons. Find Toyota customer incentives here. (Mark Maynard)

MarkMaynard@cox.net

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