The Toyota Avalon Hybrid is neither fish nor fowl in America’s current sedan sales-scape. Hybrid competitors of a sort can be found in slightly smaller form factors from Honda, Hyundai, and Ford, to name a few. Or, true fullsize competitors like the Chevy Impala or Hyundai Azera could be considered, but without coming close to the Avalon’s parsimonious fuel consumption habits.
Still, if you’re looking for a largish sedan with great mile-per-gallon ratings, a super quiet ride, and a reputation for safety and value, you could do a lot worse than the Avalon Hybrid. (Just don’t expect it to be very exciting.)
In the U.S. the Avalon Hybrid is categorized as a midsize sedan, but it takes up more space than direct competitors in the Honda Accord Hybrid, and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. For instance: the Avalon is nearly 10-inches wider than the Accord and more than 3-inches longer overall. The big win for the Avalon from a size perspective is in its back seats. Where the room in front is comparable (and in some cases less) than that offered by a more traditional midsize car, in the rear the Toyota gets a bump in leg and shoulder space. The trunk is more capacious than the Accord and Sonata Hybrids, too.
The fuel consumption numbers seem impressive, at 40 mpg in the city, 39 highway, and 40 combined. But it’s hard to compare apples to apples here. Larger, heavier cars like the Azera or Chevy Impala are thirstier, but offer more capacity for people and stuff. The smaller hybrids have roughly comparable power but with better fuel econ (50 City / 43 Highway in the case of the Accord) – oh, and they’re also considerably cheaper than the $37K-Toyota.
The best case for the Avalon Hybrid, however, can be made to those drivers that want nothing more than a big, plush ride in a whisper-quiet cabin. The Avalon lets no harsh engine note through to the driver, nor does it trouble him with fussy things like steering feedback or brake/gas pedal feel. No, sir. Sit back, slot the lever in “D” and get ready for a soft and silent cruise.
It hardly needs to be said, but there’s nothing dynamically rewarding about this driving experience. I threw the Avalon into a few fast corners, just for kicks, and was rewarded with slow steering response, and pillowy softness through the suspension.
The powertrain, efficient though it may be, is a snoozefest, too. Two-hundred pained horsepower are said to be routed through the front tires, at maximum effort, but I was never inclined to dial up wide open throttle for long enough to deliver them. Toyota has also included a Sport mode that I can’t even begin to understand, let alone explain to you.
There doesn’t seem to be any one thing that the Avalon Hybrid does better than any other car. It’s too small to really compete with actual large sedans, but too large to really best midsize hybrids. It’s too slow and doughy to be any fun, but not nearly so practical as the true family nerd, the Prius. Toyota sells the Avalon model line in good numbers, of course, but I can only imagine customers for this car as the folks that walk in and say, “Give me your biggest hybrid.”
Competitors (sort of):
Honda Accord Hybrid
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Volkswagen Passat TDI