2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited Review by Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

• SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyers Guide


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Toyoat Avalon Hybrid

From its introduction for model year 1995 through 2012, Toyota's flagship Avalon sedan was primarily a car made in America for American luxury car buyers. Read that "American luxury car buyers" as people who appreciated the traditional American luxury car, as built from the 1950s through 90s -- spacious, soft, and coddling. It was, to put it less politely, a car for your grandparents -- even if you are now a grandparent yourself.

That worked well enough for that time, but that generation is now more likely to be driven than to drive… and Toyota has been undergoing a major philosophical change in design and chassis dynamics. Bland and soft are out; interesting and engaging are in -- even in regard to the Avalon.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon is not your grandmother's Avalon.

It's still primarily an American car, as most design and engineering work was done by various Toyota divisions here and assembly is at the Georgetown, KY plant. But where previous Avalons were ultra-conservative in styling, the new one is bold and distinctive. It's an inch lower, with shorter front and rear overhangs and less clearance between the tires and wheel arches. Track is up slightly, all the better to improve stability and handling.

And it is chassis tuning that is most strikingly different attribute compared to any previous Avalon. Gone is the nostalgic softness of the past, replaced by a firm yet supple tuning that compares well with any European luxury sedan. The new Avalon is a car that is as at home on the scenic route as on the highway.

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2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

There is another major change in the 2013 lineup: to the XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and Limited models powered by the carry-over 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 are added hybrids in Premium, Touring, and Limited grades. Like its cousin the Camry Hybrid, the Avalon Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine, permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor-generator, and nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) battery pack with power blended through an electronically-controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT) for a system maximum of 200 horsepower.

I had the opportunity to drive both regular and hybrid versions of the 2013 Avalon at the press introduction last Fall. I was surprised to find that I liked the hybrid better than the regular version, so when it came time to put an Avalon into my test schedule, I opted for the hybrid.

Which, of course, turned out to be a Limited with the Technology Package of Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, automatic high beams, and the Pre-Collision System suite of safety equipment. With standard blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, HID headlamps, power front seats, upgraded leather (leather is standard in all models), and both heating and cooling in front and heat in the rear seat cushions plus a premium navigation system, JBL audio system, and the Entune suite of connectivity applications in its spacious, contemporary, upscale interior, this Avalon treads very closely to Lexus territory. Despite a 68 horsepower "deficiency" and around 130 pounds more weight compared to a comparably-equipped V6 Limited, the hybrid was quick enough to easily deal with all merging and passing situations -- and got an average of 37 mpg for the week, with one 100-mile mixed highway and mountain road trip seeing over 40. At regular highway speeds, not 50 mph in the slow lane.

So, with what is essentially an all-new vehicle behind the name, the 2013 Toyota Avalon, in either regular or hybrid form, should appeal to people who wouldn't have gone near one before.

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2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

APPEARANCE: If you crave anonymity, this is no longer your car. Even though it's slightly smaller, the new Avalon has much more presence on the road. Without the Camry-like chromed crossbar Toyota grille, it wouldn't be readily identifiable as a Toyota. Looking at the front, one's eyes are alternately drawn to that or the ovalish lower grille as the dominant styling element. It's sportier-looking than any previous Avalon, with moderately-flared wheel arches, strong, angular shoulders, and semi-flared rocker panels on the body and a long, near-fastback passenger cabin. Chrome implies luxury, and there is no shortage, with the upper and lower grilles at the front, the window surrounds and door handle trim at the sides, and the trim piece between the oversized wrap-around LED taillights at the rear most apparent. Hybrid models are distinguished by the blue highlights in the Toyota emblems on the hood and trunk, "hybrid" badges at the lower front of the front doors, and a "Hybrid Synergy Drive" badge on the trunk.

COMFORT: Other than the logo on the steering wheel hub, there is not much difference in appointment and comfort between this Toyota and a Lexus inside. The chromed plastic trim looks more plastic-like than does its counterpart in the "more upscale" Toyota brand, but the design, build quality, and materials are very, very close. Soft-touch materials are used for the top part of the instrument panel and doors, offset by thin chrome trim, woodgrain, and textured plastic in the center stack and console areas. IntelliTouch™ capacitive switches on the center stack are a high-tech touch. Form, as good as it is, doesn't trump function, and the Optitron electroluminescent instruments are bright and easy to see in all lighting. An energy-use gauge replaces the tachometer in the hybrid. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has manual tilt and telescope adjustment. Audio and phone controls are on the horizontal spokes; lights, wipers, and cruise control are on stalks. Front seats are power-adjustable, with two memory positions for the driver's. Comfort is first-class. The rear offers very good leg- and head-room, and a low center part and low central floor tunnel mean that three adults can fit. Useful storage is found in a locking glovebox (with override switch for the remote trunk release to keep valets honest), a large console box, and door pockets. This must be a real luxury car, as there are no bottle holders in the doors… There is a space-saver spare under the trunk floor, though.

SAFETY: Standard safety equipment includes Toyota's Star Safety System, with ten airbags, whiplash-reducing front seats, front and rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, and energy-absorbing steering column, an anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, and daytime running lights in all models. Touring and Limited grades have the blind-spot system, and Limiteds get LED DRLs and the Safety Connect telematics system, with the Pre-Collision System optional.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Only the name is the same. The overly-soft suspension tuning of previous Avalons is history. Reinforcement of the unibody structure makes it stronger and more rigid, for safety and lower noise, vibration, and harshness levels. The fully-independent MacPherson strut front, dual-link strut rear suspension is tuned as in the contemporary European luxury cars that are the class benchmarks -- firm enough to prevent excessive body motion on acceleration, deceleration, or in cornering, yet with spring and shock damper rates correctly matched for a supple and comfortable ride. Good soundproofing ensures low interior noise levels, with tire noise the loudest on some surfaces -- important information for the driver, anyway, and not overly loud. The electrically-assisted power steering is not too numb, and, as is the case in hybrids with regenerative braking, braking performance is very good.

PERFORMANCE: In a hybrid, "performance" is as much about fuel economy as acceleration or top speed. In a week with more highway driving than usual, I got a 37 mpg average -- but often saw over 40 on the highway at real highway speeds. I saw 54 for one short trip around town, with the engine warmed up and on mostly level roads at speeds conducive to electric operation. At the other extreme, backing out of my driveway, cold, with the engine powering the car, saw 1.8 mpg -- which would be similar for any internal combustion vehicle. YMMV, as they say, and in no vehicle more than in a hybrid.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive system here combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle gasoline engine (156 hp at 5700 rpm, 156 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm) with a permanent-magnet AC asynchronous electric motor (140 hp at 4500 rpm, 199 lb-ft between 0 and 1500 rpm) through a computer-controlled CVT. Note that an electric motor develops maximum torque as soon as it starts to rotate… which means if you need to accelerate, it will happen Right Now, subject to the amount of torque available. As in other Toyota full-hybrid systems, motive power may come from the engine alone, the motor alone, or any combination of the two. Only when cold is it easy to tell when the engine starts or stops. Gentle acceleration will get the best fuel economy, but when you need to move, quickly, the Avalon Hybrid will oblige. A 0-60 time around eight seconds is a second or so slower than that of the V6, but hardly poor. And with a 17-gallon tank and 37 mpg, it's possible to go over 600 miles between fillups.

CONCLUSIONS: With the new fourth-generation car, Toyota has massively changed its Avalon luxury sedan for the better,

SPECIFICATIONS

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Base Price $ 41,400

Price As Tested $ 44,199

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve Atkinson cycle aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with VVT-i variable cam phasing and lift

Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.

Horsepower 156 @ 5700 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 156 @ 4500 rpm

Electric Motor permanent magnet AC synchronous

Horsepower 140 @ 4500

Torque (lb-ft) 199 @ 1-1500 rpm

Combined maximum horsepower 200

Hybrid Battery Pack Ni-MH

Nominal voltage 244.8V ((204 cells, 1.2V/cell)

Capacity 6.5 ampere-hour

Transmission electronically-controlled CVT

Wheelbase / Length 111.0 in. / 195.2 in.

Curb Weight 3638 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 18.2

Fuel Capacity 17 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P215/55R17 98V Bridgestone Turanza m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock, brake assist and regenerative braking standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent dual-link

Drivetrain transverse front engine and motor, front-wheel drive


PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed - 40 / 39 / 37

0 to 60 mph est 8.0 sec


OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Technology Package -- includes: Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), Automatic High Beam, Pre-Collision System $ 1,750

First Aid Kit $ 29

Carpet Floor and Trunk Mats $ 225

Destination Charge $ 795


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