2018 TOYOTA AVALON HYBRID

FULL-SIZE FUEL SIPPER

This may sound unbelievable, but Toyota has a full-size sedan that gets better gas mileage than most small hatchbacks—it’s the 2019 Avalon Hybrid. This car gets 43 miles per gallon. That’s right, 43 mpg.

Toyota achieves this outstanding fuel economy by combining a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with two electric motors to generate 215 horsepower. A nickel-metal hydride battery, mounted under the backseat, completes, what Toyota calls its Hybrid Synergy Drive. This power system is hooked up to a continuously variable (automatic) transmission (CVT) that drive the front wheels.

The Avalon Hybrid won’t give you whiplash when you hit the gas, but most drivers should find its acceleration more than adequate. And, if you need more power, say for climbing steep hills, you can select the “Sport” mode that delivers more punch. There is also an “EV” mode that will prioritize the electric drive for better fuel economy.

The 2019 Avalon rides on a new platform that is slightly longer and wider. Viewed in profile, the Avalon looks like an upscale luxury sedan, and its sloping roofline appears to shrink its overall size. However, viewed head-on, it seems overwrought. The ridiculously large grille is even bigger this year.

However, whether you like the face of the Avalon or not, you have to be impressed with its Lexus-like interior. Step inside, and the luxurious front seats grab your eye (perforated leather in my test car), and they are as comfortable as they are good looking. Leather-like cladding on the face of the dash adds a further touch of luxury. The infotainment control panel, which seems to grow upwards out of the center console, also impresses. The touchscreen is easy to operate, and there are knobs for conventional operation of the radio.

The cabin is a bit larger in the 2019 Avalon. Passengers in the rear benefit with a tad more legroom. However, tall folks might find the headroom a bit tight due to the sloping roofline. Yet, cargo space is definitely better this year, thanks to the positioning of the battery pack under the back seat. The trunk is now two cubes larger at 16 cubic-feet, just like the standard Avalon, and the seatbacks now fold down for additional storage.

On the road, the 2019 Avalon makes a statement, both with its ride and handling. The Avalon’s ride is smooth, as you would expect. It absorbs bumps in the pavement effortlessly, and feels well-planted on the freeway. However, what surprised me was its handling chops. The steering, in particular impressed me with its responsiveness and its feel of the road. The suspension also did a good job of keeping the Avalon well-balanced when the road turned twisty. This car pleases both on the highways and the back roads.

Toyota offers the Avalon Hybrid in three levels of trim, XLE, XSE and Limited. Most buyers should find that the XLE ($37,420) meets their needs. It comes with the expected luxury features, such as an eight-speaker sound system, satellite radio and the Entune infotainment system, which now includes Apple Carplay. Furthermore, a suite of advanced safety features provides forward collision warning and braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and more.

However, if you seek slightly sportier styling, a moonroof and fancy leatherette and suede upholstery, you can have the XSE for about $2,500 more. Yet, if that is not enough, and you want to go for the whole enchilada, the Limited will also add leather upholstery, heated seats, front and rear, JBL audio and navigation for $43,720.

The Avalon Hybrid costs only $1,000 more than its gas-only sibling, and with the gas-mileage being twice as good in the Hybrid, buyers should realize savings in less than two years of average driving. If you are interested in an Avalon, why would you not buy the Hybrid?

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