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Toyota Avalon adds fuel-thrifty hybrid

Recently revamped with a stylish body and new features, the five-door Avalon has an impressive, fuel-sipping, gasoline-electric hybrid model.  AP photo

Recently revamped with a stylish body and new features, the five-door Avalon has an impressive, fuel-sipping, gasoline-electric hybrid model. AP photo

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From page A12 | September 06, 2013 | Leave Comment

The Associated Press

Move over, Toyota Camry. It’s time for Toyota’s other sizable sedan, the Avalon, to get some well-deserved attention.

Recently revamped with a stylish body and new features, the five-door Avalon now also has an impressive, fuel-sipping, gasoline-electric hybrid model.

Not only does the Avalon Hybrid provide comfortable seating for five, with a roomy back seat, the new hybrid is rated by the federal government at 40 miles per gallon in city driving and 39 mpg on the highway — the best of any Avalon ever.

These numbers are not unattainable. In regular, not-trying-to-squeeze-every-drop-of-gasoline driving, the test 2013 Avalon Hybrid registered no lower than 36.2 mpg and reached 37.1 mpg in combined city/highway travel.

Also noteworthy: The 2013 Avalon overall is listed as a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which says predicted reliability should be above average.

The Avalon Hybrid’s starting retail price isn’t as high as many consumers might assume, given all the standard equipment.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $36,365 for the base, 2013 Avalon Hybrid, which is $3,360 more than the base, non-hybrid, 2013 Avalon.

But note that the base Avalon Hybrid has XLE Premium trim that includes standard upscale appointments such as power moonroof, leather-trimmed seats, heated and power-adjustable front seats, rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-speaker audio system, 6.1-inch display screen, Bluetooth hands-free phone controls, push-button start, keyless remote entry and leather-wrapped steering wheel plus 10 airbags.

Then, there’s the fuel mileage comparison. The non-hybrid, 2013 Avalon, which has a 268-horsepower V-6, is rated by the federal government at 21/31 mpg, which is 19 mpg less in city driving and 8 miles less per gallon in highway driving than the Avalon Hybrid.

Still, the Avalon Hybrid is pricier than some other mid-size hybrid sedans that don’t have as much standard equipment and aren’t quite as large in size.

As an example, the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid S has a starting MSRP, including destination charge of $26,995. This model does not have a moonroof or leather-covered seats or eight audio speakers, among other things.

But the 2014 Fusion Hybrid does have a higher federal government fuel economy rating than the Avalon Hybrid does: 47 mpg in both city and highway travel.

Meantime, the 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid, which is shorter in length and height than the Avalon Hybrid, has a starting retail price of $26,700 and federal government fuel economy rating of 36/40 mpg.

U.S. Avalon sales this year through July were on the upswing by 134 percent, totaling 43,040. Camry sales so far this year were holding steady.

The test Avalon Hybrid, a mid-range XLE Touring model, looked stylish with new, expressive grille and the kind of expressive body lines on the sides that could have come from a Hyundai Sonata.

Overall, the car was attractively proportioned, too, though the sizable rear parcel shelf would sometimes catch and reflect the sun’s rays and detract from rearward visibility via the inside rearview mirror.

A sunshine-splashed dashboard also sometimes made it difficult to see items shown on the sizable display screen atop the middle of the car’s dashboard.

Still, the interior was a nice surprise, with controls and gauges well arranged and an expansive atmosphere in both front and back seats and a lot of seat travel available for the front seats.

Stretching 16.2 feet in length, the Avalon Hybrid provides 42.1 inches of legroom in the front seat and 39.2 inches for back-seat passengers. This is more than that inside a Camry Hybrid, which is slightly smaller than an Avalon and uses much the same hybrid system.

But room-wise, the Avalon Hybrid’s trunk, which provides a commendable 14 cubic feet of cargo space, is noteworthy.

Yes, this is less than the non-hybrid Avalon’s 16-cubic-foot trunk.

But hybrids have smaller trunks because the hybrid’s battery pack for storing electric power onboard typically is under and/or behind the back seats.

So, the Avalon Hybrid’s flat-floored, 14 cubic feet is way more than the 10.8 cubic feet in Optima Hybrid’s trunk and the 12 cubic feet in the Fusion Hybrid.

Besides space and comfort, Toyota engineers made sure to make the Avalon’s ride firmer than before to provide a more dynamic driving experience, even in the hybrid.

The test car didn’t handle like a wallowy, floating, big sedan. Rather, the driver felt a palpable connection to the road and body motions were more controlled than ever. The flipside of this more-taut ride is passengers can notice sounds and some vibrations from road bumps, including recessed manhole covers. And steering still felt a bit numb.

Like its non-hybrid version, the Avalon Hybrid uses regular unleaded gasoline, and the travel range between fillups can be impressive. The tester, for example, had a 600-mile-plus range, which softened the $64 bill at the gasoline station.

It’s true that the hybrid’s 156-horsepower, 2.5-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder can sound buzzy and stressed during hard accelerations. Torque peaks at 156 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm, and with the two electric motors added in, total horsepower is 200.

But nearly all the time during the test drive, driver and passengers couldn’t tell by sound or feel when power was all from the engine or all electric or a mix.

Power came on smoothly and seamlessly and was managed by a continuously variable transmission that the driver operated like an automatic.

What passengers did notice was how quiet the Avalon Hybrid could be in city traffic as silent electric power propelled it forward for short spurts.

The battery pack is the older-generation nickel-metal hydride, not the new lithium ion that’s in the Fusion.

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