Many hybrid vehicles are now almost indistinguishable from their corresponding regular gasoline models. That’s a switch from the original concept of making hybrids look completely different from other vehicles, as Toyota did with its Prius.But now, Toyota’s 2013 Avalon Hybrid is almost identical to the redesigned gasoline-only Avalon, with the main differences being under the skin.Three hybrid models are available, with prices from $35,555 (about $4,000 more than the base gasoline model) to $41,400, with a few options offered.All have a modified version of Toyota’s 2.5-liter Hybrid Synergy Drive system, offered for the first time this year in the flagship sedan. This system combines two high-output electric motors (Motor/Generator 1 starts the gasoline engine, No. 2 operates the electric drivetrain and regenerative braking) and a 156-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. Together, they produce a total of 200 horsepower.The Avalon Hybrid also offers three modes of operation: EV, ECO and Sport, and is EPA rated at 40 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway (40 combined), for a driving range of 663 to 680 miles.For this report, using ECO mode and not changing my driving habits, I managed 35.5 mpg, according to the onboard computer.EV mode is especially convenient for residential areas or parking garages or lots, allowing the Avalon to travel up to one mile at speeds under 25 mph using only electric power.ECO mode lowers throttle response and HVAC output while engaging the gasoline engine.Sport mode ups the ante, altering throttle and steering response to give the driver a taste of Avalon’s dynamic character.My Avalon Hybrid was Nautical Blue Metallic with Light Gray top-stitched leather seats, dash, console, armrests and door panels. Avalon comes in eight other colors including Attitude Black Metallic, Sizzling Crimson and Blizzard Pearl, which adds $395 to the price. Interiors are leather, and also come in Almond and Black.The tester had 17-inch silver-painted alloy wheels with 15 spokes in a one-two pattern. Wheel locks were extra, an $81 option.Grille, windows, exhaust tips and trunk lid were trimmed with chrome. Chrome also trimmed the door armrests and handles, the wood trim on the lower dash, the center stack, the center console front cubby, the shifter housing, and some of the control knobs. The leather steering wheel had controls for the audio system and hands-free Bluetooth.Inside, the Avalon was roomy, with plenty of headroom in the rear, considering the low slope of the rear window. Even the middle rear seat was comfortable enough for a medium-size person, with almost as much legroom as the outboard seats. Only the outboard seats had the LATCH connections for child seats.Entry/exit to the back seat was easy without the intrusion of the wheel-well curve beside the seat.Both front seats were heated, with the driver having lumbar support and eight-way adjustment and the passenger getting four-way adjustment. The front buckets were plush, comfortable, and attractive with curved seams on the bolsters, although I found the thigh cushion slightly long for my short legs.The dual-zone automatic climate control had air filtration and rear-seat vents located on the back of the front console and the sides of the outboard seats. The front seatbacks were hard plastic with soft stretchy leather pockets.None of the doors had bottle holders in the map pockets, but there were two cupholders in the front and two on the pull-down armrest in the rear. But if there is a middle passenger, no one in the rear has a cupholder.With the armrest/cupholder pulled down, there was a locking pass-through to the trunk, with a small cover that pulled down to the armrest to create a storage tray.A felt-lined cubby at the front of the center console contained two 12-volt power outlets and the USB and auxiliary ports. A topstitched leather lid closed over the cubby and had a slot for the passage of wires/cables.There was also a cubby to the driver’s left, and a deep cubby under the armrest with a lined lift-out tray and another power outlet.The trunk, though compromised slightly by the battery compartment behind the wheel in the wall on the passenger side, will hold 14 cubic feet of cargo — plenty of space for groceries or weekend luggage. The opening is wide and the wall behind the rear seats is vertical and doesn’t intrude into the space.A space under the floor holds a temporary spare and tools. A monogrammed carpeted mat option added $225, and a cargo net added $49. A rear bumper appliqué was an extra $69.The audio system was simple, with AM/FM/CD, MP3/WMA, Bluetooth and eight speakers — including two on each door. Audio and climate controls on the center stack used Intellitouch controls that contain no mechanical parts, requiring a simple touch to operate.Controls were labeled and had a small L-shaped groove on the edge to help the driver locate the desired area to touch, with minimal distraction. Overall, the controls were easy to use, and information was displayed on a 6.1-inch touch screen, which could also be used for programming/tuning the audio system.A backup camera shared the touch screen. Other information such as outside temperature, mph and mpg, odometer mileage and tire pressure was displayed on a 3.5-inch screen between the round gauges for power, speed and fuel level.Standard is Toyota’s Star Safety System, consisting of electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, traction control, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and smart stop technology.Other safety gear included 10 air bags including front knee, seat-mounted side bags front and rear, and roof-mounted side-curtain bags front and rear; and an anti-theft system with engine immobilizer.The Avalon Hybrid is a smooth ride, easy to handle, comfortable, quiet and attractive. Remote start is available for $499, and a glass-breakage sensor is offered for $299.With $795 delivery charges, the total sticker price for my tester was $36,774.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams appear weekly in the Star-Telegram. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.