G. Chambers Williams

Avalon has lots of amenities, also comes in gasoline-electric version

The 2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid comes with the same body and interior as the gasoline-only model, but with a few unique touches. It has a combination of a four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor to give it an overall rating of 40 mpg.
The 2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid comes with the same body and interior as the gasoline-only model, but with a few unique touches. It has a combination of a four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor to give it an overall rating of 40 mpg. Submitted photos/Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

Toyota’s big premium sedan, the Avalon, was redesigned two years ago, and with that makeover, a hybrid version was added to the lineup for the first time.

It comes with the same gasoline engine/electric motor combination as the Camry hybrid.

The Avalon essentially is a stretched version of the Camry sedan, and is intended for consumers who enjoy the comforts of a full-size sedan.

Prices for 2015 begin at $32,285 plus $825 freight) for the base XLE V-6 gasoline model. Other gas-only versions are the XLE Premium ($34,140), XLE Touring ($36,080), and the top-of-the-line Limited ($39,980), which was our test vehicle for the week..

Hybrid models begin at $36,470 for the XLE Premium. It has everything that the XLE Premium gasoline model has, but substitutes the 2.5-liter gasoline engine/electric-motor hybrid-drive system for the V-6 engine. This ends up adding $2,330 to the price.

There are two other hybrid models: The XLE Touring ($37,800); and our tester -- the Limited ($41,700). Both of these have prices up $1,720 from their corresponding non-hybrid models. Toyota says the price differences between the gasoline-only and hybrid models are the lowest among the company’s growing hybrid fleet.

Hybrid models are differentiated by blue-trimmed Toyota logos at the front and rear, hybrid badges on the trunk lid and front doors, and a hidden exhaust outlet. There are two special hybrid exterior colors: Moulin Rouge Mica and Champagne Mica. Three interior color themes are available: almond, light gray and black.

EPA ratings for the gasoline models are 21 mpg city/31 highway/25 combined. All gas-only models, including our Limited tester, come with the 3.5-liter V-6 engine. It cranks out 268 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds of torque, and is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Hybrid mileage ratings are 40 city/39 highway/40 combined. The gasoline engine has 153 horsepower alone, but combined with the electric drive motor, there is a total of 200 horsepower. With the motor boosting the engine, the car can go from zero-60 mph in eight seconds, something I found quite useful when taking uphill on-ramps to enter the freeways I encounter in my area.

The hybrid uses a continuously variable automatic transmission, rather than the conventional six-speed used in the regular gasoline Avalon.

Power for the electric motor comes from a compact 244.8-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack between the trunk and the rear seat; the car’s regular 12-volt battery is in the trunk, as well. The hybrid battery ends up taking away part of the trunk – the hybrid Avalon has 14 cubic feet of cargo space, while the non-hybrid model has a generous 16 cubic feet.

While the hybrid’s overall horsepower is considerably less than that of the V-6 gasoline model, the car has the feel of a V-6. That’s because of the torque provided by the electric motor, which is designed to kick in extra power when needed, such as for passing or merging into traffic.

Our hybrid had plenty of pep in all driving situations, not just the freeway ramps. We've tested the gasoline-only Avalon, and we found the hybrid to be nearly as powerful where that power was needed, including passing on two-lane country roads.

One major attribute of the Avalon is the ride, which was smooth, even over railroad crossings and some bumpy country roads, and at all times, the interior was very quiet.

The "most American" Avalon yet, Toyota says this generation was completely developed and designed in the United States to appeal to American consumer tastes, and it’s built in the same factory with the Camry in Kentucky.

Design work was done at Toyota’s Calty centers in California and Michigan; engineering came from the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Standard features on the entry XLE gasoline model include power-adjustable/heated leather front seats, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a touch-screen audio system, smart key with pushbutton start, and heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals. This model is not offered with the hybrid system.

The XLE Premium, which is the second model from the bottom for gasoline versions, and the base model for the hybrids, has all of the features of the XLE, but adds such extras as a backup camera and moon roof.

With the XLE Touring model, add-ons include 18-inch alloy wheels, a display audio/navigation system with Toyota’s Entune system, and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. Gasoline-only models also come with steering-column paddle shifters for the automatic transmission.

Extras that came with our Limited Hybrid model included heated/ventilated/perforated-leather front seats, a JBL premium hard-disk-drive audio system with satellite radio, Toyota’s Safety Connect (similar to GM’s OnStar), rear-seat heaters, a rear sunshade, three-zone automatic climate control, puddle lamps, high-intensity-discharge headlights, and LED daytime running lights.

Up to five people can ride in the Avalon, four quite comfortably. I found the front bucket seats to be restful even on a long drive, and rear passengers had plenty of legroom even when the front seats were back far enough on their tracks to accommodate larger folks up front. Interior door panels are covered with synthetic leather.

But the middle of the back seat is tight for an adult, mostly because the seatbelt receptacles limit the width of the position. There is a pull-down armrest that provides two cupholders, but with that folded up to accommodate a child seat or a passenger, there are no rear cupholders. The door pockets, front and rear, do not have bottle holders. There are map pockets in the backs of the front seats, though, which could hold a drink bottle.

There are several storage areas, including a center console with an "eBin" tray, designed to hold two portable electronic devices side by side – his and hers cellphones, or a phone and an iPod, for instance.

On our vehicle, the area included the optional wireless recharging system (included in the $1,950 Technology Package) for phones that have that capability. There also were USB and auxiliary inputs and a 12-volt outlet in the tray, which has LED illumination. There is a storage box underneath where the devices can be hidden away.

My iPhone linked easily to the audio system through the Bluetooth connection, bringing my music to the great speakers in the Avalon.

The Technology Package also brought the pre-collision system with adaptive (radar) cruise control, and automatic high beams.

Our tester also came with carpeted floor and trunk mats ($225); remote starter ($499); and illuminated door sills ($379).

Safety features include electronic stability control with traction control; four-wheel antilock disc brakes, with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; Toyota’s Smart Stop brake-override system; blind-spot monitors on both sides of the car, along with a cross-traffic safety alert and backup camera; and front seat-mounted side air bags, front knee air bags, and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows.

Total sticker price for our Avalon Limited Hybrid was $45,578, including freight and options.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

2015 Toyota Avalon sedan

The package: Full-size, four-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive, V-6 (gasoline only) or four-cylinder gasoline/electric (hybrid) sedan.

Highlights: With a complete redesign for 2013, a hybrid version joined the Avalon lineup for the first time. This is Toyota’s flagship sedan, with lots of room, plenty of standard amenities, and a smooth, quiet ride.

Negatives: Can get pricey at the upper end.

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 (gasoline-only models); 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine coupled with an electric motor (hybrid).

Transmission: Six-speed automatic (gasoline); continuously variable automatic (hybrid).

Power/torque: 268 HP./248 foot-pounds (gasoline); 156 HP./156 foot-pounds gasoline engine, plus electric motor, for total 200 HP (hybrid).

Length: 195.2 inches.

Curb weight: 3,461 pounds (gasoline); 3,585 pounds (hybrid).

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain for both rows.

Trunk capacity: 16 cubic feet (gasoline); 14 cubic feet (hybrid).

EPA fuel economy: 21 mpg city/31 highway/25 combined (gasoline); 40//39/40 (hybrid).

Fuel capacity/type: 17 gallons/regular unleaded.

Major competitors: Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Hyundai Genesis, Hyundai Azera, Volkswagen CC, Ford Taurus, Lincoln MKZ; hybrids: Buick LaCrosse e-Assist, Lincoln MKZ.

Base price ranges: $32,285-$39,980 (gasoline); $36,470-$41,700 (hybrid), plus $825 freight.

Price as tested: $45,578, including freight and options (Limited Hybrid).

On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.