Toyota’s big premium sedan, the Avalon, offers a smooth and comfortable ride in a roomy car that also performs well – and is available in a hybrid version.
The 2018 Avalon Hybrid, our test vehicle for the week, comes with the same gasoline engine/electric motor combination as the Camry hybrid, with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine combined with an electric drive motor. Gasoline-only models all come with a conventional V-6.
This essentially is a stretched version of the Camry sedan, and is intended for consumers who enjoy the comforts of a full-size sedan.
Avalon comes in five regular trim levels and three hybrid versions for 2018. In the gasoline models, prices begin at $33,500 (plus $895 freight) for the base XLE V-6 gasoline model. Other gas-only versions are the XLE Plus ($35,250), XLE Premium ($36,700), XLE Touring ($37,900), and the top-of-the-line Limited ($41,300).
Hybrid models begin at $37,500 for the XLE Plus. It has everything that the XLE Plus gasoline model has, but it gets the four-cylinder gasoline engine/electric-motor hybrid-drive system instead of the V-6 engine. This ends up adding $2,250 to the price.
There are two other hybrid models: The XLE Premium ($38,950); and our tester -- the Limited ($42,800). The Premium Hybrid’s price is up $2,250 from the corresponding non-hybrid model, while the Limited is up $1,500. 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/30 highway/24 combined. All gas-only models 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 2.5-liter engine has 156 horsepower and 156 foot-pounds of torque 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.
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 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 (199 foot-pounds), 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 uphill freeway ramps. We’ve also tested the gasoline-only Avalon, and we found the hybrid to be nearly as powerful where 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.
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 Plus, 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 a moon roof. The XLE Premium adds the outside mirrors to the memory system.
With the XLE Touring model, add-ons include 18-inch alloy wheels, leather-trimmed tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio and other controls, a multi-information display, black wood-grain style interior trim with smoked-chrome interior accents and door handles, and a Touring-specific suspension.
Extras that came with our Limited Hybrid model included heated/ventilated/perforated-leather front seats, navigation, rear-seat heaters, a rear sunshade, three-zone automatic climate control, White Ice interior lighting, and a JBL premium audio system with seven-inch touch screen, satellite and HD radio, and 11 speakers.
Up to five people can ride in the Avalon, four quite comfortably. We found the front bucket seats 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. Interior door panels are covered with synthetic leather.
The middle position 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 wireless recharging 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.
Our tester also came with carpeted floor and trunk mats ($225); illuminated door sills ($379); and paint protection film ($395).
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 rear 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.
Also standard on all Avalon models is the Toyota Safety Sense-P suite of technologies, including Automatic High Beams, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist.
Total sticker price for our Avalon Limited Hybrid was $44,697, including freight and options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2018 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 the last redesign, 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; rear middle seat position tight for adults.
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/30 highway/24 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, Genesis G80, Ford Taurus, Lincoln MKZ.
Base price ranges: $33,500-$41,300 (gasoline); $37,500-$42,800 (hybrid), plus $895 freight.
Price as tested: $44,697, including freight and options (Limited Hybrid).
On the Road rating: 8.9 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.