Remember your dad's La-Z-Boy in the TV room? It was plush, it was comfortable, it was heartily cushioned and perfectly worn in all the right places, beckoning you to climb in and curl up … at least until Dad wanted to sit down.
The Toyota Avalon Hybrid is a modern automotive interpretation of the La-Z-Boy: smooth, comfortable and easy to drive or ride in as a passenger, if lacking in quickness or sporty style.
The Avalon Hybrid is frugal with its fuel usage, and as Dad always said, the best way to double your money is to stick it back in your pocket. It's true. Go ask Mom.
This generation of the Avalon Hybrid was introduced last year, and there are a few updates for 2014, most notably a standard backup camera on all trims. Check out the 2013 and 2014 Avalon Hybrids here. The 2014 Avalon Hybrid comes in XLE Touring, XLE Premium and Limited versions, which I drove. Compare them all side by side here.
If the Avalon Hybrid doesn't float your lazy-boy boat, you may also want to spend some time looking into the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid or the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Compare all three here.
Exterior & Styling
Toyota likes to refer to the Avalon Hybrid as having an "athletic" appearance with a "sense of motion and road-hugging stance." That might be an exercise in creative writing skills, because to me it just reads pretty plain. OK, maybe there's a slight swooping up on the tail end, and possibly there's a hint of a coupelike recessive gene hiding somewhere in the angled side rear window and dual exhaust tips.
Blue "hybrid" badges on the rear and sides of the car show the world just what a good understudy you've been to Dad's life lesson #145: He's your baby brother, not a dress-up doll. Wait, wrong lesson. Anyhow, it was something about being thrifty and saving the earth. Blah blah blah.
How It Drives
The Avalon Hybrid combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, electric motor and high-voltage battery pack for an EPA-estimated 40/39/40 mpg city/highway/combined. While this is certainly an improvement over the non-hybrid version, which gets an estimated 24 mpg combined, it doesn't quite hold its weight among hybrid sedans. The Ford Fusion Hybrid gets a combined 42 mpg, and the Accord Hybrid gets a combined 47 mpg.
The most notable annoyance in the Avalon Hybrid rears its ugly head within moments of putting the car into Drive. Braking is obnoxiously grabby and causes a slight whiplash sensation each time you touch the brake pedal. No matter how hard I tried to adjust to the tight sensation, the brakes seemed to jolt just before I was expecting it every single time.
The ride quality, on the other hand, was soft and forgiving, even over rough, grooved highway pavement.
Toyota has put quite a bit of time, effort and energy into noise damping inside the Avalon, including an acoustic laminated front windshield and front side windows, noise-reducing foam in all the car's pillars, and a specific seating surface in the rear seats whose aim is also to reduce noise inside the vehicle. Still, the Avalon may need some additional attention when it comes to filtering out road and tire noise while traveling at highway speeds.
When I first entered the Avalon Hybrid, I had to do a quick double take to make sure it was in fact a Toyota, not a Lexus. I appreciated the attention to detail, the fit and finish, the leather seats, plus loads of soft-touch surfaces on the dash, door panels, armrest and front cupholder surround. My husband, on the other hand, said it seemed over the top, bordering on tacky. One point on which we agree is that the tricolor scheme is a bit busy. The black carpeting, brown woodlike trim pieces on the dash, brown leather around the cupholders and tan leather seats with black contrast stitching all combine for sensory overload. Maybe pick just two crayons out of the box next time, Toyota.
A covered electronics storage bin below the air controls on the center control panel was a great feature that proved quite useful. In addition to the regular 12-volt power outlet inside, there's also an aux input and a USB port, with a handy slot in the lid through which cords can be routed. The lid is flat and topped with rubber to help hold two phones in place. I was able to play my own tunes through the car's Bluetooth audio streaming while plugging my iPad in and stashing it out of the way, next to the passenger seat, to give it some extra juice while driving to a work event.
My two younger daughters (ages 9 and 11) had more than enough legroom in the backseat for not only their legs, but also to accommodate their massive backpacks for the return of the school year, while big sis (14) stretched out in the front passenger seat. The Avalon Hybrid has a luxurious-feeling 39.2 inches of rear seat legroom. For comparison, the Ford Fusion Hybrid has 38.3 inches and the Honda Accord Hybrid has 38.5.
My backseat daughters had access to a fold-down armrest in the center seating position, with two cupholders and storage pockets on the back of each of the front seats, as well as in-door storage bins. They also appreciated the ability to control their own air temperature and fan speed from the back of the center console in my test car.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The Bluetooth phone system in the Avalon was incredibly easy to pair, and it was just as simple to start streaming Bluetooth audio. I was grooving away to "lazy summer music" on Songza internet radio less than a minute after starting the pairing process.
The 6.1-inch touch-screen is surrounded by both capacitive touch-sensitive "buttons" and traditional knobs. Even though this car's center control panel is chock-full of capacitive buttons, they weren't bothersome in the least (our editors generally dislike them in cars). They gave me instantaneous feedback with a beep when I touched them, and there was no delay between touching a control and getting the response I was hoping for.
The controls for both the heated and optional cooled seats and the airflow are tactile knobs for quick and easy operation. The seat-control knobs recede when not needed.
While not noticeable to me, my husband pointed out that the armrests in the front doors taper and narrow toward the back, causing an issue for taller people with the chairs pushed farther back. He wasn't able to rest his arm on it without his elbow slipping off.
Cargo & Storage
The Avalon Hybrid's trunk sacrifices 2 cubic feet of cargo space compared with the non-hybrid, but it beats out the rest of the hybrid pack with 14.0 cubic feet. The Honda Accord Hybrid has 12.7 cubic feet of trunk space and the Ford Fusion Hybrid has just 12.0 cubic feet. The Ford Fusion Hybrid, however, is the only one in the group with a backseat that folds for expandability of cargo space.
The Avalon Hybrid's trunk appears to be where the attention to detail stops. While the trunk lid pops open via a release button inside the car, it doesn't raise itself all the way (or really even part of the way). You have to manually lift it — and don't think you can just give it a little nudge and it will pull itself up. It rises only to the level you raise it yourself. After assuming the trunk lid was going to lift further by itself after I nudged it, I leaned in to grab my daughter's dance bag and knocked my noggin quite hard (don't worry, I learned quickly and didn't make that mistake twice).
Despite the attention to fit and finish within the passenger compartment, I was surprised to find the underside of the trunk an unfinished and uncovered jumbled mess of metal and cables.
The Toyota Avalon gets the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest rating of good (on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal and poor) in all areas tested. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the Avalon Hybrid an overall crash-test rating of five out of five stars.
In addition to all the standard airbags typically found in cars, the Avalon Hybrid also includes torso side airbags for both front and rear outboard occupants, as well as a knee airbag for the driver.
The Avalon Hybrid has a standard backup camera on all trim levels starting this year, which I found quite helpful, but I was surprised that it lacked audible park-assist sensors. A blind spot monitor packaged with a rear cross-traffic alert system is optional on the XLE Touring trim level and standard on the Limited. It's not offered on the XLE Premium.
For families installing child-safety seats, the Latch lower anchors in the backseat's outboard seating positions are difficult to use, without enough clearance around them to easily hook and unhook a child-safety seat. The seat belt buckles are on firm bases, which should make buckling up in booster seats easier for younger children lacking dexterity. For our full Car Seat Check of last year's Toyota Avalon, click here. See all the Avalon's standard safety features listed here.
Value in Its Class
The Toyota Avalon Hybrid is one of the more expensive hybrid sedans on the road today. For people looking for high mileage at a low cost, the Avalon will get overlooked. For those looking for a gentle entry into the hybrid segment (an improvement in mileage over the gas version, especially in city driving, while maintaining a luxurious fit and finish), the Avalon Hybrid might be worth a glance and a test drive.