We spend a week in the hybrid version of the updated, near-luxury Toyota Avalon.
Driving fun factor
Seats only modestly supportive
2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Plus
Like its non-hybrid counterpart, the 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid has received a minor facelift just four years into its model cycle.
Up front, the upper grille has been narrowed while the lower grille is wider and lower and is bracketed by a pair of vertical, recessed turn signals that replace a pair of small, round fog lights. In back, the LED taillights have been re-configured, while a chrome accent strip has been added to the rear bumper. Other than that, the 2016 version retains the model's steeply raked windshield and a sweeping, almost coupe-like, roofline.
Interior updates are even more minor and include new gray accent stitching with the light gray interior. Be that as it may, the interior reminds us more of a Lexus rather than your typical Toyota. A striking one-piece upper dash is separated from the lower dash area by subtle gray-stained wood trim. The rest of the trim surfaces feature smoked chrome-metallic accents
Dash, door and center console surfaces are soft touch, with real stitching on all three as well as the dash extension over the instrument pod. Toyota has also gone to great lengths to give occupants a feeling of spaciousness. A low beltline, a passenger-side dashboard featuring a concave design and a relatively low front seat hip point allow for generous headroom. Lateral support in the front seats is good, but the bottom cushions remain a bit soft for our tastes.
Another compromise has to do with the fact that the Avalon Hybrid is not based on its own dedicated platform, but rather shares it with the conventional model. This means that while more mundane Avalons are blessed with16 cubic feet of trunk capacity and rear seats that flip and fold forward for even more versatility, the addition of a 244.8-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack necessitates a fixed back seat and a trunk with a somewhat abbreviated cargo capacity of 14 cubic feet.
Under the hood
Under the hood, the 2016 Avalon Hybrid shares its Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain with that of the Toyota Camry Hybrid. It consists of an Atkinson cycle inline-4 gasoline engine that displaces 2.5-liters. Output from the four-pot is 156 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque. It's paired with an AC Synchronous Electric Motor that produces 141 horsepower (105 kW@4,500 rpm) and 199 lb.-ft. of torque. Together they're capable of producing 200 net system horsepower. EPA estimated fuel economy is 40/39/40 city/highway/combined mpg. During a week of primarily suburban driving, we averaged an excellent 39.3 miles per gallon.
On the road
One target of the 2013 re-design was to upgrade vehicle dynamics in order to improve the model's straight-line stability and handling. In addition to more body welds, this involved improving body bracing and adding high-strength steel in key areas. Coil spring rates and front and rear sway bar stiffness were increased, while the electric power steering system was recalibrated for better control and feedback.
Like the regular model, straight-line stability is impressive and, on the freeway, we found that there was no need to constantly make steering corrections. On-center feel is also excellent and the weight builds nicely as it moves through the curves. But while road noise is kept to a minimum through the use of acoustic glass and additional sound-deadening materials, the hybrid doesn't exhibit the same flat trajectory through corners as the gasoline-only models. You can probably chalk that up to the fact that hybrid models tip the scales at roughly 120 pounds more than their non-hybrid counterparts.
In addition, with 68 less horses under the hood, its acceleration isn’t quite as brisk, either. But even though they feature regen, the brakes provide excellent feel and are easier to modulate than many hybrids we've driven.
Hybrid models also come with a choice of three drive modes – Sport, Eco and EV – via a selectable switch on the center console. Sport offers enhanced throttle response and higher steering effort, which is where we pretty much kept it. Eco mode alters the throttle and A/C power usage to boost fuel economy – an electronic hair shirt, if you will. EV mode, if the conditions are met, will allow the vehicle to operate in all-electric mode for up to a mile at 25 mph or less.
2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid prices
As you might expect, even the least expensive Avalon Hybrid trim level comes with its fair share of standard equipment. Even in base XLE Plus trim this includes all the power niceties including windows (all auto up-down), locks, mirrors and front seats, leather-trimmed seats (heated in front), steering wheel and shift knob, a moonroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror and Homelink. Also standard is a smart key with push-button start, dual zone automatic climate control, a 7-inch touch screen Entune infotainment system, unique 17-inch alloy wheels and a rear view camera.
The only negative is that in order to get Toyota's advanced Safety Sense system (pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beams and dynamic radar cruise control) you have to opt for the Limited model. This will change for the 2017 model, when the package will be standard on all Avalons.
While 2016 Avalon Hybrid prices can top out at over $45,000 for one fully decked-out in Limited trim, the entry-level, if you can call it that, XLE plus can be had for at $37,485 including destination – a price, not coincidentally, that matched that of our silver metallic tester.
The Bottom Line
If you're looking for sporty handling and performance as well as the latest in safety features (other than in the top-trim Limited) in a versatile family hauler, you'll probably find that this Avalon is not your cup of tea.
If, on the other hand, you're looking for an eco-conscious vehicle that, while devoid of the badge and the congruent dealer experience, is every bit as luxurious as practically any Lexus, we believe that your ship has, indeed, come in.