Impressive fuel economy
Soothing road manners
Standard advanced safety features
Lack of steering feel
Rough engine noise when pushed
Rear cross-traffic alert an expensive option
2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited
All-new and unchanged from its debut last year, the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid, just the second-generation hybrid variant of the Avalon, is built around Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, allowing it to be longer, lower, and wider (as well as more powerful) than the 2018 model. The new platform also enabled Toyota to extend the cabin rearward by 7 inches, with a lower body height, cowl height, and rear deck, while more advanced stamping methods resulting in body panels that are more sculpted.
The original hybrid, bowing as a 2013 model, was the first to break from the Avalon’s heritage of somnolence, with the latest iteration continuing that arc with a sleek, expressive design that starts up front, with deeply inset headlights that rest above a massive grille displacing nearly the entire fascia. That maw-like opening is flanked by a pair of air intakes that enhance aerodynamics by directing air around the front wheels (Toyota calls this feature “aerodynamic front tangential venting”). The body sides feature a chiseled look marked by a sharp upper character line that bisects the front door handle, angling downward in front of the rear door handle, deep sculpting above the rocker panels, and a sharp crease around the wheel wells. In back, the swept-back roofline terminates in an upsweep at the trailing edge of the decklid, just above narrow upper light bar that bridges the gap between the taillights. Hybrids feature a unique lower rear fascia that conceals, rather than highlights, an exhaust pipe.
The only misstep is up front, where the grille overpowers the Avalon’s otherwise elegant look.
The exterior is wrapped around a handsome, sophisticated interior that’s closer to a Lexus than a Camry with near-luxury levels of refinement. Here you’ll find contrasting colors, soft-touch surfaces, and a mix of upscale materials that include aluminum, engineered or real wood depending on the trim level. A lower cowl and beltline, along with the concave shape of the passenger-side dash, gives the cabin a roomy feel, while the highlight of the sloping horizontal dash is a 9-inch pedestal-mounted 9-inch touchscreen shape to the passenger-side dash and all lines lead to the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay-compatible, 9-inch, pedestal-mounted, infotainment touchscreen that dominates the middle of the dash with a surround that flows nicely into the center console contains a pair of knobs for power/volume and tune/scroll as well as redundant buttons for the major infotainment functions. Below the touchscreen are a pair vents set above the HVAC controls.
Covered in synthetic leather on XLE, synthetic leather and suede on XSE, and real perforated leather on Limited models, the seats are nicely bolstered and offer all-day driving comfort, with power adjustability up front across the lineup. The various buttons and knobs are logically placed, and operate flawlessly, while driver sightlines are excellent out the front sides and rear three-quarters. The Avalon Hybrid, with 103 cu ft of passenger space and 16 cu ft of cargo volume, is at the top end of the midsize class and shares those numbers with non-hybrid models thanks to a battery pack that’s located under the rear seat. This also allows the back seats to flip and fold forward individually, adding the flexibility and versatility to haul large items like a 52cm road bike, without having to remove either the front or rear wheels.
At the same time, while the outboard rear seats are comfortable, the center seat cushion is noticeably firm and probably not suitable for longer road trips, while the wireless charging pad is located in a covered storage area in front of the shifter, making it difficult to retrieve a phone while driving.
Under the hood
Under the hood, the Avalon Hybrid features the latest version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain, that includes a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine delivering 176 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. It’s coupled to an electric motor generator that produces 118 horsepower (88 kW) and 149 lb-ft of torque that drives the front wheels and acts as a regenerator during braking. Combined they produce 215 net system horsepower sent to the front wheels through an electronically-controlled continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
A second motor generator acts as a generator, engine starter, and hybrid battery charger.
Fuel economy numbers for the big midsize sedan are excellent, with the XLE achieving an EPA-estimated 43 miles per gallon in the city, 44 on the highway, and 44 combined, while the heavier S and Limited trims manage an EPA-estimated 43 mpg city, 43 highway, and 43 combined (our own observed fuel economy in our Limited tester in very cold weather spirited driving was a vehicle-measured 38.6 miles per gallon).
But despite those better numbers, the hybrid's overall range is less than that of the previous generation, as the revised battery placement has reduced fuel tank capacity from 17 to 13 gallons.
On the road
Like the gasoline-only Avalon, the Hybrid is in its element once you hit an on-ramp. Boasting of a sequential shift mode, the continuously variable transmission feels more like a traditional automatic, with none of the drone normally associated with a CVT. The view from the driver’s seat is expansive, and framed by upscale materials selection like the pleated door inserts, soft-touch center console, cloth headliner and A-pillars, the rimless rearview mirror, and the 9-inch touchscreen with an interface that’s simple to navigate. Road noise is minimized through the use of an acoustic windshield and front side window glass and liberal use of sound-deadening materials. Straight-line stability is impressive and unaffected by crosswinds, while the strut front/multi-link rear suspension did a nice job of isolating the many imperfections indigenous to Michigan’s roads this time of year. Handling is mildly sporty with sharp turn-in, and the ride is soft but hardly floaty.
Nits are few: the steering proved to be a bit numb on-center, the engine sounds rough when really pressed, and performance, while certainly adequate, lacks the oomph of V-6 models that sticker for less. Drivers in colder climes will also note the absence of an AWD version.
2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid prices and features
Pricing for the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid begins with the $37,995 XLE (a $1,125 premium of the non-hybrid version), which offers a standard equipment list that includes auto on/off LED reflector headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights, heated power outside mirrors, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Inside, you’ll find the the usual power features - windows (all auto up-down) and locks– along with dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a 7-inch TFT instrument display, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, keyless push-button start, and a 9-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite radio, Toyota Connected Services, and Siri Eyes Free and Apple CarPlay capability.
Three option packages are offered. The Moonroof Package ($1,000, power moonroof, Qi wireless smartphone charging), Premium Audio with Navigation ($1,720, JBL audio system, dynamic navigation), and a $2,720 third package that contains both the Moonroof and Premium Audio with Navigation package goodies.
Toyota's advanced Safety Sense system is also standard, and includes pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic headlights with high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control.
The $40,495 XSE trim adds a moonroof and Qi charger. It also comes with trim-specific items that include a piano black grille, mirror caps, and rear spoiler, aluminum pedal covers, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and smoked chrome headlight bezels, as well as 18-inch alloy wheels, aluminum interior trim, Ultrasuede seat trim, and a frameless rearview mirror with HomeLink.
Top trim $44,255 Limited models like our tester retain the moonroof, phone charger, and rearview mirror, and add gray18-inch alloy wheels, and unique LED headlights, turn signals, and taillights. Inside, real wood trim is standard along with ambient lighting, a 10-inch color head-up display, leather seats (heated and cooled in front, heated in back), power heated tilt & telescopic steering wheel with memory, and a 1,200-watt JBL audio system with navigation.
Our tester was also equipped with the $1,150 Advanced Safety Package (front and rear sonar parking sensors, 360-degree Bird's Eye View Camera, and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking), and the $259 Carpet Mat Package (carpet floor mats, carpet trunk mat), which brought its as-tested manufacturer suggested retail price, including a $930 delivery, processing, and handling fee, to $45,489 (an early build, the price of a current model like this is $45,664).
The Bottom Line
With domestic manufacturers retreating from sedans, Toyota’s entry occupies the near-luxury hybrid niche as the only offering. The silver lining here is that despite rough engine noises when pressed, middling steering feel, and an overwrought grille that somewhat spoils a sleek design, 2020 Toyota Avalon manages to check all the right boxes: spacious, upscale interior, wide-ranging standard safety features, smooth, comfortable ride, and impressive fuel economy.