2021 Toyota Avalon Hybrid review: Soft-serve sedan

Hope you like big grills …

Craig Cole / Roadshow

2021 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is like a soft ice cream: soft and sweet. With a comfortable ride, an accommodating cockpit and pleasant demeanor, this large sedan is relaxing to drive and goes down (the road) easily. But real-world fuel economy is arguably its strongest asset. You may not believe how cheap a four-door of this size can be.

Cup or cone?

Appealing to a wide range of drivers, the Toyota Avalon is served in two ways: with an internal combustion engine or a hybrid. Since neither version is the driver’s car, no, neither is the even Avalon TRD – you can also take the hybrid and enjoy its superior efficiency, which comes with a small sacrifice in performance.

Introduced a few years ago, the fifth generation Avalon is built on the TNGA platform, foundations that, in one form or another, support a wide range of Toyota products, everything from Prius to the Highlander to the Lexus ES. This architecture makes the Avalon Hybrid rock solid, free from creaking, groaning, squeaking or rattles, and also helps provide excellent impact protection, as proven by the stellar ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Slightly larger than a Camry and much more sophisticated, the Avalon offers luxury car frills in a traditional package, although you may not love its looks, as that massive grille is a little much. Apart from the unique style and interior fittings, this one Toyota it’s almost identical to the Lexus ES, which is basically an Avalon with extra toppings. They have the same wheelbase and overall length and, in hybrid guise, identical powertrains and efficiency ratings. But who wears it better? Well, having reviewed the ES a few months ago, in this case, I’d say Toyota is more satisfying. The ES 250 I tried it was adequate, but its shortcomings were much more obvious given the high price.

A great sweetness

The interior of the Avalon Hybrid is as spacious and comfortable as Grandma’s sofa, although the soft cognac-colored leather of this example is far more attractive than its glossy plastic covers. The materials used inside are of high quality, with generous amounts of soft plastic and even real wood accents in the Limited models. Up front, bucket chairs are soft yet supportive and the rear seat is just as accommodating, offering large amounts of head and leg room. For long distance travel, the Avalon is an ace.

The Avalon Hybrid’s interior is spacious and refined, but don’t expect a lot of cutting-edge technology.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

Adding some panache, this Toyota’s dashboard is expressively designed but not over the top or weird for the sake of being different. There is certainly some 3D sculpting, but the design is practically symmetrical. I also like the way the console lifts up to join the center stack, it’s a simple but skillful touch. The infotainment and climate controls are mounted high, so they’re easy to see, although I wish some of those chiclet-style buttons were a little bigger, as they can be a challenge to press while driving.

Like other Toyotas, this car has predictable deficits and I won’t beat them to death in this review. The backup camera is low resolution and the infotainment system is anything but brilliant. The standard 9-inch touchscreen is, however, bright, colorful, and easy to look at without taking your eyes off the road, again, thanks to its elevated position on the dashboard. With Apple CarPlay, Android Auto it’s standard equipment, although both smartphone mirroring systems need USB access to work, so be sure to bring a cable. Limited models come standard with at least one Qi wireless charging plate.

Efficiency is the icing on the cake

This Toyota is powered by a hybrid transmission, centered around a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Augmented by a pair of electric motors, which, among other things, function as a continuously variable transmission, this Avalon is graced with a total of 215 horsepower. A specific pair figure is not listed as the math with hybrids is more blurry than the skin of a kiwi you might garnish an ice cream with. Soft and responsive, this arrangement can get the car from stationary to 60 mph in around 8.1 seconds, which makes the Avalon Hybrid agile if not overly vigorous. Even when the throttle is underground, the internal combustion engine remains off.

But what makes this transmission so dynamite is its fuel efficiency. Low-end Avalon Hybrids sticker at 43mpg in city and 44mpg on both highway and combined test cycles. In comparison, this limited trim model is rated at as soon as 43 mpg across the board, a huge deprivation, I know. In real-world driving, however, this machine is extremely efficient, as I’m getting over 46 mpg without even trying, which is pretty damn impressive for something this size.

This powerplant offers good performance and stellar efficiency.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

A creamy spin

Comfort and efficiency are the jam with this Toyota, so don’t expect much else from driving. There is nothing funny about how the Avalon Hybrid performs. Its steering is predictable, the steering wheel feels as light as a dollop of whipped cream. The brake pedal is easy to modulate, and the transition from regenerative to frictional braking is far from unnoticeable, something other automakers could learn from.

Handling is safe, but my tester’s Hankook Kinergy GT all-season tires feel like they are made of hard cheese, offering little feel, even on dry pavement. Of course, with a tread rating of 540, you can’t expect much in the way of cornering grip. They scream in disapproval long before you reach the limit. On the plus side, these efficiency-focused tires are quiet and offer a creamier ride than frozen custard. Thanks to its comfort and refinement, the Avalon Hybrid is relaxing to drive and can actually make you feel less stressed after a trip than when you started.

Helping to calm tense nerves, Toyota Safety Sense-P is standard across the range. This includes advanced driving aids such as lane departure warning with steering assistance, automatic high beam and adaptive cruise control. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic warning is also included free of charge. Although available on other Toyota and Lexus models, Lane Tracing Assist (Lane Tracing Assist in Toyota parlance) is, unfortunately, not available at any price.

If you are looking for a large sedan and both comfort and fuel economy are top priorities, Toyota has led you.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

A winning recipe

The 2021 Toyota Avalon Hybrid starts at around $ 38,000, including $ 995 in destination tax, just $ 975 more than a comparable gas version. This gives you an entry-level XLE example with loads of standard features including keyless entry with push button start, LED headlights, and plenty of safety features. The pinnacle of the Limited model you’re reading about in this review costs $ 46,717, which is a more than reasonable figure for a large, comfortable and well-equipped sedan. Of course some extras inflate the base price, but nothing crazy. The advanced safety package includes a 360-degree camera system and parking sensors with automatic rear brake, all for $ 1,150. The sleek Ruby Flare Pearl paint job costs $ 425 more, and a small handful of other options add another $ 847 to the bottom line.

The Avalon Hybrid is a large sedan with a twist. Like a platter of soft chocolate and vanilla, it offers big-car comfort and hybrid efficiency – an unexpectedly tasty combination.

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