I’m a simple guy. Because of that, in a lot of ways, the 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid was better suited to my personality than its sister car, the Lexus ES300h I tested earlier this year.
As I noted back when I tested the non-hybrid Lexus ES350, the ES cars are basically really nice Avalons. Underneath the skin, the ultraluxe Lexus and the trustworthy Toyota share a lot in common.
Our 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid tester in XLE trim came with a paltry $375 in optional accessories: wheel locks, rear bumper applique, carpet mats for the floorboards and trunk, and a cargo net for the trunk. That being said, it was not short on niceties. Outside, the Nautical Blue Metallic Avalon Hybrid had 17-inch alloy wheels, a power tilt and sliding sunroof, and heated power folding mirrors. The interior featured dual zone automatic climate control with air filtration and rear seat vents, plus Toyota’s Display Audio system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen controlling an AM/FM/CD head unit that could read MP3 and WMA files. Toyota also included AUX and USB jacks as well as Bluetooth handsfree call- and content-streaming capability. That 6.1-inch screen also displayed clear images from the car’s backing camera.
The Toyota Avalon Hybrid’s center stack was most interesting to me because of its divergence from the Lexus ES. In some ways, it could actually be seen as the more luxurious control interface — for example, most of the controls were haptic Intellitouch-based, meaning there were no real buttons to mash, just sensors underlaying a smooth surface marked with control indicators. In other ways, it was the inferior system — no navigation system, satellite radio, or Mark Levinson sound, for starters.
That center stack, like the rest of the Toyota Avalon Hybrid’s interior, needed no apologies. I came to enjoy the Intellitouch controls, especially for the climate control system, where the mere touch of a finger made for quick adjustments to temperature or fan speed. In a way, once I forced my brain to forget the years of conditioning that comes from owning a long succession of cars with traditional three-dial HVAC panels, the Intellitouch control interface was the more intuitive setup. It kind of takes the old-school HVAC sliders into the modern era. There are no clunky sliders necessary in the era of touch-sensitive center stacks, though, and Toyota pulled it off pretty well — after a few days getting used to it, I found it easy to set the HVAC system as I wanted without taking my eyes off the road.
Elsewhere, the interior featured standard leather seats with eight-way power adjustment including lumbar support on the driver’s front seat and four-way power adjustment for the front passenger’s seat. Leather also graced the steering wheel, which featured the requisite audio and Bluetooth voice command buttons. Since autojournalists are apparently supposed to go apey for this kind of thing nowadays, I’ll also mention that much of the dash and door panels felt soft to the touch — no hollow, hard plastics here. Even the plastics on the pillars was given a softer surface treatment than one might expect, and the headliner was covered in a woven fabric rather than mousefur.
Under the hood of the Toyota Avalon Hybrid was the quiet, purposeful 2.5-liter dual-overhead cam 16-valve four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system and ECVT, all of which also can be found in the Lexus ES300h. Same electric power steering, too. And yes, it even had the same stopping prowess, as I found when I stepped on the brakes for the first time, or as I came to call them, THE BRAKES! It’s not a performance car, but it’s a car that performs admirably as a stolid commuter machine that commands a certain level of respect from your peers — and one that, despite its hybrid powertrain, won’t provide flaccid performance around town unless you want it to.
Since the powertrain is the same as the Lexus ES300h, one would not be surprised to lear that like the Lexus ES300h, the Toyota Avalon Hybrid is rated at 40 MPG city, 39 MPG highway by the EPA. In the ES300h, I got real close to hitting that highway figure, which made the hybrid far more desirable than the similarly priced and far less efficient ES350 in my opinion. The question now is: Can I repeat that performance in the Toyota Avalon Hybrid, which MSRPs at $36,774 to the ES300h’s $44,524? More about that later.
Disclosure: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.