Review: Toyota Avalon hybrid improves without fun fare

Scott Sturgis
Philadelphia Inquirer
The sleek Avalon hybrid provides plenty of power for accelerating and passing, but lacks the fun of its Jersey Shore namesake.

I can safely say the Toyota Avalon has gotten much better for 2019. The hybrid version I tested was not a whole lot more fun, really, but nicer in many ways: smooth, pretty, but not fun like its Jersey Shore namesake.

Avalon cuts a sleeker figure in space, getting shorter and wider, with the wheels drawn farther to the corners.

People hear “hybrid” and think “quiet putt-putt,” but nothing could be further from the truth. The Avalon provides plenty of power for accelerating and passing, a combined 215 from the four-cylinder engine and hybrid motor. It’s smooth and refined as it zips from 0-60 in 7.8 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

No shifts with most hybrids, of course, as the electric motor’s torque range doesn’t need different gearings to improve power delivery. But some gear choices give drivers a chance to limit speed. (Toyota is notoriously stingy in allowing drivers to enjoy actual shiftability, even among in vehicles that have actual geared transmissions.)

The Avalon offers a calm, serene ride. Curves are not fun, although one can slip through them quickly. Sport mode seemed to improve acceleration with no noticeable change in handling.

The 2019 has gotten far less bouncy, a big improvement.

For a big, low vehicle, though, the Avalon seemed to bounce around quite a lot on windy days. Perhaps I was having a bad driving day, so check this before buying. The leather seats provided excellent comfort, and the Avalon interior pretty much oozes luxury. Driving position is just right, and controls are thoughtful.

A couple of long trips with Sturgis Kid 4.0 in the backseat were endured without complaint. Plenty of legroom is available even for the 6-foot-2 youngsters of the world.

Cargo space is 16 cubic feet, about right for similar sedans.

The Avalon’s console is pretty, with a well-functioning touchscreen.

Looks as if everyone is moving to the standup touchscreen, now that BMW and Mazda have led the way. The Avalon’s unit is pretty, and the touchscreen functions admirably, far better than the frustration I suffered with the 2018. Dials for volume and tuning make basic functionality easier, and buttons along the side help as well.

Changing the music source via the touchscreen, though, is a three-step process, as the screen defaults to map or three-part screen, so one must push “audio,” then “source,” then select the source from a menu. A two-page menu, so a fourth step may be added.

Sound quality is a high A-minus, almost perfect.

I said controls are thoughtful, with one caveat: Toyota is finally moving away from the cruise control stalk, a sad state of affairs if ever there was one.

A more substantial cruising complaint, though, would be the adaptive cruise control’s distance setting. Though most cars leave a bigger gap than most Philadelphia drivers would choose, the Avalon seemed especially wary. Other cars were forever cutting in front and closing the gap, rendering the cruise control almost useless in traffic.

The Avalon further ruined this feature by a very slow automatic acceleration. First World problems, I know, but Toyota is charging First World prices.

I averaged just over 37 mpg in my usual test area, four ticks above the 2018 model.

The hybrid version I tested was $45,116. An Advanced Safety Package added $1,150, and carpet mats $248.