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Toyota adds fuel-thrifty hybrid

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2013 Avalon Hybrid XLE Touring

Base price: $35,555 for Hybrid XLE Premium; $37,250 for XLE Touring.
Price as tested: $39,643.
Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, gasoline-electric hybrid, midsize sedan.
Engine: 2.5-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder with VVT-I mated to a 105-kilowatt, two-electric-motor system and nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
Mileage: 40 mpg (city), 39 mpg (highway).

Avalon has comfortable seating for five and impressive fuel mileage

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 6:15 am

Move over, Toyota Camry. It's time for Toyota's other sizable sedan, the Avalon, to get some well-deserved attention.

Recently revamped with a stylish body and new features, the five-door Avalon now also has an impressive, fuel-sipping, gasoline-electric hybrid model.

Not only does the Avalon Hybrid provide comfortable seating for five, with a roomy back seat, the new hybrid is rated by the federal government at 40 miles per gallon in city driving and 39 mpg on the highway — the best of any Avalon ever.

These numbers are not unattainable. In regular, not-trying-to-squeeze-every-drop-of-gasoline driving, the test 2013 Avalon Hybrid registered no lower than 36.2 mpg and reached 37.1 mpg in combined city/highway travel.

Also noteworthy: The 2013 Avalon overall is listed as a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which says predicted reliability should be above average.

The Avalon Hybrid's starting retail price isn't as high as consumers might assume, given all the standard equipment. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $36,365 for the base, 2013 Avalon Hybrid, which is $3,360 more than the base, non-hybrid, 2013 Avalon.

But note that the base Avalon Hybrid has XLE Premium trim that includes standard upscale appointments such as power moonroof, leather-trimmed seats, heated and power-adjustable front seats, rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-speaker audio system, 6.1-inch display screen, Bluetooth hands-free phone controls, push-button start, keyless remote entry and leather-wrapped steering wheel plus 10 airbags.

Then, there's the fuel mileage comparison. The non-hybrid, 2013 Avalon, which has a 268-horsepower V-6, is rated by the federal government at 21/31 mpg, which is 19 mpg less in city driving and 8 miles less per gallon in highway driving than the Avalon Hybrid.

The test Avalon Hybrid, a mid-range XLE Touring model, looked stylish with new, expressive grille and the kind of expressive body lines on the sides that could have come from a Hyundai Sonata.

Overall, the car was attractively proportioned, too, though the sizable rear parcel shelf would sometimes catch and reflect the sun's rays and detract from rearward visibility via the inside rearview mirror.

A sunshine-splashed dashboard also sometimes made it difficult to see items shown on the sizable display screen atop the middle of the car's dashboard.

Still, the interior was a nice surprise, with controls and gauges well arranged and an expansive atmosphere in both front and back seats.

Stretching 16.2 feet in length, the Avalon Hybrid provides 42.1 inches of legroom in the front seat and 39.2 inches for back-seat passengers.

But roomwise, the Avalon Hybrid's trunk, which provides a commendable 14 cubic feet of cargo space, is noteworthy. Yes, this is less than the non-hybrid Avalon's 16-cubic-foot trunk. But hybrids have smaller trunks because the battery pack for storing electric power onboard typically is under and/or behind the back seats.

Besides space and comfort, Toyota engineers made sure to make the Avalon's ride firmer than before to provide a more dynamic driving experience, even in the hybrid.

The Avalon Hybrid uses regular unleaded gasoline, and tester had a 600-mile-plus range, which softened the $64 bill at the gasoline station.

It's true that the hybrid's 156-horsepower, 2.5-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder can sound buzzy and stressed during hard accelerations. Torque peaks at 156 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm, and with the two electric motors added in, total horsepower is 200.

But nearly all the time during the test drive, driver and passengers couldn't tell by sound or feel when power was all from the engine or all electric or a mix. Power came on smoothly and seamlessly.