Toyota Avalon Hybrid is current, not overcomplicated

In William Maxwell’s book “So Long, See You Tomorrow” the narrator describes a house he moved into: “The house was too new to be comfortable. It was like having to spend a lot of time with a person you didn’t know very well.”

I feel that way about my road-test cars. All of them are new, so newness isn’t the problem. But sometimes a car will have audio, climate, navigation and other systems whose operation is so frustratingly complicated, it’s like spending time not just with someone you don’t know very well, but with someone you hate.

The Toyota brand has managed to keep up with – and in some cases, to pioneer – the very latest in automotive technology and telematics without making its vehicles feel like antagonists to the people who drive them. Driving a new Toyota is, for me, like hanging out with a good friend.

I just spent two back-to-back weeks in a couple of nice new Toyotas: the 2013 Avalon Hybrid upscale sedan and the 2013 RAV4 crossover SUV. Today I’ll talk about the Avalon Hybrid, and follow it up with the RAV4 as soon as I can stop procrastinating.

The differences between earlier Avalons and the Toyota Camry weren’t all that considerable, but the 2013 Avalon is a whole new animal. With a lowered ride height, elongated roofline, short overhangs and athletically sculpted body, visually it can hold its own against the best high-end performance sport sedans. The same can be said for the new Avalon’s interior design and overall build. Doors close with a solid, satisfying thump; a blindfolded person would guess it was the door of a big German luxury car.

The gas-powered Avalon has a 268-horsepower V6 engine with a fuel economy rating of 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. This is the first year for the Avalon Hybrid model, powered by Toyota’s acclaimed Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The combination gas/electric system produces a total of 200 horsepower and provides 40 mpg during city driving and 39 mpg on the highway. The meager amount of money I spent on fuel during a test week totaling hundreds of miles in a fast, beautiful, incredibly roomy, comfortable, quiet, technology-laden five-passenger sedan put my already good impression of the Avalon Hybrid completely over the top.

Another one of Avalon’s best features is its navigation system. Inputting a destination address was sublimely quick and simple, and the voice guidance was impeccable. There was a wee bit of tension when I exited an underground parking deck in an unfamiliar area in the thick of downtown Portland and a detailed map of the neighborhood didn’t appear instantaneously on the screen. But that was my own fault, for not having spent more than 2 seconds familiarizing myself with the system in advance.

In addition to a full complement of safety, stability and connectivity equipment, notable standard features on the 2013 Avalon Hybrid include three-zone climate control, 11-speaker premium audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, 10-way power driver’s seat and 8-way power front-passenger seat, blind-spot monitoring system with cross-traffic alert, and a rear-window power sunshade.

Among my tester’s optional equipment was a Technology Package ($1,750) adding dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, and a pre-collision system – none of which I’d have missed if it hadn’t been on the car. Without this option, base pricing would be $40,445.

2013 TOYOTA AVALON HYBRID

Base price, including destination charge: $42,195

Price as driven: $44,458

Mary Lowry is a free-lance automotive writer who has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild and a board member of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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