By Keith Griffin
Some friends were having an interesting debate recently. OK, maybe interesting is relevant, but it was interesting to me as an automotive writer. The question dealt with how safety was going to be balanced vs. stronger fuel economy demands. One person said we’re eventually going to be driving one-ton cars with twelve airbags to protect us.
After spending some time with the 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid at its recent media introduction in San Antonio, Texas, I realize that the Japanese automaker has made great strides towards combining safety with fuel economy in a pretty outstanding package. It gets 40-mpg city and 39-mpg highway for a combined rating of 40 mpg.
Chew on that number for a second. This full-size luxury sedan, that weighs just shy of 3600 lbs., can theoretically go 680 miles on one tank of gas. Yet, it sacrifices nothing when it comes to space or creature comfort.
Nor are there concerns about safety either as I mentioned above. The Avalon doesn’t have the hypothetical 12 airbags mentioned above but it does come with 10, which means you’re covered from practically every angle in a collision. It also comes standard with whiplash lessening seats. Get hit from the side, front, or rear and you’re really well protected (while getting 40 mpg).
One of my new favorite features in cars is rear cross traffic alert that uses the sensors in the rear quarter panels. The system continuously measures the relative speed and position of the approaching vehicle to calculate a potential impact, which is the expected time that the vehicle will cross the driver’s path. Basically, it’s going to let you know if something bigger than a scooter is coming at you when you back out of a parking space or your driveway. The system detects vehicles approaching from the side and behind the Avalon. If cars are approaching within the detection area, a buzzer will sound.
There are a couple of caveats. The transmission has to be in reverse (so it doesn’t work if you slide out in neutral for some reason), you can’t be going faster than 5 mph, and the approaching vehicle can’t be going more than 18 mph. That’s not likely, one would hope, in a mall parking lot, but it is likely on a busy street. Toyota’s lawyers are reminding us that it’s not designed to deal with you driving recklessly in reverse, nor can it protect you from pulling out in front of speeding vehicles. The system is standard on the touring and limited Avalon hybrids.
Unlike a lot of other hybrids, there’s not a huge price difference in trim levels between the standard Avalon and the hybrid version. The XLE Premium price difference is $33,195 vs. $35,555 for a $2,360. The gap narrows on the XLE Touring ($35,500 vs. $37,250) and Limited ($39,650 vs. $41,400) trim levels of $1750.
In the past, it could take more than five years to make up the difference between regular and hybrid levels but that timeline has dropped significantly. Based on annual fuel cost figures from the EPA, the timeframe has been winnowed down to 22 months for the XLE Touring and Limited trim levels and 30 months for the XLE Premium. It’s an extra price worth paying.
As mentioned, the new Avalon is simply a stunning car. It has been redesigned so it pays little resemblance to its dowdy predecessor. There are nice lines cut into the doors and the front-end has been overhauled. It’s suggestive of the new Kias but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The interior is stunning, too. The new Avalon’s interior surfaces are finished in premium materials such as hand sewn soft-touch material for the dash panel, unique smoke chrome trim surrounding the center panel, and high-quality glossy panel trim around the shifter. The new Avalon’s front seats offer revised side bolstering using a lighter, denser foam material that helps improve body positioning for driver and passenger. Bolstering is usually associated with sports cars but it can help keep you in position for better driving comfort over long stretches.
The 2013 Toyota Avalon continues to drive well, too. It has a smooth, comfortable ride. Granted, I was driving over Texas roads, which aren’t quite as seasoned as New England highways. Still, the Avalon hybrid (and its regular gas sibling) model provided a ride that one comes to expect from the top-of-the-line Toyota. It’s such a good vehicle that one could be forgiven for not moving up to a Lexus. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I could live with a car like the Avalon for the rest of my life and be perfectly content.
- Wheelbase: 111.0 inches
- Length: 195.2 inches
- Width: 72.2 inches
- Height: 57.5 inches
- Curb weight: 3585 lbs.
- Engine: 2.5 liter, 4-cylinder with electric motor
- Horsepower: 200 horsepower (combined)
- Torque: 199 lb. ft.
- EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 40/39
- Base price: $33,195
- As-tested price: $41,400
- Also consider: (a comparative vehicle) Buick Regal Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid
Photos (c) Toyota