by Frank A. Aukofer

If you’re a fan of a big sedan for its room and comfortable ride, you likely have resigned yourself to owning, if not a gas guzzler, at least something that takes away mileage bragging rights. But there’s an answer: the 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid.

On a trip in Wisconsin with two persons and their luggage, mostly on freeways at speeds moderately over the limit, with some city driving, the first stop for gasoline came at the 500-mile mark. The tested Avalon Limited Hybrid delivered 36.5 mpg.

That’s shy of the government’s rating for the hybrid version of Toyota’s flagship car, which comes with a city/highway/combined rating of 40/39/40 mpg. But those numbers come from instrumented tests in ideal conditions, not real world driving. So that 36.5 mpg is more than respectable.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid01_50621A303F07E0EC5E9000DAB7B17E541C461C50The Avalon is the Japanese company’s luxury sedan, more akin to Lexus than its Toyota siblings. Though classified as a midsize because its interior is a few cubic feet shy of the government’s definition of a large sedan, it is marketed as a full-size car against such competitors as the Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger and Kia Cadenza.

Toyota has been expanding its world leading hybrid technology throughout its lineup, including its Lexus luxury vehicles. Among popular priced full-size cars, the Avalon is the only hybrid.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid25_D222CB5981E6D9A4F5F5F204336B9F9300025916But you barely sense it. The system, which combines a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor and a nickel metal-hydride battery pack, delivers an unobtrusive 200 hp to the front wheels through a gear driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

When you sit behind the wheel and press the pushbutton starter, the only indication of anything happening is a green light that announces, “ready.” Step lightly on the accelerator pedal and you can drive a few miles on purely electric power. But that’s not what it’s all about.

Very soon, the gasoline engine fires up. But the transition is so seamless that you barely feel it. The only sensation is that of the additional power available. Basically, you drive the Avalon Hybrid as if it were a conventional gasoline engine car.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid05_1323C346DD6BB1DBBEF926BE6C36143573408BA4Though it’s a capable around-town transporter, the Hybrid’s forte is quiet and relaxed highway cruising. It tracks steadily in a straight line, takes curves with aplomb (as long as you don’t push it too hard), and it has a suspension system that is biased toward a comfortable ride.

That became starkly apparent on a washboard stretch of Interstate Highway 43 north of Port Washington, Wisconsin. For many miles, harsh bumps in the concrete pavement hammer the tires, springs and shock absorbers so hard you conclude that something would break loose and fall off almost any car or truck.

That’s not the case with the suspension system on the Avalon Hybrid, which absorbs almost all of the nasty vibrations before they reach the driver and passengers.

On smoother surfaces, the Avalon Hybrid is a dream rider, quiet with little intrusion of road, wind or mechanical sounds. The comfort is augmented by big, supportive, heated and cooled front seats with lumbar adjustments.

In back, the heated outboard seats are nearly as comfortable. Even the center-rear seat, despite a hard cushion, has enough headroom for an average-sized adult. Unlike earlier Avalons, which had a flat floor, the 2016 model has a modest floor hump that somewhat compromises legroom. One glaring drawback: the back seats have no cup holders.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid23_secondrowDespite its great attributes, the Avalon Hybrid also has a few other negatives. The battery pack is stashed beneath the trunk floor, robbing the trunk of two cubic feet of space. The Hybrid has a trunk of 14 cubic feet versus 16 cubic feet in non-hybrid Avalons.

The Hybrid Limited test car carries a $1,500 price premium over the non-hybrid Limited. But its $42,785 price tag covers every available feature, including a full suite of safety equipment, as well as a long list of luxury features, including Toyota’s Entune integrated audio, apps and navigation; Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio; leather upholstery, motorized sunroof, power rear sunshade and tri-zone automatic climate control.

Overall, the Toyota Avalon Hybrid not only rivals its luxury Lexus cousins, it outshines some other luxury cars that sell for thousands of dollars more. Though big sedans once ruled the highways but have been falling out of favor, this combination of luxury, performance and economy can hold its own anywhere.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid03_BFB303DC316A1463224745A9D05F749E02BDB017Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Toyota Avalon Limited Hybrid four door sedan.
  • Engine: Gasoline 2.5-liter four cylinder, 156 hp, 156 lb-ft torque; electric permanent magnet synchronous motor, 141 hp, 199 lb-ft torque; combined 200 hp; 1.6 kWh nickel metal-hydride battery pack.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,635 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/39/40 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,785.
  • Price as tested: $42,785.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Toyota