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2019 Lexus UX 250h: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not inclined to be a cowboy trailing the fast-moving herd of small luxury crossover SUVs, Lexus introduces its 2019 UX with a choice of conventional or hybrid power trains.

This is not its first rodeo. Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, marketed the CT200h, a compact hybrid hatchback with the same powertrain as the popular Toyota Prius, from 2011 to 2017.

D55_5157Now it rides into the fray with the UX against subcompact crossovers like the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Lincoln MKC, Volvo XC40, Infiniti QX30 and BMW X1. The entry-level UX slots below the compact NX and gives Lexus a full array of crossovers and SUVs. Unlike SUVs, constructed like trucks with bodies on frames, crossovers are built with unit bodies like automobiles.

Lexus crossovers now include the UX, NX and the midsize RX. At the top of the lineup are the GX and LX, both truck-based SUVs.

Lexus identifies the UX as an urban crossover, which suggests that it is not intended as a long-distance traveler. But that could be said about many small vehicles that owners customarily drive across country. The UX can certainly do the same.

DSC_0497But its personality, as Lexus describes it, is that of a “creative urban explorer,” a runabout aimed to tantalize younger buyers more attuned to cityscapes than suburban/rural areas. Like others of its ilk, the UX has four doors, carries four passengers and a fifth uncomfortably center-rear, with 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat.

There are two versions: the front-wheel drive UX 200, powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. The manufacturer estimates a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 8.9 seconds with a top speed of 118 mph. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 29/37/33 mpg on regular fuel. Starting price is $33,025, including the destination charge.

DSC_0197The other, the focus here, is the hybrid UX 250h, which comes with all-wheel drive. It is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine working with twin electric motor generators. The system delivers 181 hp on regular gasoline. All-wheel drive is automatically engaged by a small electric motor integrated into the rear differential.

An unusual apparent shortcoming: Lexus says the UX 250h’s all-wheel drive operates only up to 43 mph, after which it becomes a front-wheel drive vehicle.

According to Lexus, that’s because the UX all-wheel drive system is electronic instead of mechanical. It operates in all-wheel drive at lower speeds when needed and front-drive at higher speeds for optimal efficiency and fuel economy. But road conditions mitigated by all-wheel drive can get nasty at more than 43 mph.

DSC_0128The zero-to-60 acceleration time of 8.6 seconds is slightly better than the UX 200’s, with the top speed of 110 less than the UX 200. But the hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 41/38/39 and its starting price is $35,025, or $2,000 more than the UX 200’s.

The tested UX 250h came with options that included a navigation system, soft-touch interior trim called Washi, blind spot monitoring, a motorized sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, garage-door opener and an auto-dimming inside mirror. The options brought the as-tested price up to $38,900, and a spokesperson said a fully loaded UX250h could reach $41,000.

Both the UX 200 and the hybrid UX 250h are frisky around-town performers with acceleration that feels quicker than the numbers would indicate. They get the power to the pavement through continuously variable automatic transmissions, which sometimes can feel as if they are high-revving and slipping.

DSC_0170These do not. In the 200, the CVT uses a mechanical gear to get an initial boost off the line; in the 250h the boost comes from the electric motors. It can mimic the shift feel of a stepped 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. There is a noticeable loud growl under hard acceleration with the 200. The 250h hybrid is quieter and feels stronger, tighter and more planted overall.

Both UX models come standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, which includes pre-collision warning and braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, adaptive radar cruse control and lane departure mitigation. Blind-spot warning is optional.

There are three trim packages: Premium, Luxury and F-Sport. The last, available on both the 200 and 250h, comes with suspension modifications and special 18-inch alloy wheels to enhance handling. The tradeoff is a stiffer though not punishing ride.

DSC_1306Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus UX 250h four-door crossover SUV.
  • Engine/motors: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline with two electric motor-generators; 181 system hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT).
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 86/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,605 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined fuel consumption: 41/38/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,025.
  • Price as tested: $37,875.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

D55_4132Photos (c) Lexus

2019 Honda Insight: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sometimes the 2019 Honda Insight growls like a boastful lion, but mostly it goes about its business like a stealthy cheetah, all economy of movement and efficiency.

The new Insight is the heir to the original, a small two-seat hatchback coupe which Honda brags was the first hybrid in America in 1999 and delivered 70 highway mpg. It used a hybrid system in which the gasoline engine provided the primary power, boosted by a small electric motor in the drivetrain.

In 2009, the coupe was replaced by a four-door hatchback Insight, which used the same system, regarded by many as elegant for its simplicity. But it was eclipsed by the Toyota Prius, which used a more complicated setup in which the electric motor was primary.

The 2019 Honda Insight Goes On Sale

Undeterred, and determined to pursue electrified power trains for all of its models, Honda developed hybrids for the Civic and Accord, and also produced the Clarity, which is available as a pure electric, a fuel-cell powered electric and a plug-in hybrid.

Now the Japanese manufacturer introduces the newest in the lineup: the 2019 Insight, which is about the size of the company’s compact Civic and uses Honda’s state-of-the art two-motor system with a gasoline engine.

Most notable about this system, which uses one of the electric motors to charge the battery pack and the other to work in concert with the gasoline engine, is that it does not need a conventional automatic transmission.

2019 Honda Insight

Though Honda specifications describe the transmission as an e-CVT, for electronic continuously-variable automatic transmission, it works as a direct drive from the electric motor, which delivers full torque, or twisting force, the instant the throttle is activated. Unlike earlier Insight models, the 2019 model has no manual gearbox.

The 1.5-liter gasoline engine makes 107 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque, while the electric motor delivers 129 hp and 197 lb-ft of torque. Together, the system produces 151.5 hp.

Combined with regenerative braking to help keep the battery topped up, the Insight Touring tested for this review came with a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 51/45/48 mpg.

The Insight is a spunky machine on the road, where the only minor annoyance is the lion-like growl under hard acceleration. It sounds like  something is slipping, though it is not, as on a poorly rendered CVT. But it cruises serenely on the highway with good straight-line tracking and little intrusion of road or wind noise.

2019 Honda Insight

Though not a fully realized sport sedan, the Insight has precise steering, a supple suspension system and capable handling on curving roads. In that respect, it is not unlike its gasoline-powered garage-mate, the Civic.

The interior space is comfortable for four people, with  supportive front seats for long-distance highway cruising. Outboard back seat occupants have generous head and knee room, though the center-rear position is compromised by a large floor hump and a high, hard cushion.

With 95 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 15 cubic feet, the Insight sneaks into the government’s midsize class, though it is marketed as a compact. Compacts range from a total of 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume; midsize from 110 to 119.

2019 Honda Insight

There are three driving modes: Normal, optimized for ease of driving and comfort; Econ, for balanced efficiency and fuel economy, and Sport, for sharper throttle response and a feel of strong acceleration. Zero to 60 mph acceleration time comes up in an estimated eight seconds in any mode if you mash the pedal, respectable enough in modern traffic.

Three trim levels start with the LX at $23,725, including the destination charge; EX at $24,955, and the tested top-line Touring, $28,985. All three come with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety equipment that includes collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise with low-speed follow, lane-keeping assist and road departure mitigation.

2019 Honda Insight

Also standard across the trims are LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights; automatic headlight high beams; audio system, and heated door mirrors. The EX and Touring add Honda’s Lane Watch, which covers the right-rear blind spot and displays it on the center screen; Apple Car Play and Android Auto; SXM satellite radio; HD radio, and remote engine starting.

The tested Touring’s features included a navigation system, motorized glass sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, premium audio system with 10 speakers, eight-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats and automatic windshield wipers.

2019 Honda Insight

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda Insight Touring four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: Gasoline 1.5-liter four-cylinder, 107 hp; electric 129 hp, 197 lb-ft torque. Total system: 151.5 hp.
  • Transmission: Electronic continuously-variable automatic (e-CVT) with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3078 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 51/45/48 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,985.
  • Price as tested: $28,985.

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

2019 Honda Insight

Photos (c) Honda

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

For economical family transportation to some beach, it would be hard to choose better than the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Limited Hybrid minivan.

How about fuel economy of 34 mpg going and coming in all traffic conditions? Chasing back and forth to supermarkets and shopping in the beach area without using any gasoline at all? That’s because this is a plug-in hybrid that can travel up to 33 miles on electric power alone.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with the Hybrid Special Appearance Package

So: Plug it into any 120-volt socket at the beach house and it will recharge the battery in about 12 hours, or overnight. If you have access to a 240-volt charger, the charging time is two hours.
If you locally travel less than 33 miles a day, you would hardly ever have to take Pacifica Hybrid to the service station to gas up. For that, the Pacifica’s engineers have included sensors that detect when gasoline in the tank is more than 90 days old, in which case the gasoline engine runs automatically to use up any possibly tainted fuel.

The EPA rates this Hybrid at 84 mpg equivalent on gasoline-electric operation, with an overall range of 566 miles. After the battery is depleted the gasoline engine starts seamlessly.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Then there’s the convenience that you can convey seven people with 32 cubic feet left over for luggage, beach umbrellas, coolers, chairs and the like. If only four of you go, there’s 99 cubic feet of stash space behind the second row and, if just two, a whopping 141 cubic feet behind the front seats. You can practically bring your own bed and rocking chair.

The Pacifica Hybrid is an offshoot of the critically acclaimed Pacifica from the manufacturer that invented the minivan back in the mid-1980s. It used to be called the Town and Country but Chrysler resurrected the Pacifica name for the 2017 all-new model, which came in standard and hybrid versions.

The tested 2018 Limited Hybrid is essentially the same but with upgrades, including a premium Harman Kardon audio system, revised center console, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and universal garage-door opener.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

There wasn’t much to add because the Limited already was loaded with about every safety, convenience and comfort feature available on a modern automobile. That included Chrysler’s KeySense fob, which allows parents to set limits on top speed, radio channels and volume, and emergency thresholds for their younger drivers.

Other equipment, some standard and others optional: front collision mitigation; parallel and perpendicular parking assist; tri-zone automatic climate control; one-touch power side doors and tailgate; panoramic sunroof; adaptive cruise control; lane departure assist; blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert; UConnect streaming connectivity and entertainment system; SXM satellite radio, and 360-degree surround-view camera.

One curious omission: Although the owner’s manual listed memory seats and radio in the index, none could be found in the text or the vehicle itself.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

About the only other feature not found in the Hybrid Pacifica is the gasoline model’s stow ’n’ go second-row seats, which fold into the floor to expand the cargo capacity. On the Hybrid, that space is taken up by the 350-lb battery.

To make up for the loss, the Hybrid comes with plush captain’s chairs that have more padding than the thin stow ’n’ go seats. But they must be physically wrestled out of the minivan if there’s a need to maximize the cargo area. Also, the Hybrid is not available as an eight-passenger minivan with a second-row bench seat.

The gasoline-electric system delivers a total of 260 hp, enough for a vehicle that weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. Because electric motors produce maximum torque instantly when the throttle is pressed, the Pacifica Hybrid has robust acceleration off the line.

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid features a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack (shown with cover on) that is stored under the second row floor.

Except for instrumentation needed to communicate what’s going on with the hybrid system, the new Pacifica Hybrid has all of the same features that made the 2017 original the new benchmark for minivans.

Among them: Hands-free power sliding side doors. Simply touch a button on the outside door handle and the door slides open. Touch it again and the door closes. No jerking of handles. The side doors are made of aluminum, also used in the hood and tailgate for reduced weight and better fuel economy.

Other minivan “firsts” included an electric parking brake, rotary shift knob (eliminates shift levers), 10-inch touch screens for second row passengers, and wireless connectivity for devices.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited four-door minivan.
  • Engine/motors: 3.6-liter gasoline V6 with dual transmission-mounted electric drive motors; total system 260 hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable gear-driven automatic.
  • Overall length: 17 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 165/32 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,987 pounds.
  • EPA fuel consumption: 84 mpg equivalent gasoline-electric; 32 gasoline only.
  • Range on electric only: 33 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,590.
  • Price as tested: $48,580.

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

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Photos (c) FCA

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Blend the futuristic and familiar, and you get the concept of the 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell sedan, forging an expanded direction for the storied Japanese automaker.

This all-new five-passenger four-door runs on compressed hydrogen, producing electricity from a fuel cell to drive a 174-horsepower electric motor that delivers 221 pound-feet of torque. Overall, the Clarity performs like a fully realized electric car except that it does not need charging.

You refuel with hydrogen, which is why the Clarity will initially be available only in California, which has a small but widespread network of 66 hydrogen refueling stations. With its two tanks filled with a bit more than 12 pounds of hydrogen, the Clarity can travel 366 miles, delivering EPA city/highway/combined equivalent fuel economy of 69/67/68 mpg.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

That’s deceptive from a cost standpoint. Hydrogen, one of the most abundant fuels in the universe, still must be manufactured, largely from natural gas. A full fill-up of hydrogen at one of the California stations came to nearly $90. That works out to about 25 cents per mile to yield 366 miles of range.

Figuring gasoline at $3 a gallon, a roughly equivalent 15-gallon fill-up comes to $45. At 25 miles to the gallon — not unreasonable in these times — you’d get a range of 375 miles, or about 12 cents a mile.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

But that’s not the point. This is a vision for the future. The clincher for the Clarity Fuel Cell—everywhere but especially in environmentally challenged areas like California—is that it does not pollute. The only emission is water vapor that is drinkable water when cooled. And the cost of hydrogen eventually will drop substantially.

There is nothing bizarre about the Clarity Fuel Cell. It is a fastback design with modern, sculpted styling and built in ducts that create air curtains around the wheels to reduce wind drag and improve fuel economy.

Inside, with the exception of a power gauge that replaces a tachometer, all the instruments, controls and a center touch screen will be familiar to most drivers. A pushbutton gets things started. You touch console-mounted buttons for Drive, Park and Neutral, and pull up on one for Reverse, as on other Honda and Acura vehicles.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

If you switch off the power and inadvertently leave Drive engaged, the Clarity will automatically shift into Park; it will not roll away. With so many and sometimes confusing new shifters appearing everywhere, those that allow vehicles to roll away in Drive are receiving increasing scrutiny as safety hazards.

As with any electric motor, the Clarity’s delivers full torque, or twisting force, the instant you step on the throttle. The Clarity is quick off the line with an observed 0-60 mph acceleration time of around seven seconds. It is quiet; the only sounds intruding into the passenger pod come from the tires on the pavement.

Honda has been tinkering with Clarity fuel cell vehicles for a decade, starting with the concept FCX. Though no longer experimental, it has limited appeal because of the paucity of hydrogen fueling stations. California’s is a small but viable network. Buyers elsewhere will have to wait until their localities develop more than a few stations here and there.

But the Clarity is no longer an exotic vehicle limited to motorists willing to experiment. Though it still will play to a limited audience in the beginning, do not fear. You’ll still be able to get a Clarity.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

The Fuel Cell model is one of a triad of new Clarity sedans that Honda will deliver this year. The others are a pure electric model with about 80 miles of range before recharging, along with a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid that will be sold nationwide.

However, only those select few in California will be paid for the experience. The Fuel Cell models will only be leased, not sold, so Honda can keep tabs on them and see how they perform at the end of the lease period.

The lease costs $369 a month for 36 months, or $13,284. Though there will be a 20,000 mile a year limit on driving, Honda will provide $15,000 worth of hydrogen fuel, along with 21 days of luxury car rental when and if the Clarity needs service. In addition, California will provide a $5,000 rebate to owners.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell four-door sedan.
  • Power Source: AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor; 174 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed with sport mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,134 pounds.
  • Fuel: Compressed hydrogen with fuel cell; 103 KW power output. Capacity:46 kilograms (12.037 pounds).
  • EPA city/highway/combined equivalent fuel consumption: 69/67/68 mpg.
  • Range: 366 miles.
  • Price: Lease only, 36 months; $369 per month with $15,000 fuel allowance and 20,000-mile annual limit.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Photos (c) Honda

2017 Mercedes-Benz S550e Plug-in Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Hybrids, as the 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550e Plug-in Hybrid can attest, are not just for fuel economy anymore.

Nope, they’re everywhere, powering super cars like the Acura NSX; familiar hatchbacks and sedans like the Toyota Prius and Honda Accord; and any number of inexpensive to luxury crossover sport utility vehicles.

Increasingly, customers are being seduced by plug-in hybrids, which combine gasoline and electric power like regular hybrids but also can be plugged in to charge batteries for additional range on electricity alone.

Mercedes Benz;S-Class Plug_in_Hybrid

The new Mercedes-Benz S550e is such a creature. It combines a twin-turbo, 3.0-liter V6 gasoline engine with an 85-kilowatt-hour electric motor to make 436 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. It needs that sort of force because the S550e weighs 5,115 lbs.

Even so, Mercedes says its big plug-in can nail 60 mph from rest in 5.2 seconds while delivering EPA combined city/highway fuel economy of 26 mpg on gasoline only and 58 in gasoline-electric hybrid operation.

While the plug-in feature enhances fuel economy, it adds the inconvenience of plugging in, which some S550 owners likely won’t bother doing. The battery pack and other hybrid parts also reduce the trunk to a bit more than nine cubic feet, which is subcompact size in a large car.

Mercedes Benz;S-Class Plug_in_Hybrid

Plug it in with the standard charging cord and a full charge can be accomplished overnight. But that involves removing the cord and adapter from its bag in the trunk, plugging one end into an outlet on the rear bumper and the other into standard 120-volt household outlet. Then you must unplug everything to get going the next day. You can recharge more quickly—in about 2.5 hours—if there’s a public fast-charging station nearby.

All that results in an electric-only range of about 20 miles, which a readout displays on the instrument panel. It is possible to rocket up to more than 70 miles an hour purely on electric power. But it won’t last very long because the effort sucks up the juice.

You can select a hybrid mode that fires up the gasoline engine to help keep the battery charged. Without that, even modest urban driving easily depletes the charge quickly in less than 20 miles.

So, the default is to simply drive the S550e in hybrid mode all the time, where it performs like a satisfying big Mercedes-Benz, which is to say in sumptuous luxury with plenty of competence for any circumstance, abetted by an air suspension system.

Whether motoring on electricity or a combination of electric and internal combustion power, the S550e has the manners of an unobtrusive butler. There are no nasty intrusions of wind, mechanical or road noise — unless the road is uncommonly pockmarked. It’s even difficult to tell when the gasoline engine fires up.

Mercedes Benz;S-Class Plug_in_Hybrid

There are two performance modes: Comfort and Sport. Comfort caresses the driver and passenger with a modestly floating ride that would complement the skills of a careful chauffeur. However, if the owner decides to drive, he or she and a front-seat passenger can avail themselves of seat bolsters that grip the torso in turns.

Switch to the Sport mode and everything tightens up: Steering feels more responsive, the ride gets tauter and the handling quicker and more precise. The powertrain responds more rapidly to throttle inputs. It’s not a sports sedan but a more satisfying experience for anyone who enjoys driving.

Mercedes Benz;S-Class Plug_in_Hybrid

Regardless of its green orientation, the S550e at heart is still the dignified flagship of the Mercedes-Benz fleet, which is to say that it comes equipped—especially if you order most or all the available options—with a full suite of state-of-the-art safety installations, as well as sinfully sumptuous comfort and convenience features.

Among the latter are heated seats, front and back, that deliver back massages on the go. Four-zone climate control keeps everybody comfortable Pillows can be detached and stashed in the trunk. The right-rear seat also has a power footrest.

With such a luxury orientation, there’s no attempt at installing seating for a fifth passenger. The tested S550e is strictly a four-passenger car with consoles dividing the front and rear seats.

Obviously, you’re not going to get any of this at a bargain rate. The tested S550e Plug-in Hybrid had a starting price, including the destination charge, of $97,525. With $38,960 worth of options, its bottom line sticker came to $136,485.

Mercedes Benz;S-Class Plug_in_Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550e Plug-in Hybrid four-door sedan.
  • Engines:0-liter V6, turbocharged with 85 kW electric motor, 436 total hp, 479 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual mode.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 112/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,115 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway combined fuel consumption: 26 mpg gasoline; 58 mpg equivalent electric+gasoline hybrid.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $97,525.
  • Price as tested: $136,485.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

 

2016 Toyota Avalon Limited Hybrid: A DriveWays Review

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

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