5.23.2014

Why I'd Buy The 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Rear 3/4 view of the 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
The 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid.

The Phoenix bureau has already sung the praises of the 2014 Toyota Avalon.  But perhaps too softly.  Mind you, it got the basic tune right.  Having had experience at the wheel of great fullsize American sedans (my earliest experiences at the wheel were in my mom's 1970 Mercury Monterey Custom Coupe with a 429, and my Bishop Union High School Driver's Ed car was a 1972 Pontiac Catalina with a 455), the new Avalon does indeed feel like the best of that long-gone breed, with modern attributes baked in.

Ask yourself:  What were those cars just brilliant at?  Answer...long-distance highway cruising.  So when Easter weekend coincided with Navigator's dad's birthday, with 14-year-old daughter in tow, an Avalon was a natural choice for the run from Sacramento to Ukiah and back. Even better, ours was the Avalon Hybrid, EPA-rated at 40 mpg city/39 highway. We could ace the 340-mile roundtrip and still have gas in the tank.

Well, we could...if we weren't us.



Rear view of 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid.
Get us on a road in Northern California and we instantly start looking for the long way home on roads less traveled.

Interior shot of 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid interior.
2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Interior.
The trip to Ukiah was a breeze.  The test car (base price $41,400) had only two options, the technology package, which features an excellent dynamic radar cruise control that is one of the best distance-keepers I've tested yet, automatic high beams and a pre-collision system ($1,750) and the Qi Wireless Charging system ($200) that looks, as Steve Jobs would have said "insanely great", apart from the fact that my iPhone 3GS doesn't support it, or vice-versa.

Map of route from Ukiah to Santa Rosa via CA 1
Ukiah to Santa Rosa via CA 253, CA 128, CA 1 and CA 116 (source: Google Maps)
When it was time to leave, we found the really long way home.  Out CA 253 and 128 through the scenic Anderson Valley to Highway 1, as chronicled in our last road trip that way, except this time, instead of going north on 1 to Mendocino, we turned south, hugging the rugged coastline for 80-plus miles before cutting in on highway 116 toward Santa Rosa. Ukiah to Santa Rosa on the 101 Freeway is a shade under an hour.  Our trip took 8.  But then, we enjoyed ourselves along the way, finding the "sport" setting on the suspension knob really works.  Make that choice and the whole car hunkers down and attacks the twisting, turning coast highway (and the road running through the redwoods before it) like a much smaller sport sedan.

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid.
At lunch at the Pier Chowder House in Point Arena, I checked the trip computer's mileage figures.  Despite the spirited driving, we were averaging in the high 36s for the trip thus far.

Elk, California
Elk, CA.
No doubt some of the scenic small towns along the way like Elk, California with their 25 mile per hour speed limits, allowed us to do some pure electric running that helped boost the number.

But even back on freeways for the steady-speed run from Santa Rosa to Folsom, the hybrid kept simply sipping gas.  No, we didn't make it all on one tank...I hedged my bets in Santa Rosa and filled it, but we wouldn't have fallen short.  In the driveway that night, the average fuel economy showed 38.5 miles per gallon.  With a 17-gallon tank, that's 654.5 miles of cruising range.

So yes, the Avalon is today's equivalent of a loaded late 60s or very early 70s American sedan.  Yes, it's a great road car.  But it does so many things those cars can't do.  And mileage, in the hybrid, is clearly one of those.

Best of all, there's very little price disadvantage when you choose the Hybrid version of the Avalon.  The difference in the bottom line between the Hybrid I drove and the gasoline version tested in Phoenix was $1,525 ($44,160 for the hybrid, $42,,635 for the gasoline version). I'd make that jump in a heartbeat.  I've long and often said that the real payoff in hybrids would come with a large car that delievered serious fuel economy.  This is that car.

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