2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Touring first drive review: It’s about time

2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring

2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring

It almost makes one ask what took so long. The Toyota Avalon finally has a hybrid version. Toyota has been successful in spreading its hybrid technology across its lineup—not to mention its upscale Lexus division—so it’s surprising that it has been so long in coming for the Avalon. Wonder no longer. The 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid has arrived.

The new Avalon Hybrid is part of the Avalon lineup that’s all new for 2013, and we’ve published a comprehensive first drive review of the versions of the 3013 Avalon with the conventional powertrain. This won’t be that. We’ll focus instead on the Avalon Hybrid.

It wasn’t a stretch for Toyota to create the hybrid Avalon. In fact, the Avalon is based on a stretched Camry platform, so Toyota simply moved the Camry “Hybrid Synergy Drive” powertrain to the Avalon. Voila, the 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid.

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid engine

The 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid share its drivetrain with the Camry Hybrid. (Click to enlarge).

For 2013, the Avalon Hybrid’s 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder makes the same 156 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque as did the Camry Hybrid last year…and the Camry Hybrid will for 2013 as well. (Tech note: Atkinson cycle simply means that the intake valves close later than common with the typical gasoline engine, the delay reducing intake and exhaust energy losses, thereby improving fuel efficiency).

The Toyota hybrid drive system isn’t new, either, basically the dual-electric motor/planetary gear setup that can move the Avalon Hybrid via the gas engine, electric motor or combination thereof. Like other Toyota hybrids with this set up, the Avalon can go up to about 25 miles per hour on electric power alone…if one is very gentle on the accelerator. The engine does shut down in coast mode, however, to save fuel, and unless the battery pack needs to be recharged, the engine will turn off when stopped as well.

With the gas pedal all the way down, the continuously variable transmission sends the engine to high revs for maximum efficiency but with the typical lack of linearity of a CVT. Instead of the engine going faster as the car goes faster and then shifting gears, the engine goes to near maximum revs and stays there until the car catches up or the pedal is let up, whereupon engine speed drops.

In other words, other than the plug-in Prius, it’s like every other Prius, hybrid Toyota and Lexus hybrid. And the plug-in Prius has the same CVT effect. If you’ve driven one, you’ve driven them all.

2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid instrument panel

The 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid has the standard Toyota hybrid instrument panel. (Click to enlarge)

Except, of course, that the 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is heavier than its Camry equivalent, so the hybrid powertrain will have to work harder for the same result, which means more push on the pedal, more and more revvy CVT effect…in inevitably lower gas mileage. All other things, of course, being equal.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid has the same instrumentation as other Toyota hybrids, with the large energy meter that replaces the tachometer and tells how much of an egg you’re driving with under your foot. In the multi-information display on the center stack there are the usual displays of power flow—whether the car is being powered by its gas engine or electric motor or both and the state of battery charge and whether it’s being recharged, what recent fuel mileage has been, and so on.