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The 2015 Toyota Avalon has comfort down. While it's not sporty looking, it's a surprisingly satisfying car to drive—in some ways mimicking a Lexus for less money.
The Avalon now duels with the equally impressive Chevy Impala for our attention. And with strong competition from the likes of the Kia Cadenza, Hyundai Azera, and Ford Taurus, there's plenty of choice here. It looks interesting, and it feels more lively, steering it in a more compelling direction with a visually dramatic interior and a full dose of high-tech safety equipment. With its 2013 redesign, the Avalon was given a wider focus, with the intention of expanding its appeal to a somewhat younger (40- to 60-year-old) crowd. So features no longer are limited to power accessories and finer materials; you can now get some of the most advanced in-car interfaces, too.
Toyota took the latest Avalon's design in a new direction, away from the ubiquitous Camry and even the company's more luxurious but staid Lexus designs. Instead, it has a look all its own, with a swoopy roofline, flared-out rear fenders, and an almost hatchback look to the rear glass that all give it presence where there was none to be had in previous generations.
Inside is another surprise, a thoroughly modern instrument-panel layout, and its flush, capacitive (touch-based) dash switches—a feature that cleans up the look, and does away with physical buttons. Cabin materials are superb, with nice, matching grains and surfaces, and also a full league above those in the smaller Camry.
The 2015 Avalon is offered with two different powertrains. V-6 models, with a strong, smooth 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter, are still expected to make up most sales; but it's the Avalon Hybrid that seems the most compelling, not only for its surprisingly responsive performance, but for a level of refinement that might even fool some traditional Avalon shoppers. With a net of 200 horsepower from its lean Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder, teamed with nickel-metal-hydride batteries and two motors tucked in the transaxle, the Avalon Hybrid can get to 60 mph in just (conservatively) 8.2 seconds. Take a look at the window sticker of the Hybrid, though—a phenomenal 40 mpg city, 39 highway (40 Combined)—and you might be willing to deal with a little less power.
The surprise is that you get nearly the same driving experience with the Hybrid. Both powertrains are quicker and more responsive than the outgoing model's lone V-6, and this latest Avalon feels more composed and refined. We wouldn't call it sporty, but it's supremely capable and controllable in a way that the Avalon hasn't been in the past. There's power hen you need it, and a nice ride all the time.
The Avalon feels extremely roomy, modern and luxurious, with top-notch materials, thoughtful details and comfortable seats. The front seats could use a little more lateral support, but they're supportive for the back and upholstered in impressive, supple leather, with real stitching—and ventilated premium leather in Limited models. The back seats are among the best we've sampled in a larger sedan—contoured well for adults and with relatively long lower cushions to provide thigh support. The Avalon gets a 16-cubic-foot trunk, and with a flat floor and wide opening, you can fit a lot of grocery bags. Hybrid models have a slightly smaller 14-cubic-foot trunk, but the lost space is a small sacrifice for the efficiency gains.
The Avalon offers a strong list of safety features, including separate rear side-thorax airbags and front knee bags, and crash-test ratings have been almost perfect across the board. A Rear Cross Traffic Alert system, which uses sensors in the rear quarter panels to help detect vehicles as they approach from the side and behind the vehicle, is very effective for those who need to back up with restricted views. All models come with a backup camera system, while a Blind Spot Monitor is now standard on the Avalon XLE Touring and Avalon Hybrid XLE Touring models as of 2015.
All Avalons come well-equipped with plenty of comfort features, while the top-of-the-line Limited models are optioned up like a Lexus. Top Limited models cost around $40k but are luxury vehicles by the equipment list, with all the safety systems, perforated leather upholstery, heated-and-ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, three-zone automatic climate control, a rear sunshade, 785-watt JBL Audio, HID headlamps, and LED daytime running lamps. Add the Tech Package, with Adaptive Cruise Control, a Pre-Collision System, and Automatic High Beams.
As mentioned above, the Hybrid model is the fuel-economy leader of the lineup. The V-6 is no slouch itself, returning 21 mpg in city driving and 31 on the highway. Which one is right for you will depend on the amount and type of driving you do, of course, but the Hybrid isn't much of an extra charge, and we think you can live with its modest power pretty easily.
Other changes for 2015 include the addition of a Touring Sport Edition—basically an appearance package with a black interior and blue interior, 18-inch wheels, HID headlights—thinned out chrome trim for the interior, and paddle shifters and the different drive modes (Sport, Normal, Eco) are now standard on all V-6 models.