Like any project, the ones you are passionate about are far easier to do quickly and with great results. Alternatively, the ones where there is tough news to deliver can sit on the back burner for far longer than is ideal.
And so it is with car reviews – even week-long press loaner reviews that are usually top-priority. There are great updates to the latest Avalon and Avalon Hybrid, including the exterior style, interior tech and great efficiency. But there are also serious areas where the new Avalon Hybrid neither delivers the cushy ride of the old model — nor anywhere near competent handling of a sports sedan. Will these be make-or-break items for the core market of this vehicle?
Let’s dive in with the usual sections of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Summary.
The Avalon was new for 2014 with revised styling all around. This was relatively surprising, as the previous model had just been refreshed in 2012 with new LEDs and other enhancements. A quad-LED low-beam is joined by standard DRLs in a slight uptick in the corners of the vehicle. A gigantic new grille element appears down below, with a curving flow all its own and pretty unique appeal versus the cookie-cutter Hyundai Azera and Equus design schools. Is the new Avalon suddenly super-model gorgeous? No, no it is not.
It looks best from afar at speed – where the wide proportions and lower-looking nose are nicely brought to life with the slim upper grille and LEDs blazing. Distance dulls some of the shock value of the bottom-breather grille — and lets that big section of the lower bumper plant the car at speed. It looks long, low and super wide, which are all luxury-car priorities.
Toyota’s short new product cycle appears to be part of the overall plan at this point. Nearly every panel on the 2015 Camry is all-new for 2015, despite it being on the market for only three years with the old model.
For the Avalon, the styling overhaul is dramatic and very noticeable. Many Avalons for generations have vaguely aped styling themes and proportions from the BMW 7 series – and this one is no different. You would need really bad eyesight to think it is a copy of the big BMW, but there are reminescent pieces – most of all in back and the rear three-quarter angle.
Tall and very blocky rear lights now feature twin levels of wide LEDs for their running and brake lights, and frame the license plate area nicely. It looks new and unique from the back, where even the most-loaded new Camry’s have not made the LED jump yet.
Inside, the Avalon is also totally transformed with a new cabin design. The layouts are focused on ease of use – and a large and nearby panel now houses all the HVAC and infotainment controls. It is handy and eye-catching, with a few levels of layered surfaces creating a sense of depth and premium appeal. The latest tech suite is also a part of this Avalon Hybrid, which featured the optional Entune with Navigation that uses buttons, knobs and a touchscreen. It is the best of all worlds for actually figuring out the functions quickly and easily.
The Avalon’s auto highbeams and radar cruise are the best and easiest to use of any we have tried extensively. The radar cruise now shows its settings via the gauge-cluster MID screen — and is helpful for setting your follow distance better than a mini light-based display in the older Avalons with active cruise control. It is not a full-speed system yet, however. If the car in front slows from 60-mph to 25-mph on a two-lane road, for example, the Avalon Hybrid will slow you down to that level. But it then beeps and shuts off — not getting back up to follow-distance to the car in front. Still, it is effective and not confused by multi-lane highways like some others out there, including the Lincoln MKZ.
The Avalon is still huge inside, with plenty of width to never brush elbows with the front-seat passenger. A big wide armrest encforces a sense of luxury, while the heated and cooled seats are seriously effective. No more back-sweat in this Avalon!
AC is also super powerful, which is handy in the many tropical markets where the Avalon is such a hit with boomers and their parents.
The seats themselves are very odd at this generation however. They are still huge and flat like the best DeVille of old, but are now extremely firm on first sitting. It feels like there is about half the padding or spring action of a regular seat. One passenger said it was like sitting on a park bench with a wool blanket over it.
These seats are very, very hard but have almost zero lateral support. An odd combo.
Detail things like the manual rake/reach of the steering wheel set the Avalon down a notch from the Lexus ES300h and its power-operated column.
The back seat is still jumbo, with tons of legroom and wide door apertures for easy access.
Here is where the Avalon Hybrid stops being polite, and starts getting really… weird.
The suspension of the new car is firm. Period. It is flustered by anything but glass-smooth roads, transmitting impacts jarring enough to throw your heads around like bobbles.
But at the same time, there seems to be very little benefit in actual hard cornering. We have extensive experience in the old Avalons — which rolled and floated and bump-stopped themselves along a rough road very predictably. You know what you were getting.
This latest Avalon Hybrid seems like the suspension is not well-tuned for the 150-pounds of battery in the trunk. The car and pourpoise along a little over bumps on throttle, with the rear end bopping the front of the car up and down. There is also tangible body flex to round out the chassis knock list.
In terms of improvements, the steering is now far, far better than ever before. It is heavier and much more accurate than before around sweeping corners. The old EPS would need multiple inputs and corrections to stay pointed around a long corner, or even in its lane at straight ahead. The new one is far better.
Performance from the four-cylinder Avalon Hybrid is all about efficiency — and it certainly delivers. Even driven like the above, the car was easily giving high 30’s miles-per-gallon. The tradeoff is that it lacks passing and highway power versus the standard V6 model.
So, the new Avalon looks better, has better tech and the Hybrid is as efficient as a large luxury car has ever been.
But after loving the Lexus ES300h and its similar powertrain a few weeks before, we were seriously flummoxed by the Avalon Hybrid’s unexpected seat and suspension harshness, and its various handling and chassis oddities. The Lexus has one mission and seems to do it more quietly, more smoothly and simply better than the conflicted 2015 Avalon Hybrid.
What do you think?