2020 Toyota Avalon XSE Hybrid by Ben Lewis

It’s interesting how different technologies develop over time. A perfect example is the Hybrid car. With the original Prius, it was a technically interesting, but pretty agrarian little vehicle. Slow and a little clunky, it got very good gas mileage, but you had to be committed to the cause.

Come round 2, and Hybrids got better, with little penalty to the driving experience, excellent gas mileage – our 2019 Prius tester averaged over 50 mpg! – but the appeal of hybrids remained in the camps of eco-friendliness.

But now the Hybrid has another trick up its sleeve – it’s now a performance benchmark, maybe trading a little of that fuel economy for a more exhilarating drive. The RAV4 hybrid we tested was in this camp, and now we have the Avalon Hybrid stepping up to once again make you rethink what Avalons – and hybrids – are all about. 

Avalon Exterior – Not your Father’s Avalon

When Toyota’s flagship sedan got a full makeover last year, it was an impressive change. Gone was the conservative styling that promised room and a stately demeanor that made it a big hit for our more-seasoned drivers, replaced with some real attitude, with an aggressive stance. And we should point out, this is a well-known nameplate. 2020 is the 5th generation of the Avalon, and the eighth year of the hybrid model.

Our previous Avalon tester showed all that, and we were surprised that our Avalon Hybrid took that sporty ball and ran even further with it. The first thing you notice is the lack of Hybrid badging. Where it used to be a mark of honor to show the world your eco-consciousness, that ship has sailed – your powertrain choice is your own business.

Our Hybrid XSE really looked the performance part, with a full set of LED lights and a massive piano-black grille with sport mesh insert, putting out a “don’t mess with me” vibe. The coupe-like profile is still bold, and with the Avalon’s large physical size, it cuts an imposing figure. Adding to the menace, 18-inch dark gray alloy wheels and hunkered-down sport suspension look ready to tackle the twisties.

Out back, a black rear spoiler, a hidden single exhaust, and very cool Avalon lettering built into the rear reflective panel look upscale and fresh. Finishing off our tester was a handsome Parisian Night Pearl, a rich ultra-deep blue that added a touch of elegance.

Avalon Interior – Luxury Liner

Inside is less sporty than the outside, instead bringing in more premium details. The SofTex-trimmed seats have a sporty look with perforations and Ultrasuede inserts, and the making it all the more comfy is 8-way power adjustability with 2-way power lumbar support. While we prefer the driver’s seat, those in back enjoy limo-like space, with massive amounts of shoulder, leg and headroom. We also liked the generous pass through and easy-folding split rear seats – plenty of space for longer and bulky items.

The driver gets a large leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, with handsome analog gauges flanking a 7-inch multi-function display – our favorite call-up being a digital tachometer – Toyota hasn’t forgotten that even Hybrid drivers like to wind it out sometimes.

The interior does its best to woo you out of those exploits, with dark piano accents and real aluminum trim throughout the cabin. Our previous top of the line Touring tester really spoiled us with rich leather and honest-to-gosh real wood trim, but you do pay for the privilege. Outside of no hides or trees, the design is breathtaking, with a massive floating center console that starts at the top with a large 9-inch color touchscreen and easy to use switchgear.

Our tester featured the optional Navigation system that includes a Premium Audio with 14-speakers and 1200 w amp. Combined with standard Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa Compatible services, Wi-Fi compatibility and Toyota Connected Services, you’ve got state of the art connectivity.

Avalon Hybrid Performance – Seamless and Swift

Before we dive into the Avalon Hybrid’s performance, we should own up to the fact that we were originally supposed to be testing the all-new, sporty Avalon TRD model, but at last minute it had to be changed. Actually, we didn’t miss the TRD one bit – the hybrid is a fun and intriguing drive in its own right.

Starting with the RAV4 Hybrid, Toyota has been pushing the idea that hybrids not only offer great fuel economy, they can be powerful too. Starting with efficiency, the EPA rates the XSE Hybrid at 43/43/43 for City/Highway/Combined. Enjoying the powerful response of the powertrain, we still averaged 41 mpg which is pretty amazing for a big, heavy sedan.

While 215 total horsepower doesn’t sound like a lot, the electric motor helps kick in a bunch of torque right off the line, and the thrill of gliding around in pure EV silence when the system decides to do so makes the Avalon feel special. Yes, we still love the 301 horsepower V6 with its lusty growl, but the Hybrid has its own charms.

The ride and handling are another high point – the XSE model has a sport-tuned suspension, and it is nicely firm and well controlled, and the steering is precise and nicely weighted. Does it make you want to hunt down a twisty road, or that favorite on-ramp? Yes. Yes, it does. Who knew an Avalon Hybrid would be this much fun?

OK, so most buyers probably aren’t clipping apexes, but they will be transporting family and friends, so when you’re playing chauffeur, you’ll be happy to know that every Avalon features Toyota’s Safety Sense-P safety suite, including Pre-collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Automatic High Beams. Our XSE tester also featured Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which we would highly recommend.

 Is the Avalon Hybrid worth the Price?

That’s an interesting question. While your most basic XLE Avalon starts at $35,875, the sporty XSE model that we’d recommend starts at $38,375. Going for the Hybrid XSE is $39,500. $1,125 is not a lot of money for all the technology. The non-Hybrid serves up a combined 25 mpg, versus the Hybrid’s 43. So, if you want to be fuel-efficient, and plan on keeping it for a while the hybrid makes sense.

More importantly, you lose very little in the translation. If you really want an autobahn-storming Avalon, the TRD probably would be the ticket, but it is a significant step up $42,375. At that price, we like the Avalon Hybrid. And if you want to go the luxury route, the Avalon Touring we tested last year would be $45,105.

 Aggressively-styled, luxuriously-equipped, fantastically-efficient, and surprisingly delightful to drive, the 2020 Avalon Hybrid is a wonderful blend of everything you want in a big sedan.