In the Lap of Luxury with the 2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

It’s a new year which means that it’s time for me to start checking out all the 2017 model year vehicles. Top of the list is Toyota with its incremental updates and some interesting new changes to its vehicles for the new year. I’ve driven lots of Toyotas and my regular vehicle is a Toyota Highlander Hybrid, so I’m probably a bit biased, but hey, now you know.

My first 2017 Toyota has been a delight too, the top of the line Toyota Avalon Hybrid. And it’s a very nice, comfortable and luxurious vehicle that shows how much attention to detail the Toyota design team can take on their high end vehicles. Here it is in the snow:

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

The outside is nice, but where the car really shines is in its interior.

Here’s the central dashboard area:

2017 toyota avalon hybrid

There’s a lot going on with this dashboard and it takes a while to figure everything out, particularly if you want to adjust anything while you’re driving. There’s also a lot of redundancy with what’s on the steering wheel controls, including volume, channel selection, modes, and phone interaction. Notice on the display screen that it’s split into three: top left is audio (I’m listening to BBC World Service, as usual), lower left are my speed dial choices, and the right portion is the GPS map.

The lower portion is climate control and it’s bright and easily understood. A close look reveals that we have the interior temperature set to 75 while the outside temp is a bit cooler at 14F. It’s no wonder I have the seat warmer enabled!

In fact, the Avalon has both seat warmers and seat coolers for the front seats, as you can see in the controls on the center console:

center console controls, 2017 toyota avalon

Nice big cup holder too. 🙂

More importantly note that there are buttons to let you switch between driving modes: EV (electric only), ECO for eco-friendly that maximizes fuel efficiency and SPORT for sports mode. Disable all of them and you’re in “normal” driving mode. I always try to maximize fuel efficiency – after all, why get a hybrid in the first place if that’s not your goal? – so I generally stayed in ECO.

Even with that, however, I was not overly impressed with the fuel efficiency of the vehicle, as you can see in this dashboard shot:

2017 toyota avalon hybrid dashboard controls guages

I’m not an aggressive driver at all, but even driving with slow accelerations and avoiding excessive speed, you can see that I saw about 33mpg. Good, but high 30’s or even low 40’s would have been a lovely surprise. Indeed, that’s the mileage I should have been getting, as I’ll discuss a bit later in this review.

Then again, the 2.5L 4-cylinder DOHC engine had quite a lot of oomph and it was a delight to merge onto the highway without any drop off in power at any speed (a benefit to the continuously variable gearless transmission that the hybrid incorporates).

While some modern vehicles are eschewing “lighter” power plugs, the Avalon has power and controls front and center, just behind the gearshift. Here’s a closeup:

2017 toyota avalon hybrid power controls usb

The car also features Qi wireless charging if your phone supports that (it’s the rightmost button in the pic above). My iPhone doesn’t, but your Android phone might, in which case it’s a great added feature. The middle section above has a USB plug on the top and an AUX in jack on the bottom too. Helpful in a modern vehicle, for sure, and while you can and should pair your smartphone with the entertainment system via bluetooth, it also works fine as a music player if you just plug it in to the USB port for charging. Easy.

And speaking of the entertainment system, try as I might, I couldn’t get the nav system to give me directions to the local airport. Lots of suggestions on what it could do:

2017 toyota avalon hybrid voice navigation help

It seemed weird to have to use my phone to look up a street address for the airport, then ask “get directions to address” to have it help me find the local airport, but that’s what I ended up doing…

And like many vehicles, backing up in the Avalon produces three different colored overlays:

2017 toyota avalon hybrid backup reversing camera

My question: What the heck does it all mean? Does the yellow show where my car is going to go if I keep backing up with the wheel at the current turn point and the green where I’d go if I straighten up and continue backing up? And what’s the red line signify anyway?

In fact, it’s an example of something we rather take for granted in modern cars: that people smarter than us are probably going to be driving it and will understand those features we don’t. But why not just have a single set of lines that show where I’ll end up if I just keep going in reverse?

Still, it’s years of vehicle engineering that produce rear seat controls that delighted my children:

back seat controls, 2017 toyota avalon hybrid

Notice that there’s another power outlet and seat warmers for the back passengers, something I’ve never seen in a vehicle before. Very luxurious!

The week I had to test drive the 2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid went too fast and my 12yo daughter was distraught when Toyota took the car back. And she’s right. It’s a very, very nice car, comfortable, powerful, beautifully appointed and with a splendid audio system to boot.

The non-hybrid version is rated at about 25mpg average and the hybrid EPA figures are 39 highway, 40 city, but as you could see in the above photo, I didn’t get anywhere near that fuel efficiency. Was it the extreme cold? Maybe. According to the Department of Energy, cars get about 12% lower fuel efficiency in freezing weather than in the mid-70’s.

Still, that — and the lack of a heated steering wheel on a high-end luxury car — were the only complaints I had about a vehicle that was otherwise a fun and comfortable drive.

AS TESTED: 2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid 4-DR Limited, 2.5L 4-Cyl DOHC 16V engine, 17″ Alloy wheels and Hybrid Synergy Drive System in Parisian Night Pearl/Black, standard options for that configuration, plus carpet/trunk mat set and delivery & handling fee: $43,639.00.

Disclaimer: Toyota loaned me this vehicle so I could evaluate it and write about it.

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