2014 Toyota Avalon Driving Impressions

We first drove the Avalon on Toyota's suburban Detroit test track, where we discovered how much of an improvement it was over the soft boulevard cruiser that defined prior generations. In fact, now it might be too firm, at least for the old buyers, if not everyone. The ride definitely makes you aware of dips and uneven spots on the freeway, especially with the firm seats.

Toyota took significant steps to firm things up, in the redesign. More braces and welds to increase chassis rigidity for sharp handling and a smooth ride, along with new springs and stabilizer bars. There's very little body roll (lean), and virtually no torque steer on this front-wheel-drive car, not even with aggressive launches. (Torque steer is the tendency of the front wheels to turn under hard acceleration, felt as a tug on the steering wheel.) Stand on the Avalon accelerator, and it takes off in a straight line.

The electric power-assisted steering system errs on the power side, making it a bit light, although Sport mode tightens it up. The suspension gets no firmer in Sport mode, however, and for canyon-carving or sport-sedan pretending, it needs it. But we liked the Dynamic Rev Management, which is particularly useful with paddle-shift models (Touring and Limited).

At 268 horsepower, the 3.5-liter V6 provides excellent power. It's mated to a 6-speed automatic. The shifts are almost completely transparent and there's no hunting even under aggressive driving. With powertrains like this, who needs 8-speed automatics?

At an EPA-estimated 21/31 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined, the Avalon gets great mileage for a full-size sedan. The Avalon Hybrid, at 40 mpg Combined, is awesome. Those are the numbers of tiny subcompacts with tiny engines.

The Avalon Hybrid package teams a four-cylinder engine with a pair of electric motors using essentially the same Toyota Synergy Hybrid drive found in the Camry. It's about a second-and-a-half slower than the V6 Avalon from 0-60 mph but it still delivers enough power to give the driver confidence passing or getting onto a freeway.

Avalon Hybrid's 2.5-liter inline-4, for the technically minded, uses the fuel-saving Atkinson Cycle and itself develops 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor brings that up to an even 200 hp. Toyota claims the Avalon can operate on battery power alone. But this is no plug-in. You'll be lucky to get a full mile if the battery is fully charged. While the Avalon Hybrid can technically operate in electric mode at speeds up to 25 mph, that's rare. It'll usually fire the four-cylinder engine up well before then, especially if you've got a heavy throttle foot. A neat trick with the Hybrid is the ability to maintain climate control even when the gas engine is shut off.

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