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2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid – A Silky Smooth Fuel Sipper

2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid – A Silky Smooth Fuel Sipper

For 2019, Toyota unveiled the latest generation of their largest sedan. This fifth generation Avalon has grown both in proportion and refinement. This is the second ’19 Avalon I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. I was smitten with previous car’s excellent 301 horsepower V6. Read that review here. But how does the hybrid version measure up?

INTERIOR

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Inside, the 14-speaker JBL stereo, infotainment and navigation are all controlled with the nine inch touch screen set in a waterfall console that cascades from the dash down to fill the space between the seats. Apple Carplay makes connecting your phone seamless.  In a hidden cubby forward of the gear shift is a Qi wireless charging pad. There are up-market touches in the door panels, seats and console.

I’m a sucker for a peanut butter colored interior. So, of course, I felt immediately attracted to the color of this car’s upholstery. Upon looking closer, it’s evident that Toyota is taking their fit and finish seriously. There are exactly zero squeaks or rattles. Gaps are consistent and the materials used have a quality feel. The beautiful arced pleats in the door panels are sewn with two different colors threads. This means someone made a decision to deliberately complicate the manufacturing process. Why? ‘Cause it looks cool.

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The front ventilated and heated seats offer eight-way power adjustment and customizable lumbar support for both driver and passenger. There’s plenty of room for heads and legs up front. The seat inserts are perforated in a dashing starfield pattern.

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The rear seats have ample leg and headroom. There’s even plenty of room to forget your camera bag in the passenger footwell as you photograph the car for your website, you know, like a professional.

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EXTERIOR

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The new Avalon grew in nearly every direction. It’s longer, wider and heavier. It’s also slightly more aerodynamic than the last generation. The low hood and high trunk give a slightly sporty look to the car’s profile. Spindly A and C pillars give the roofline a delicate appearance and make for good driver visibility. The grille design and the chiseled body lines on the car’s flanks are in step with current automotive design trends. Time will tell if they hold up or date the car. This car is fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels which look pretty sharp.

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The hybrid’s single exhaust outlet is tucked up out of sight behind the rear bumper cover.

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DRIVE

Rather than 301 hp V6, this hybrid version has 2.5 liter gas-burner that works with an electric motor. The power makes its way to the wheels through an electronic continuously variable transmission. The steering feel is light. Click it into sport mode and the car tightens up. Throw it into a curve with gusto and the tires may protest but the car holds a line with no drama.

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Off-the-line acceleration is adequate, hauling the car from 0 to 60 in 7.8. seconds. Where this car shines though is the pull from 60 mph. Put the pedal down and you’ve got passing power on tap. This car came outfitted with the optional$1,150 advanced safety package that includes features like bird’s eye view and cross traffic alert. The hybrid system lets this big sedan get 43 mpg around town and on the highway.

THE DIRT

There are those who would argue new cars suffer from a lack of character. “It’s just an appliance,” they say. Well, I drive both sides of that coin. My ’49 Ford is silly with character. Because of this wealth of character, I don’t drive it too far outside the radius of free towing that my insurance company offers. And it’s in its character to occasionally respond to the application of pressure to the brake pedal with indifference. It has no air conditioning, no airbags, and seatbelts that I had to bolt in myself. There’s a cute nickname for the non-collapsible steering column like the one in my Ford. They’re referred to as a spear of death.  The transmission is only three forward speeds and I dare not push the ancient flathead V8 above about 60 mph because I know deep down that the bottom end is just waiting for an excuse to grenade, and blast FOMOCO labeled shrapnel through the oil pan.

On the other end of the bell curve is the Avalon. It’s slick to operate, gets 400 miles to a tank, and the fit and finish on the inside make you wonder why anyone would spend more for the Lexus equivalent. Jump in, push the button and the car wakes up ready to go. On the road, it treats occupants to an almost absurdly quiet ride. There’s so much to like about the interior, it makes your commute a pleasure rather than something to be endured. As tested this Avalon will set you back $44,870.  I tend to think everything is too expensive no matter the price, but after spending the week in this ride, I think it’s worth the money.

If it really is just conveyance appliance, then it’s a damn nice one. And if I had to pick just one car. I’d take the comfort, convenience and reliablity of this appliance over my character car without hesitation. Thankfully I don’t have to choose.

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2019 Toyota Avalon Touring – A Comfortable, Capable Cruiser

2019 Toyota Avalon Touring – A Comfortable, Capable Cruiser

For 2019, Toyota unveiled the latest generation of their largest sedan. Now in its fifth iteration, the Avalon has grown both in proportion and in refinement.  When I saw a touring badge on the trunk, I knew the only way to review the car properly was to tour it. The decision was made, we would cruise it to the coast.

Incidentally, this would be our first road trip since our son was born a year ago. I used to believe girls packed a lot of stuff to travel. That was before I loaded three bags, a highchair, a pack ‘n play, loads of food and a laundry basket of toys into the trunk. All for a person who only weighs 20 pounds (yes, we forgot the stroller). I know now that 1-year-olds carry the most luggage. So, with our Avalon laiden with more stuff than we’d possibly need, we sallied forth on an Arthurian quest for some saltwater, sand and sunshine.

INTERIOR

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photo cred: toyota.com

The front vented and heated seats were comfortable enough for sustained highway driving. Eight-way power adjustment and customizable lumbar support let us dial them in for support where we needed it. There’s plenty of room for heads and legs up front and the armrests are positioned perfectly to receive elbows.

The back seat has room enough for post-beach diaper changes and baby seat anchors come in handy for transporting little ones. Ample rear-seat legroom made it easy to stash our cooler in the footwell. The trunk is roomy too. With some finagling, it swallowed the aforementioned luggage without issue.

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photo cred: toyota.com

The 14 speaker stereo, infotainment and navigation are all controlled via a nine inch touch screen built onto the dash rather than into it. This cascades elegantly down into the console. In front of the gear selector a Qi wireless charging pad is stashed in hidden cubby. Almost all the upholstered components are joined with french seams that lend an upmarket feel to the interior. Overall, the cabin space is handsome and functional.

EXTERIOR

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The Avalon’s aesthetic can be described in two words, wide and low. It grew in nearly every direction. It’s longer, wider and even a couple hundred pounds heavier. By the looks though, you’d never know it gained weight. It’s a little slipperier too. The redesigned body is slightly more aerodynamic than the last generation.

There are little touches that make it feel special. The the turn indicators have a sci-fi feel that’s sure to make the folks stopped behind you at a redlight salivate with envy. I like the brawny hood and high trunk. Slender A and C pillars frame the elegant arc of the roofline.

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There are gills on either side of the grille that probably don’t do anything, but I don’t care because they look nice. The grille design and the chiseled body lines on the car’s flanks are likely to be divisive . The wheel wells are filled by black 19 inch alloy wheels wrapped in low profile rubber. Pearlescent white paint combined with the blacked out grille, side mirrors and B pillars gave our test car an appealing black-on-white storm trooper look.

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DRIVE

Under the hood is a 3.5 liter V6 that’s good for 301 horsepower. It transmits power to the front wheels through a snappy eight speed automatic. When prodded, the V6 offers nice pull and a surprisingly good sound. The steering is light, and for a big car it changes direction easily. The ride is typically smooth and quiet but feels a little harsh on rougher roads. This is probably a due to the “sport-tuned” suspension.

Our press car came with the optional advanced safety package that includes helpful stuff like bird’s eye view and cross traffic alert. However, the intelligent clearance sonar sets off chimes and bells as the car approaches anything. It’s a little overwhelming during moments that require a driver’s undivided attention. Parallel parking is a cacophony of dings and pings which intensify the closer the car gets to other cars, building tension like a horror movie. All of this can be momentarily silenced by the touch of a button on the wheel, and I bet you could turn it off for good, or at least turn down the sensitivity in the vehicle settings.

Radar cruise control comes in handy on the interstate but even at the closest setting there’s just enough space to invite people merging left from the slow lane to hop in front of you. But weigh that against not having adaptive cruise and it’s a small inconvenience.

THE DIRT

Driving home was as comfortable and uneventful as the drive down. While vacuuming the beach sand and stale Cheerios from the carpet, I had time to reflect on our journey and the Avalon. My offspring was fearless, he attacked the sand and the warm gulf without apprehension. Maybe he’ll grow up to be courageous, and hopefully he’ll learn not to eat the sand.

And as I was sucking up a crumpled parking receipt, I ruminated on how we might be living in a golden age of full-sized family rides. The ’70s saw smog regulations deplete the gains that muscle cars made in the ’60s. In the ’80s, it looked like automotive designers thought the epitome of cool was a slab sided box, bonus points if it was brown. The ’90s saw a warmed over box with the corners rounded off. There’s a reason they’re referred to as malaise cars.

Fast forward 20 years and you can buy a sleek machine stuffed with more technology than you can shake an iPhone at. It has a 300 horsepower engine and manages 30 miles per gallon. It’s got four swinging doors and seats five people. It looks great and it handles too. A base model will set buyers back $33,500. This test car costs $45,292. Not exactly cheap. But when you account for inflation, that’s only five grand more than a new Chrysler Voyager in 1988. I’d pay a few grand more not to drive a beige box.

The Avalon carried me and my little family across the nation’s largest contiguous state, mostly at 80 miles per hour, with poise and efficiency. Thus proving that this Avalon’s badging isn’t just marketing and that maybe, with a sedan this good, you don’t need an SUV to travel.

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2018 Lexus LS 500 – The Most Luxurious Lexus Ever?

2018 Lexus LS 500 – The Most Luxurious Lexus Ever?

Lexus didn’t pull any punches with the all-new 2018 LS 500. It feels more like a world-class luxury car than any other Lexus I’ve tested and seems to be aimed squarely at its Bavarian rivals. Its exterior is gorgeous, its interior is sumptuous, its twin turbo heart beats out 416 horsepower and it has an extravagant price tag. Does all this add up to the best Lexus yet?

INTERIOR

This LS 500 was equipped with leather trimmed heated and cooled seats that can massage passengers into a jelly-like state of relaxation. A compulsory Lexus analog clock set in the beautifully designed dash shares space with a high resolution 12.3 inch display. To the right of that, there’s a lovely backlit cut acrylic panel in front only serves to look pretty. Dark wood accents are distributed in moderation through the cabin.

It had the available 2,400 watt 23 speaker Mark Levinson sound system. That’s a huge amount of speakers that ensure there’s not a bad seat in the house. It’s safe too. Stashed about the cabin are 10 airbags. And the whole space can be flooded with natural light at the touch of a button thanks to the panoramic glass roof.

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Nestled in the console, is Lexus’ trackpad infotainment interface. It’s nearly impossible to use while driving. The seven inch touch screen interface in the back seat armrest is much more user friendly. It controls everything from AC to chair massage. It also controls the stereo and seat position. It’s proof that Lexus can come up with a reasonable interface. Fingers crossed, this technology will make its way to the front seats in upcoming models.

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A list of every bell and whistle in this ride would make for a rather long and dry review, allow me to highlight just a few favorites. The rear side windows have power sun shades; one of which unfurls like the headsail of a yacht. Adjustable airline-style headrests give the massage seats a first class feel. The armrests are designed to appear as though they’re floating in front of the door panels. They’re backlit by LEDs to enhance the illusion. The LS 500 projects the best looking heads up displays I’ve ever encountered onto the windshield in front of the driver. The passenger side front seat folds out of the way so the seat behind it can lay nearly flat for La-Z-Boy levels of comfort.

 

Front seat passengers are treated to power seat buckles that leap up into position so they’re always at hand. They even light up so they’re easy to find even after dark. After buckling up, the shoulder strap gives you get a little reassuring hug, and after shifting to drive it hugs you again.

If you’re thinking “that’s all so unnecessary,” well, you’re right. But simply meeting the needs of passengers is not what luxury cars are about. They’re about exceeding expectations, anticipating desires and maybe even surprising us with something we didn’t even know we wanted.

EXTERIOR

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The LS’s body work has the sophisticated look of a luxury car, but it doesn’t scream “look at me.” 19 inch wheels wrapped in run-flat tires come standard, but our test vehicle had the optional 20 inch forged alloys. The spindle shape of the grille is repeated on the trunk and again in the instrument cluster on the dash. The design is restrained, and for such a big car it doesn’t look chunky. The ample hood, sweeping roofline and tidy trunk make for a pleasantly proportional profile.

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DRIVE

A pair of turbochargers and variable valve timing helps the 3.5 liter V6 make 416 horsepower. That’s backed up by a slick-shifting 10 speed transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. The LS makes good use of the power too, lay the gas pedal flat and the big sedan hustles from 0 to 60 mph in about five and a half seconds. It sounds good while doing it too.

When in comfort mode, the car has a floaty ride like an old Cadillac but without the tendency to wallow in the corners. The suspension is more firm in sport and sport plus modes. The electronically assisted steering has a satisfyingly heavy resistance. Like the weight of an antique Katana rather than a modern reproduction you’d buy from a late night TV ad.

The ride is so quiet that amorous occupants can whisper sweet nothings to one another at 75 mph without missing a word. At night, the headlights peek around corners as you turn the wheel. Air ride springs raise the car when it’s parked to allow for easier entry and exit. Then they lower the car again for a svelte low slug appearance when the car is in motion.

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Due to the high deck lid, it is tough to see out of the back window while backing up There’s also a chime that dings endlessly while the car is in reverse. However, loads of sensors and multiple video feeds alert drivers to their surroundings and the chime can probably be turned off somehow.

The LS 500 is gratifying to drive, but not in the same ways as a sports car. While there’s plenty of power on tap, this car doesn’t burst violently off the line. It takes off with haste and the speedometer eagerly climbs toward triple digits, but it always feels poised not wily. It’s soothing to drive and you atually feel better when you get out than when you got in.

THE DIRT

So, who would buy this car? It’s for the guy who has made it, and enjoys the finer things, but doesn’t need to shout about it while enjoying them. He wants the luxury, not necessarily the attention. The LS 500 marks a level of luxury I’ve never experienced in any other Lexus product. It feels first class in every respect.

A base model LS 500 costs $75,000. This car, with these options, will set you back $107,090. For perspective, you could buy the base model and a new Dodge Durango for the same money. A big chunk of the option cost comes from the $17,000 executive package. That’s a whole lot of money, but it feels genuinely different than any other Lexus I’ve tested. And relative to flying first class every day, this car is a pretty good value.

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