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2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
The 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is a smooth operator

Prices: $38,100-$41,950

You wouldn't be too far off if you called the 2016 Avalon Hybrid a Lexus in disguise. That's because it shares major components with the ES sedan from Toyota's upscale Lexus brand.

The 2016 Avalon, which also comes with a conventional gas engine, has new frontal styling. There's also a new Touring version with a sportier look, new sport suspension tuning and dark gray painted  18-inch alloy wheels. However, it isn't offered for the Avalon Hybrid because that model isn't meant to be a sports sedan.

The Avalon long has been Toyota's largest car, although it's now generally classified as a midsize sedan. The Avalon Hybrid has a 111-inch wheelbase and weighs 3,594-3,638 pounds. It's the only hybrid in its market segment.

No matter what the official size classification, the Avalon Hybrid has plenty of room up front and its spacious backseat area lets two or three adults  stretch out.

While the Avalon Hybrid's hybrid system design doesn't allow folding rear seatbacks to gain more cargo room, the trunk is large and has a low opening for quick loading or unloading.

Large door handles and wide door openings make it easy to slide in or out of the lush-life interior, and the front seats are especially supportive. There are a good number of cabin storage areas, including a deep console storage bin and large door pockets.

The Optitron gauges can be quickly read in sunlight, and controls are easy to use without hardly taking a driver's eyes from the road. Steering has the right amount of quickness, and my Avalon Hybrid test car's handling was quite good. The ride was comfortable, and braking inspired confidence, with nice pedal feel. 

There are three Avalon Hybrid models ranging in price from $36,650 for the base XLE Plus to $41,950 for the top-line Limited, which I tested. In between is the $38,100 XLE Premium model.

Even the base Avalon Hybrid has dual-zone automatic climate control, power, tilt/slide sunroof, InteliTouch controls for climate control and audio system, cruise control, leather-trimmed and heated power front seats,  pushbutton start, wood-grain style interior trim, tilt/telescopic wheel, multi-information display and Blluetooth hands-free phone controls. 

Standard safety features include vehicle stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution and Smart Stop technology. There also are ten air bags.

Higher-line models have a Blind Spot Monitor that detects vehicles in an adjacent lane, while Rear Cross Traffic Alert detects low-speed cross traffic behind the car when in reverse. Dynamic Radar Cruise Control helps control speed and keeps a pre-set distance from a vehicle traveling directly ahead. An available Pre-Collision system helps mitigate the effects of front vehicle impacts.

The Avalon Hybrid provides estimated fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 m.p.g. on the highway. Combined economy is 40 m.p.g. Only 87-octane fuel is needed , although Toyota notes that a higher-octane fuel can be used. .

Slick aerodynamic styling and a low .28 drag coefficient help provide improved fuel economy and quiet highway cruising.

In fact, this Toyota is quiet at all speeds, which contributes to its luxury car personality.

Power comes from Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which combines output from a sophisticated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a high-torque electric motor.The system delivers a combined 200 horsepower.

The system varies power seamlessly between the gas engine and electric motor, or combines both, as needed, channeling torque through a planetary gear-type continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The CVT has a responsive manual-shift feature, but the transmission is so responsive that I hardly used the manual feature

The Avalon Hybrid can be driven short distances only on the electric motor at speeds under approximately 20 m.p.h. Power steering and air conditioning systems are electrically driven and continue working when the car is operating under electric power alone, or when the auto start/stop system shuts off the gas engine.

Augmenting the conventional anti-lock brake system, regenerative braking produced by the electric motor/generator in the car's transaxle grabs the kinetic energy of the wheels, storing it in the hybrid battery. The compact nickel-metal-hydride battery in the trunk area allows a noteworthy 14 cubic feet of trunk space.

I've driven a number of electric-assisted hybrids, and it still felt a bit strange when I began noiselessly accelerating with the Avalon Hybrid. The gas-electric operation was seamless when I topped 20 m.p.h.--almost making me forget this was a hybrid.

The Avalon Hybrid is an attractive upscale sedan with the type of fuel economy once provided by small, unrefined economy cars.