Behind the Wheel

2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XSE Review: As far as sedans for Boomers go, it's a good one

The 2020 Toyota Avalon XSE pictured here is the non-hybrid variant of the model. It features a nearly identical features list.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The country is in the midst of near complete shut down. Folks are being urged to stay home and only go out when immediately necessary. And I think about my mother, who is older and has some risk factors for the coronavirus. She lived, until very recently, in Boston and took public transportation or Uber or Lyft rides everywhere.

And those are good ways to get around, in normal times. But in more uncertain times, like those we have now with a pandemic bearing down — we naturally crave privacy and a safe space for ourselves. That's where the personal automobile comes in. I've always been skeptical of those predicting we would all give up our cars in favor of shared transportation.

2020 Toyota Avalon XSE The 2020 Toyota Avalon XSE features black accents. The hybrid model also has blue accents.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Our car, particularly during our commute, is one of the few places that folks can get real solitude. No family, no co-workers, just a driver and whatever podcast or music or awful drive-time DJ we want to listen to.

A few years ago, I talked to an executive at Rolls-Royce about whether they were concerned about autonomous cars and ride-sharing. He said that they were more excited than ever, because wealthy folks would always want to have their own space. Rolls-Royce cars might drive themselves, but the experience will become like a private jet, both wildly expensive and luxurious.

In the past month or so most of the backups and delays we associate with a nasty commute have disappeared. But, even when things get back to the new normal, we will always want some solitude and luxury. And that's what my test car has delivered.

The 2020 Toyota Avalon is the company's flagship vehicle in the U.S. It shares a platform with the smaller Camry, as well as the Lexus ES (which I drove last year and loved). My test car was the Avalon Hybrid, which gets a deeply impressive EPA-estimated 43 mpg across all three city/highway/combined.

2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XSE The interior of the Avalon Hybrid XSE is as well appointed as its non-hybrid counterpart.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

My mid-tier XSE test car weighed in at $42,684, nearly $12,000 less than the Lexus ES hybrid tester I had that reported similar fuel economy. The Avalon had a $1,720 premium audio system, $425 for a special paint color (Ruby Flare Pearl) that was lovely, and a $259 carpet mat package.

The Avalon isn't the most exciting looking car, but that's the Toyota way. Still, it's attractive and understated and wouldn't look out of place at Walmart or at the Ritz-Carlton. It's built in America, at Toyota's Georgetown, Kentucky plant.

I suspect the people who buy the Toyota Avalon could go into the Lexus dealer and buy the ES without an issue. Instead, they decide to save ten thousand dollars and give up a bunch of luxury features.

There are plenty of hard plastic touch points because it's a Toyota. The dashboard and steering wheel aren't as nice to touch as the Lexus. There isn't a power closing trunk lid. It doesn't have cooled seats. It's not quite as quiet.

But there's plenty of legroom in front and back. There's a cavernous space to put your phone under the infotainment and climate control buttons. You can't tell when the engine turns off and back on because Toyota's hybrid system is the best around.

The infotainment screen is large and sits high, making it easy to see your navigation without taking your eyes too far from the road because it doesn't have a heads-up display like the Lexus has.

It's just not as refined as the comparable Lexus. But, you can take the $12,000 you saved and put it towards an awesome vacation (or years of fuel and car insurance). If you put the Lexus ES and the Toyota Avalon (with $10,000 in cash stacked on the hood) next to each other, I'd have a hard time recommending the Lexus, to be honest. As much as I love the Lexus, especially the ultra quiet interior (and the fancy Lexus badge), the Avalon is nearly as good.

We know who will buy this car though. The Avalon is going to skew to an older crowd who has always had sedans. Younger folks, especially those with kids, are going to lean towards RAV4 and Highlander SUVs. But for — let's be honest — old folks who like sedans, the Avalon is a top-notch option.

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The Recreation Module fits into the Cullinan's boot.

Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

If you're driving in your Rolls-Royce Cullinan and hear Rare Earth come on the radio, it's generally not a bad thing. If you happen to change the lyrics to their best-known hit to "I just want to recreate", Rolls-Royce has a solution for you.

The new Recreation Module brings bespoke storage solutions for adventure enthusiasts to the bespoke SUV in proper Rolls-Royce fashion. This isn't just underfloor storage or bins. This is an entire solution designed around an owner's hobbies.

The 48-liter motorized drawer cassette fits invisibly into the luggage compartment of the Cullinan. Via the touch of a button, the Module slides open to reveal equipment, accessories, and paraphernalia that has been personally selected by the motor car's commissioning client. This is no junk drawer setup. Each item is ensconced in its own individual, tailored container.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Recreation Module The Recreation Module allows for bespoke storage.Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Recreation Module

Rolls-Royce designers are able to trim out the Module to match or contrast with the car's interior and exterior.

Cullinan owners who wish their model had come with the Recreation Module aren't out of luck. They can have the Module retrofitted to their vehicle - the electric connections are already existing.

Rolls-Royce clients that demand even more can have multiple Modules configured. Say, for example, the owner is simultaneously a shooting, skiing, and photography fanatic but they don't do all those at once. Before setting off to a hunt, heading out to ski, or setting out on an excursion, the owner can install the proper Module in the cargo area while leaving the others behind.

You may remember a similar storage solution from 2019. That year, Rolls-Royce commissioned photographer Mark Riccioni to create a series of innovative and subversive images featuring Black Badge Cullinan, under the cover of darkness, in Los Angeles. To support the project, the marque developed a personalised Urban Photography Recreation Module, incorporating specialist equipment including a DJI Mavic Mini drone, 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro, 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro, Sennheiser PXC550 MkII noise-cancelling headphones, Persol PO3225-S sunglasses and outerwear from streetwear brand Supreme.

Cullinans outfitted with the Module do not have their cargo capacity lessened. The length and boot capacity remain the same as vehicles without the component.

Commissioners can have their Cullinan outfitted with both the Module and the Viewing Suite – two rear-facing sociably arranged either side of a retractable cocktail table. It too deploys via the touch of a button.

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Toyota's ready to make a big announcement.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation2

Auto Shanghai has another surprise in store. Toyota will debut an electrified vehicle next week and ahead of that moment, the company has leaked teaser photos and video featuring the model on its social media channels.

One of the posts, available on Twitter and Instagram, showcases the vehicle and a series of conceptual, perhaps inspirational, related items. A light shines as a reflection in an eye. A design on paper leads to a math equation. A laser, perhaps a plasma cutter, is focused on an object. Watch the see the rest.


It passes by quickly, but in there is the shape of a crossover. We've captured the moment in a still photo below so you can take a longer look. From the body design quickly shown here, the SUV is shaped more like the Toyota Venza than the Toyota RAV4. The key here is the rear side window, which is more triangular, like the Venza, than the squared-off RAV4''s.

202 The shape of the vehicle is similar to the Toyota Venza.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation

2022 Toyota Venza EV

The face of the vehicle, shown in another social media post (this time on Instagram) and at the top of this article, shows a pared back vehicle face. The height of the vehicle confirms that it's in fact a crossover body style.

We do know that Subaru and Toyota have been working on an electric SUV for a while. While Subaru is likely calling the vehicle "Evoltis" there's some indication that Toyota may be reviving the "Celica" name for the EV. Batteries, after all, are made up of cells.

As of right now, we have to take the wait-and-see approach. One thing's for sure. We'll know more next week.

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