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.

Trending News

Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport fits into the middle of a sea of SUVs and isn't terrible memorable.

Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

I'm a car journalist and a single guy. This might seem like a weird way to start my review of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, but hear me out.

Our swipe-right Tinder-Bumble-Hinge-Whatever dating culture has transformed how folks meet. See, there's always something else around the corner, so if you don't like the first date you're on, there's an endless supply of other potential partners. That also means that no matter how much you might like someone on the first date, there might be someone else you like better just a swipe away.

And while some of those first dates are truly memorable, others are forgettable. You end up with random people in your contacts with cryptic clues in their last name fields: Jessica Tinder or Erica Doctor or Samantha Doesn't Like Dogs DO NOT ANSWER.

My weekly car loans are the same way. Some are really special, like the time I had a Ferrari 488 GTB in Los Angeles and cruised down the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset before parking on the Santa Monica Pier and having dinner.

Or the 600+ horsepower Cadillac CTS-V that I road-tripped across Europe. One night I was forced to sleep in the back seat at a French rest area because the Chunnel train had been shut down because migrants snuck into the tunnel.

And then there are cars that are totally forgettable. There's nothing wrong with them — those cars I remember. They just don't make an impact. Kind of like how I remember all my really bad and really good first dates, but all the ones in the middle just don't register. Cars like the Buick Envision, the Chrysler 300, and the Fiat 124 Spider. They were all fine cars I guess, but nothing about them stands out.

The only thing I can remember about the Chrysler 300 is that Snoop Dogg called Chrysler when it came out in 2004 and left a voice mail that said, in part, "What I gotta do to get that brand new 300 up outta you?"

That is a true story.

So, cars are like first dates. But what about the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport? Well, it falls in that forgettable middle category because it's not horrible and it wasn't great. It's also going up against some serious competition including the Mazda CX-30, the new Kia Seltos, the Hyundai Kona, the Nissan Kicks. Those are some A-grade, Super Like-level cars.

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport The interior of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is not a stunner, but it is sufficient.Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

But, just like there's a partner for everyone, there's also a car for everyone, and there are definitely folks that will love the Outlander Sport. I actually really like the exterior design. There's lots of LED lights front and rear, and it's been nipped and tucked and looks kind of aggressive and fun, especially in the Sunshine Orange Metallic color that my test car was in.

This was the especially loaded version, with my test car weighing in at a whopping $28,920. That's a lot of cheese and you can (and likely would, if you're looking at this car) get out for a lot less money. It starts just shy of $24,000. It wasn't luxurious by any stretch, but it had all the features that a young 20-something Mitsubishi-buyer might want.

In the top trim I had, there was automatic high beams and automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning and a radio. It also had the hottest seat warmers I've felt in a car. If you or your significant other likes having toasted buns, they will absolutely love the Outlander Sport.

But it also had middling fuel economy (25-27 mpg combined depending on the trim level you get), an uninspiring 168-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and a continuously variable transmission that… transmits.

The warranty is terrific, which is good for folks who are especially budget-conscious. The model come with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain plus a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, with five years of roadside assistance added in.

The Outlander Sport isn't huge, but it's roomy enough for the occasional Costco or beer run (though it's worth noting that the competition has a bit more room). The tester came with all-wheel drive and a spare tire. There are knobs to adjust the single-zone climate control. It's a car, and it turns on when you press the start button and you can drive it places.

The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport gets the job done. And sometimes, like with a first date, that's all you really need.

Trending News

 
 

The 2020 Mazda CX-5 has a lot to like.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

These days, just about every carmaker sells a whole range of crossovers. There's a simple explanation for it of course: people buy them by the truckload. But strip the badging off and line them all up and it'll be hard to tell them apart.

To the non-enthusiast, the Ford whatsit is just like the Chevy whatsit which looks like the Honda whatever or is that the Toyota whatever? I can't tell.

They're alike on the inside, too. Steering wheel, high seating position, all-wheel drive (maybe), some luxury accoutrements depending on where it fits in the segment, leather, rinse, repeat.

2020 Mazda CX-5 The model's sculpted exterior is most different from other crossovers at the front, but it's back is not unattractive.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Does it matter which one you buy? At once, absolutely and absolutely not. The Ford whatsit you wouldn't hate having might come from a great dealer, in which case, go buy that. Or Kia might have a great Cyber Wednesday deal running or you might inexplicably like the shift knob in the BMW X# Competizione M Sport GranTurismo and that's what turns your head.

Or maybe you just want a crossover with luxury features that's comfortable, has terrific handling and performance, and great design, in which case you should head straight to your local Mazda dealer and plunk down thirty-thousand-and-something dollars for a Mazda CX-5 and skip all the other stuff. That's what I'd do.

Mazda is the rare carmaker that makes excellent vehicles across the entire range, so you can't go wrong. My tester CX-5 came in an intoxicating Soul Red Crystal Metallic with a Caturra Brown interior. I don't know what makes Soul Red different from regular red, or what a Caturra is, but Mazda's built a fetching crossover. The new Mazda3 is a looker and the CX-5 has the same lineage.
It's aggressive but not shouty, taut but not tense. It's sporty and luxurious. It's driver-focused but refined for everyone else too. It is, to put a point on it, all things to all people.

Except for that infotainment screen. It's a weak point, I'll admit — and so will Mazda, I suspect. It sticks out of the center of the dash, which is fine. It's a good size, and Apple CarPlay looks great on it. You can just reach it, but it's not a touch screen (except when it is). And the stock infotainment system is incredibly annoying.

2020 Mazda CX-5 The touch points of the CX-5 tester were more premium than the price of the SUV would let on.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Generally you control it with a knob and button setup down in the center console behind the shifter (the volume knob is down here too, which is annoying for five minutes and then kind of delightful). It's not the best way to control an interface, but it's serviceable and much preferred to the horrendous touchpad that Lexus insists on installing in all its vehicles these days. But then, once in a while, and only in CarPlay, it works as a touchscreen. But not always.

Yet, this is a mere quibble because the rest of the car is fantastic. My tester priced out at $38,655 in the Signature trim and is filled with nearly every feature on my must-have list, including 360-degree camera, parking sensors, heated and ventilated front seats (and heated rear seats, too), a terrific heads-up display, adaptive cruise, an active lane-keeping assist, and a bunch more.

The Signature also includes standard AWD and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 250-horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque engine, and is a total peach. It even runs on standard fuel, although derated to 227 horsepower. Fuel economy with the bigger engine is hurt a little bit, running 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, while the smaller non-turbo variant that comes standard in the CX-5 runs 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque but at 24/30 city/highway with all-wheel drive.

2020 Mazda CX-5 Buttons, knobs, and the steering wheel are all easy to reach from the driver's seat.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

A few weeks ago, I tested a 2019 Mazda3 hatchback around the racetrack at the Monticello Motor Club and it was a riot. A note to those who love powerful cars: it's way more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. The Mazda3 was controllable and predictable — exactly what you want in a performance vehicle, and the CX-5 has the same sort of feel. It's much more car than SUV, and in this trim, is part sports car too.

It reminds me of a budget Porsche Macan a bit. Sporty luxury with quality and refinement to spare, only at a much more reasonable price. All those other crossovers might seem basically the same, but the CX-5 stands out. I guess that's why Mazda is selling so many of them.

Trending News