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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Kia is offering the Sorento SUV in a hybrid form for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

New car prices keep going up so it was only a matter of time before the average new car price hit the $40,000 threshold. New quarterly analysis by Edmunds showed that the average amount borrowed for a new car in the fourth quarter of 2020 was $35,373. Buyers put an average of $4,734 down on top of that, which makes the average new car price $40,107.

Paying around $40,000 is a sweet spot in the market. It gets buyers into lower cost luxury and premium models as well as most of the mass market offerings. AutomotiveMap has put together a list of the best vehicles you can get for around the $40,000 mark.

2021 Acura TLX

2021 Acura TLX Advance

Photo courtesy of Acura

Price: $37,500
The Acura TLX debuted as a completely redesigned car for the 2021 model year bringing with it a new sportiness and fresh styling outside and in. The TLX is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Its cabin is quite nice - decked out in leatherette upholstery with 12-way power-adjustable and heated front seats. Dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, a 10-speaker audio system, satellite radio, two USB ports, a 10.2-inch infotainment touch screen, seven-inch driver information display, Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto make up just some of the items on the standard features list.

Editor's Note: Acura doesn't sell the TLX in a variety of trim levels. Instead, buyers choose the TLX then can add on packages to get what they want. The model described here has no package add-ons. Pictured: 2021 Acura TLX Advance

2021 Ram 1500 Big Horn

2021 Ram 1500 Big Horn

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Price: $39,490
Configure the 2021 Ram 1500 Big Horn with two-wheel drive, a crew cab, and 5'7" box to get one of the best trucks at the price point. It comes standard with Ram's tried and true 3.6-liter V6 engine, which provides a good amount of power. Cloth seating for six passengers and a five-inch infotainment screen is standard as well.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Price: $32,660
The Ford Bronco Sport Badlands trim is the most off-road capable version of the SUV, and it's no slouch. The model is powered by a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, off-road suspension, advanced four-wheel drive with a twin-clutch rear-drive unit, a Terrain Management System with G.O.A.T. modes, metal bash plates, Trail Control, a 180-degree front camera with washer, front tow hooks, and rubberized flooring. The SUV rides on 17-inch Carbonized Gray-painted aluminum wheels wrapped in 28.5-inch all-terrain tires.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Price: $36,590
The new-for-2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid comes in just two trim levels: S and EX. The upgraded EX model gets an EPA-estimated 37 mpg and has 227 total system horsepower. The features list for the Sorento Hybrid EX is long and includes a power liftgate, fog lights, a panoramic sunroof, and wireless phone charger. It also comes with a host of safety and driver assist technologies like adaptive cruise control and forward collision avoidance assist.

2021 Genesis G70 2.0T

2021 Genesis G70 Photo courtesy of Genesis Motors

Price: $36,000
The Genesis G70 is a sports sedan you probably haven't seen that much on roads near you, but you should. They should be everywhere. For under $40,000, buyers can get their hands on a rear-wheel drive G70 2.0T with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that produces 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It has the buyer's choice of gray or black leatherette upholstery.

2021 Honda Ridgeline RTL

2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Price: $39,470
The Ridgeline might not be a typical truck in the looks category, but for the 2021 model year the Honda has gotten some aesthetic beef thanks to a design refresh. The truck continues to have a trunk in its bed and now comes standard with the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver assist technologies. Power comes from the truck's 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 that is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission.The Ridgeline is most noted for its refined and comfortable interior that's more SUV-like than truck-like. For 2021, that has only improved. The RTL grade (Ridgeline Sport is shown above) is a step up from the base model.

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Touring

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Price: $39,995
The Chrysler Pacifica is presently the best minivan you can buy. Its Hybrid version (shown above in the Pinnacle grade) adds plug-in electric capability to the equation offering over 30 miles of gasoline-free driving per charge and running like a typical hybrid when the battery has been depleted or the van needs some extra oomph. With the Pacifica Hybrid Touring buyers get their choice of a number of included paint colors, 17-inch machined aluminum wheels with gray pockets wrapped in all-season tires, premium cloth bucket seats in black or cognac, and a 10.1-inch infotainment touch screen.

2021 Acura RDX

2019 Acura RDX Advance

Photo courtesy of Acura

Price: $38,400
Acura sells gobs of RDXs and it's really no mystery as to why. The SUV is fun to drive, has abundant cargo space, and is easy on the eyes. Add in the comfortable seats that offer plenty of space, and the RDX turns into one of the best family haulers out there, empty nest or not. The 2021 RDX rides on standard 19-inch glitter silver wheels, gets its power from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 272 horsepower, and has a host of infotainment features like a nine-speaker audio system, two USB ports, HD Radio, a 10.2-inch infotainment system touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and satellite radio. Buyers ca opt for all-wheel drive, which puts the vehicle just a tick over the $40,000 mark.

Editor's Note: Acura doesn't sell the RDX in a variety of trim levels. Instead, buyers choose the RDX then can add on packages to get what they want. The model described here has no package add-ons. Shown: 2019 Acura RDX Advance

2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Price: $35,300
Not only does the fanciest and most tech-forward Hyundai Sonata Hybrid you can buy get 47 mpg, it also has a solar roof. It also doesn't lack oomph, with 192 horsepower from its propulsion system at the ready. The car has a 12.3-inch fully-digital gauge cluster and a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen. It also sports plenty of head- and legroom, cargo space, and forward visibility. Pricing for the sedan includes checking nearly every option box, which is standard for the Limited model.

2021 Kia Telluride EX

2020 Kia Telluride

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Price: $37,590
Kia is selling the Telluride like gangbusters and it's not hard to see why. The three-row SUV comes standard with a 3.8-liter V6 that supplies plenty of power. Its roster of standard features on the EX trim level includes a power liftgate, 18-inch alloy wheels, Driver Talk, Quiet Mode, a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen, wireless smartphone charging, six USB ports, leather-trimmed seats, and more. Add all-wheel drive for just $2,000 more.

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Panasonic, Klipsch, and Dolby have teamed up to create a new audio system, Klipsch Premium Audio.

Photo courtesy of Panasonic

Panasonic Automotive Systems of America, Klipsch, and Dolby Atmos Music have teamed up to create a new proof-of-concept that features immersive sound technology named Klipsch Premium Audio.

Each of the parties brings unique assets to the table. Panasonic Automotive has the know-how for vehicle product design while Klipsch specializes in technonlogy-driven sound performance. Dolby has long been a stable of at-home audio systems.

"I have personally participated in bringing to market a range of products which feature Dolby Atmos capability. The sonic realism and envelopment of the listener into the on-screen action for films opens up new dimensions of entertainment," said Mark Casavant, vice president of Brand & Business Development, Klipsch Group, "Working with the audio experts at Panasonic Automotive we have achieved a similar experience for the in-vehicle listener with Dolby Atmos music. The music is more immersive, with additional space clarity, and depth."

Klipsch uses four sound principles to achieve its award-winning sound:

  • High efficiency/low distortion - Klipsch technology is highly efficient, providing more accurate sound with less power and less distortion – resulting in louder, cleaner audio. Klipsch's Law: Efficiency is inversely proportional to distortion.
  • Wide dynamic range - The softest sounds are reproduced with remarkable clarity and the loudest is delivered without harshness or distortion – with the greatest possible range between the softest and loudest sounds.
  • Controlled directivity - Klipsch technology accurately directs sound to the proper locations, which, in turn, creates a more lifelike soundstage without wasting acoustic energy where sound is not needed or desired.
  • Flat frequency response - Audio delivery is without frequency bias – no unnatural highs, miss or lows – reproducing recorded sound as accurately as possible without colorization.

Dolby Atmos sound is designed to go beyond the traditional limits of mono and stereo, placing the listener in an immersive soundscape.

"Panasonic Automotive has built a reputation pushing the boundaries of in-vehicle entertainment," said Tom Dunn, director of Panasonic Global Premium Audio, "Our award-winning automotive audio systems are recognized for creating unforgettable listening experiences based on engineering, artistry and emotion. Market leading innovations are what drive the technical teams at Panasonic and Klipsch, and delivering our first in-vehicle demonstration of Dolby Atmos music reflects our aligned goals and commitment to achieving a higher standard of music enjoyment."

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