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 AWD ID.4 model is on its way.

Volkswagen

There was a lot of buzz when VW introduced its 2021 ID.4 all-electric crossover with rear-wheel drive earlier this year, but there's plenty more now that the Wolfsburg automaker has added an all-wheel-drive version. The 2021 VW ID.4 AWD gets another motor onboard this compact SUV that brings all-wheel-drive traction. The SUV appeals to buyers in the snow belt states but will also tickle the fancy of performance enthusiasts. Now with motors on both the front and rear axle, there is nearly fifty percent more power, with impressive gains to horsepower and torque as well as the added battery-electric boost to that scoots the 5-seater from 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds (the RWD model took 7.5 seconds to achieve the same).

2021 VW ID.4 AWD An extra motor brings AWD to the ID.4.Volkswagen

On sale now, the 2021 VW ID.4 AWD Pro starts at $44,870, before federal or other incentives; this is a $3,680 premium over the rear-drive model. The AWD Pro S starts at $49,370; both models are eligible for $7,500 income-tax credits. It's worth noting that current delivery estimates for the AWD Pro are running into 2022. The AWD Pro trim has been rated by the EPA at 249 miles (only 11 miles less than the Pro RWD) while the AWD Pro S has been validated at 240 miles (as compared to 250 miles). The AWD Pro has been rated at 102 MPGe for city driving/90 highway/97 combined; the Pro S gets 93/98/88. Both are rated at 2,700 towing. Competitors include the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y.

While the AWD and RWD look the same outside, one exterior badge designates the newest variant with an "AWD" badge, plus it gets 0.6 inches of added ground clearance, slightly bigger brakes and sway bars. From the front, the electric SUV has smoothed jelly-bean styling that is highlighted by standard LED headlights and standard black roof rails that sit atop the body-colored roof. From the rear, it wears hatchback-like looks.

2021 VW ID.4 AWD The ID.4's cabin is tidy and upscale, no matter the model.Volkswagen

We drove both the Pro and Pro S versions, with different premium interior trims and found the Gradient Package ($1500) visually upscale and appealing. It brings a black roof with silver rails, along with 20-inch wheels and the availability of King's Red Metallic paint, as a $395 option. The Pro is well-equipped with attractive trim elements and an impressive collection of communication and infotainment technologies. Pro S comes with a glass roof with an electrically-retractable shade and front seats with leatherette upholstery and 12-way power adjustments (including four-way lumbar support and a massage system).

We drove the new ID.4 AWD over a course of 160 miles along a variety of roads to sample its handling and ergonomics. The interior has a clean and open feel with good visibility. Controls and gauges are well-placed and the seatbelts are height-adjustable, while a configurable console holds different drink sizes and has removable cupholders. A futuristic LED "Light" strip with 10 different ambient lighting selections extends across the dashboard and pulses with directional signals, incoming phone calls, navigation prompts and other in-cabin inputs (optional is 30-color lighting selection on the Pro S). Driving is also a bit futuristic with no stop/start button; the vehicle senses the approaching key and can start climate control, unfold side mirrors, unlock doors and illuminate door handles at night, among a number of other high-tech features. There is 30.3 cubic feet of stowage behind the rear seats and up to 64.2 cubic feet with the second row folded. Under the floor storage holds the charging cable and small items. Pro S has an adjustable trunk floor that can be raised and lowered and a ski passthrough.

Pushing the brake pedal triggers the ID.4 to begin motoring, with the option of a "D" mode for typical driving or "B" for a more regenerative driving experience. Travel Assist brings semi-autonomous driving. Notable is the fun and responsive torque-on-tap, well-balanced direct steering and a suspension system that allows the small compact to maneuver well through traffic and along twisty roadways, as well as an impressive turning radius. The vehicle dynamics control system is integrated with the stability control system and an electronic differential to seamlessly engage the front axle, when needed. Volkswagen has added a different asynchronous motor to the front with a permanent-magnetic synchronous motor at the back for a combined 295 hp. and 339 lb.-ft. of torque.

2021 VW ID.4 AWD The ID.4 AWD will start shipping in early 2022.Volkswagen

Carried over are 82-kWh battery packs and the 5 to 80 percent fast-charging time of 38 minutes, when using 125kW fast-charging. VW says it can add 62 miles of range in 10 minutes; home charging on a Level 2 charger is projected to take approximately 7.5 hours for a full charge.

Of note: VW includes three years of complimentary charging up to 125 kW, with any ID.4 purchase or lease; VW Group's Electrify America charging network has over 650 stations and more than 2,700 fast chargers.

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The new Si gets many improvements over the standard Civic.

Honda

The 2022 Civic and Civic Hatchback are just starting to hit our streets, but Honda's already moved on to higher performance versions of the car. The automaker just announced the Civic Si, which lands between the standard cars and the red-hot Type R in the Civic lineup.

2022 Honda Civic Si The Si's manual transmission gets rev-matching from the Civic Type R.Honda

The 2022 Civic Si gets a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. The VTEC unit has been updated with broader power curves and better output at the top of the rev range. It's paired exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission that features the handy rev-matching feature from the Civic Type R. The system can detect downshifts and blips the throttle to perfectly align engine revs with the shift.

Honda tightened up the new Si's body with an 8 percent bump in torsional rigidity and a 13 percent increase in bending rigidity over the previous model. The 2022 Civic Si also rides on a longer wheelbase and has a wider rear track for better stability. Honda says that at 107.7 inches, the Si has the longest wheelbase in its class, which should give the car a stable and comfortable ride.

2022 Honda Civic Si The 2022 Civic Si's interior is clean and sporty. Honda

The Si's cabin borrows heavily from the standard Civic, but the sporty car gets more aggressive front sport seats with stronger bolstering and better thigh and shoulder supports. Honda raised the seats' bottom cushion by half an inch at the front for better thigh support. A 9-inch touchscreen display is standard that runs wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A 12-speaker Bose stereo with Centerpoint 2 tech and SurroundStage digital signal processing are also standard.

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