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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New sports car

2022 Subaru BRZ pricing announced

The BRZ is all-new for 2022.

Subaru

Earlier this year, Subaru announced the all-new BRZ sports car, which is coming this fall to replace the previous generation of the car that was discontinued in 2020. It, along with its Toyota cousin, the 86, get more power, updated interiors, and better technology than their predecessors.

The BRZ Premium is the base trim of the car. It starts at $28,955 after destination. Adding an automatic transmission drives the price up by $1,600 to $30,555. The BRZ Limited starts at $31,455 after destination, which shifts to $33,255 with an automatic transmission.


2022 Subaru BRZ The BRZ's compact size and manual transmission make it enthusiast friendly.


The 2022 BRZ gets a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine that produces 228 horsepower. Part of the appeal of small, sporty cars like BRZ is that they are infinitely more fun to drive than larger, more computerized vehicles. To that end, the car comes standard with a six-speed close-ratio manual transmission. Buyers can opt to swap in a six-speed automatic transmission, but that almost defeats the point of the car. A Torsen limited-slip differential, vehicle stability control with track mode, and 17-inch wheels round out the car's standard performance features.

Inside, the BRZ comes with an 8-inch touchscreen that runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, SiriusXM radio, and dual-zone automatic climate controls. A new gauge cluster display can show amps, coolant temperatures, or the car's lateral g-forces, and when track mode is engaged, the tachometer shifts from a circular to a color linear graph.


2022 Subaru BRZ An updated interior and tech are highlights of the new BRZ,

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All-new SUV

2022 Acura MDX Review

The MDX is all-new for 2022.

Acura

Acura is an interesting company. Its vehicles have long been sort of an afterthought compared to Japanese luxury heavy-hitter Lexus, but the brand offers a sporty, upscale alternative to the plush rollers from elsewhere in the country. The MDX is Acura's flagship vehicle, and though it skipped the 2021 model year altogether, the vehicle that landed for 2022 is worth the wait.

I spent a week testing the 2022 MDX, putting it through its paces, first as a family SUV, and then as a sporty alternative to other traditional luxury options. I liked the previous MDX, but found its infotainment to be too complicated and its third-row seats to be too cramped. The SUV's latest iteration addresses those problems and more – at least partially. Let's take a look at what's what.

2022 Acura MDX Features and Driving Impressions

The MDX starts at just under $47,000, and reaches just over $60,000 in its top Advance Package. My test vehicle landed at the top end of that spectrum, but the base MDX's list of features will likely be enough to make most people happy. The standard 12.3-inch infotainment screen, digital gauge cluster, extensive advanced safety equipment, and spacious interior make the entry-level MDX quite the compelling vehicle.


2022 Acura MDX The 2022 MDX features sleek styling.Acura


Though we're looking at a brand-new SUV here, Acura opted to leave the previous model's engine in place. The tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6 makes 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, but now comes with an impossibly smooth ten-speed automatic transmission instead of the nine-speed seen in 2020's MDX. The engine, while unimpressive on paper, is strong enough to pull the three-row MDX to 60 mph from a standstill in 6.4 seconds – quicker than I, or anyone else, should hope to go with a family in tow. Additionally, the engine is so smooth and so well in tune with the MDX's chassis that it's impossible to want for more. Of course, the world being what it is, Acura will give you more. If you're willing to wait, the MDX Type S will hit the streets later in 2021 with 355 horsepower from a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6.

It's easy to assume that the 2022 MDX is just another frumpy family hauler, but that's not entirely the case. Acura gave the vehicle an all-new chassis that the brand says is actually a light truck platform that has been tuned to target the driving dynamics of a sports sedan. That, combined with a double wishbone front suspension and a multilink rear suspension system, help the new MDX handle like a much smaller vehicle while retaining a family-friendly ride in most circumstances. Steering is noticeably assisted, but not to the point of feeling too light or disconnected.

2022 MDX Technology

Acura ditched the overwhelming dual-screen infotainment setup seen in previous MDX models for a single screen and touchpad controller – similar to the system that comes in the smaller RDX. Though it's easier to use than the screen-on-screen system, the touchpad takes longer to learn than it should. Over time, however, it's likely to become more intuitive than I could give it credit for in a short week of testing. The 12.3-inch unit runs wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and comes with a Wi-Fi hotspot, Amazon Alexa capabilities, and Bluetooth. A Qi wireless charging pad is standard as well, but depending on how you like to charge your smartphone you might end up with a confusing pairing situation. My preference is to charge with a cable, which caused wireless Apple CarPlay to disconnect my iPhone in favor of a wired connection, but this didn't happen all the time. The sometimes-connected-sometimes-not situation was frustrating and confusing, so it's probably best to charge with the wireless pad if you choose to use wireless CarPlay.


2022 Acura MDX The MDX's interior is an extremely nice place to spend time.Acura


My tester's Advance Package meant that I had access to even more tech. There was a 10.5-inch head-up display, an ELS Studio 3D premium audio system with 16 speakers, and charging ports in the second and third rows. When it comes to safety tech, however, everyone gets in on the party. Acura includes a load of advanced safety features as standard gear on the 2022 MDX, which includes forward collision warnings, collision mitigation braking, lane departure warnings, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, and traffic sign recognition.

2022 MDX Safety

That list of features and stellar crash test scores helped the MDX achieve a Top Safety Pick + designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The agency scored the MDX Good in all crashworthiness categories and Superior in both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crash prevention with the standard safety systems.


2022 Acura MDX The MDX is a solid premium family hauler.Acura


The MDX was already a compelling vehicle with great standard features and attractive styling, and the updates have only made the Acura's case stronger. The new ten-speed automatic transmission and chassis tuning have made the family-hauler an engaging vehicle to drive, but haven't in any way compromised its ability to do the boring "SUV stuff" well. On top of that, the MDX matches or beats many of its competitors on fuel economy, returning up to 26 mpg on the highway, and let's not forget about safety scores, which for any family should be top of mind.


2022 Acura MDX The MDX is sporty but refined.Acura

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