One of the things I LOVE to do is test a car out and spend enough time with it to really feel comfortable that I "get it". All too often I just have a few hours to drive them and the review is more of a confirmation that the stuff in the press release is true and a chance to get pictures to support the talking points. That isn't to say that those opportunities aren't valuable but it's a far cry from spending 8 days driving a car more than 2,000 miles up mountains to 8,500 feet and below sea level in the desert. That's what we did earlier this month during our #LetsGoPlaces Road Trip with the 2016 Toyota Avalon.
Our Avalon Hybrid journey started in Dallas Texas and then proceeded north so we could connect with Route 66 through Oklahoma and the Texas Pan Handle. During this time, it was obvious that this car was something special as we noticed that gas mileage was great on the flat roads at highway speeds. While rated at a combined 39 mpg, we averaged 36 across the entire trip - that includes climbing mountains up to 8,500 feet in Colorado and some aggressive twisty turny roads through New Mexico and Arizona.
As we entered New Mexico and ultimately entered Santa Fe, the land around us changed from a conservative (but beautiful) grassy plains to mountains, trees and colors. In Santa Fe itself we had an absolute blast exploring the art, food, and their fetish with creating giant sculptures.
I think it was around this point that I realized that the Avalon went from "the car Toyota gave us" to "a fun car to drive". As you will notice from the pictures, it's a good looking car with refined style that has luxury touches but doesn't scream "I'm expensive". It's a feeling of confidence and maturity that we enjoyed and felt comfortable with driving.
After a couple days in Santa Fe to get acclimated to the altitude (7,200 feet elevation) we headed north to Colorado where we climbed mountain roads up to the top of Mesa Verde's Far View Lodge sitting at about 8,500 feet. During our drive, we got a special treat in the form of snow - a form of weather I haven't driven in since I left Chicago.
As a larger car, I was nervous that it wouldn't handle as well as smaller ones and that as a "Hybrid" with "only" 200 hp, it wouldn't be strong enough to sling us around corners and have some fun. At no point was I left feeling like it was sluggish and while it isn't a sports car, after turning on "sport mode" it was fun to drive while keeping us comfortable and delivering a smooth ride.
After Mesa Verde, we headed back south to Holbrook, Arizona to hook back up with "The Mother Road" and see some iconic sights along RT-66 such as the Wigwam Motel. While we didn't experience a huge amount of traffic on the trip, during the journey from Holbrook to Flagstaff we got a great opportunity to test out the adaptive cruise control - called Dynamic Radar Cruise Control by Toyota.
This is a MUST HAVE feature for any new car that I'd consider buying and while many brands have added this feature they aren't all the same. I was very impressed by Toyota's version as it was smooth to respond when approaching a car but then quick to respond and smoothly bring you back to speed after your pulled out to pass. I didn't experience any challenges to the system with going around corners or awkward slowdowns. Features like this made our trip much more pleasant since it allowed us to stay alert while reducing fatigue.
Just outside of Holbrook is one of the National Parks that I've been dreaming about visiting since I was a kid - Painted Desert / Petrified Forest National Park. While we took tons of pictures, it simply defies being photographed effectively as the reds and yellows and browns and whites are so vibrant here that you simply have to visit to see for yourself.
That's sort of the same way I feel about Grand Canyon National Park as well. As we headed back north we had a beautiful drive along the south rim of the canyon. When we first arived, the entire canyon was filled with clouds but we managed to get a few good shots when they cleared out.
After driving for nearly a week, it was time to take a rest and recharge in Sedona, Arizona. Like Santa Fe, this is a community that enjoys creativity and beauty without being overly ostentatious. It's also a destination that thrives on exploring the outdoors and having fun while doing it. So it seemed again that would be a perfect stop on our trip and so we stayed at the AMAZING Adobe Grand Villas. (stay tuned for our full review)
Sadly, after a week on the road it was time to head home to San Diego but first we had to stop at Date Land in the Arizona for some of their famous date shakes and one more photo of the car before heading into California.
This road trip really transformed my view of the Avalon from a stodgy "old person's car" into something that I'd consider driving myself. To set the stage - years ago, my parents drove an Avalon and it was too boring even for them. Honestly, that's what my impression of the brand when I started this journey but it has changed dramatically since then.
Today's Avalon is stylish, handles well, fuel efficient - averaged 36 mpg over 2,000+ miles of varying terrain, long range - 530 miles per fill up, and it had comfortable seats. Most people will never put the car through what we did, but when you are sitting in the car for 10-12 hours each day for a week straight those little things will have an impact on how you perceive the overall experience.
For me, the net result was a hugely positive experience and I recommend this car for anyone wanting something a step above a Camry who isn't ready to leave Toyota for Lexus.
With a MSRP starting at $36,650, the 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is competitively priced compared to other vehicles in it's class including Kia Cadenza and Hyundai Azera but when you factor in it's fuel economy it's in a class of its own.