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TWO WORLDS COMBINED: 2021 TOYOTA AVALON XSE HYBRID

In hindsight, Toyota has been nailing the sporty sedan game with their XSE models. Fitted to the Camry, Corolla and Avalon models, the XSE badge took these lack-lustering sedans and made them into an intriguing element of the common commuter world. By not just upgrading the appearances, but by re-tuning the chassis and handling into a livelier setup, Toyota has properly earned the sporty pedigree that follows behind the XSE badge.

Aimed for the more mature, retired lifestyle, the Avalon was always the kind of suitor you’d find doing four-miles under the speed limit, doubled parked outside the Costco and most likely had a driver that looked confused through their wrapped around sunglasses. So the idea of it being sporty was never its main agenda. That was until 2019, when the Avalon was fully upgraded to the same TGNA chassis as the Camry. Developing a whole host of attributed that Avalon drivers were not familiar with, like proper steering feel, road feedback and a rumble from under the front sheet metal, its demographic dropped by a few generations. But when we saw their latest iteration of the Avalon Hybrid with an XSE badge, we were as scoffed as our elderly neighbor when they hear the ATVers are hooliganing down the street again.

This isn’t to say the Avalon XSE isn’t necessarily good; it’s just out of place. The overall styling is very favorable with a tasteful scheme of sophistication. The lines tie well into each other with a nice and tidy rear end. The XSE even features upgraded 19-inch wheels and a sport-mesh grille large enough to swallow a hole in time.

Nestling itself between the entry XLE and Limited Hybrid models, the XSE tags itself with a $2500 premium over the entry XLE and starts at $39,500. Incorporating stylish features like a black accent rear spoiler, a moonroof, steering wheel paddle shifters that will never be used and faux suede accents on the seats certainly boost a more attractive appeal. However, with just 215-combined horsepower from its 2.5-liter hybrid four-cylinder, the most boost we’ll get is from our morning coffee with an extra shot of expresso.

Around town is where the Avalon Hybrid feels more comfortable. Its power band is smooth with linear application and moves as briskly as a Wal-Mart motorized wheelchair shopper. Thanks to the electric torque hidden behind the hybrid powertrain, there is a sense of eagerness when we accelerate from a stop; however, it still requires nearly 8-seconds to achieve 60-mph.

By upgrading into the XSE model things tend to get a bit more edgy. Replacing the soften dampers and springs for something with a little more attitude gives the Avalon Hybrid competent motion to its ocean. The steering feels firm and taut with agile awareness and the ride quality develops a more athletic vibe rather than a soft couch potato.

Energized for fuel efficiency the rated 43-mpg’s is something not to joke about. Unfortunately, during our time, we endured a 600-mile road trip to the badlands of Las Vegas that encountered four not-so-lucky souls; we lost our mpg’s much like we lost our wallets at the blackjack tables. However, we did manage to average an overall 36-mpg’s on the highway and nearly 38-mpgs combined after having to lug around 500-extra pounds of beef and baggage.  

Inside, with the XSE being a step down from the Limited has taken some shortcuts to cut expense… or at least save the fancy tech for the more expensive model. Still, its heavily equipped for something that didn’t offer many options… including carpeted floor mats. Featuring the $650 Navigation with JBL audio however created a boastful jukebox on wheels with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa being available through the 8-inch touch screen infotainment system.

Suited as a big sedan, the Avalon does what the Avalon is suppose to do well… be comfortable. There is plenty of space front rear and with oodles of room for any passenger. Despite how we feel having the XSE badge fitted to a non-sporty sedan, it at least offers somewhat the best of both worlds managing good fuel economy with rigid handling attributes. However, considering the XSE Nightshade Avalon is nearly $500 cheaper, can you put a price on fuel economy verses the fulfilling enjoyments of a grunty V-6 and its 6-seconds to 60-mph? 

VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS

Vehicle: 2021 Toyota Avalon XSE Hybrid
Base Price: $37,000
As-Tested Price: $42,640

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 2.5-liter Four-Cylinder Hybrid
HP | Torque: 215-HP |163 lb-ft of Torque
Transmission: CVT Automatic
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
MPG: 43 | 43 | 43 (City | Highway | Combined)
As-Tested MPG: 37.6-MPG COMBINED
Fuel Range: 480 miles
0-60 MPH: ±8.0 seconds

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