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The 2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid, like the one I drove some weeks ago, marks the end of an era. Toyota has indicated that sedans aren’t dead at all, and it plans to offer a range of them for the foreseeable future. 

So Toyota is putting effort into having them evolve with the times. The Avalon’s replacement, the Toyota Crown, pivots to bold cues, cladding, and a chunkier look, plus a cabin that looks a bit more confining. After the harmonious Avalon, it’s a bit jarring, at least in pictures. Although so is the future, sometimes. 

I sampled the outro of this era, the 2022 Toyota Avalon XSE Hybrid, in its first-ever (and last-ever) Nightshade Edition, stickering at $41,725 and adding black-painted alloy wheels, black mirror housings, a trunklid spoiler, and other special trim and badging.

2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

No shady here, but a little more contrast to the look

On the outside, the Nightshade thing sharpens the look somewhat, but the prevailing impression is that, well, the Avalon blends in. There’s no tractor beam of charisma wound up in this design, but it’s grown-up and upscale.

Even before driving, just getting into the Avalon reminded me what’s great about this package. Plush materials and warm tones elevate this cabin above most of the current Toyota lineup. Door cuts are large, and seats are generously padded and supportive. Yes, the Avalon lacks the natural chair height like a crossover and you do sit down into the Avalon, but it’s easy to get in and the cabin has a soft ambience and a combination of swagger and simplicity.

Toyota also says that the Avalon offers high tech with a low learning curve, and I agree. The 9.0-inch touchscreen is on the small side for a large car by today’s standards, but it’s very easy to find your way around the menu system, with buttons alongside the screen, and Apple CarPlay started up flawlessly once I paired my iPhone. Android Auto and Amazon Alexa are also supported. Once I turned off the system’s nagging beeps for every selection, I was ready to go.

2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

On the road, there’s no big news to report, but it’s all good. The Avalon Hybrid employs a 176-hp, 2.5-liter inline-4, as part of Toyota’s planetary-based hybrid system, making 215 hp altogether. It accelerates with ease, and you don’t hear the engine much unless you’re climbing a steep grade, running in Sport mode, or nearly flooring the accelerator. Steering is light, body control is neat, and the ride is controlled in a way that only luxury cars were up until the past five years or so. Simply put, it’s easy to drive smoothly and your passengers will thank you.

43 mpg and then some

From what I noted, the Avalon Hybrid overdelivers on its EPA ratings of 43 mpg city, highway, and combined.

Over 70 miles of driving in what I’d best consider to be commuting conditions—weighing a bit more on traffic-clogged freeway driving—I averaged 46 mpg. 

To see how good it gets, I took the Avalon Hybrid on a 53-mile out-and-back loop that I’ve taken with a wide range of vehicles—gaining about 300 feet of elevation, and consisting of about equal parts gentle freeway driving under 65 mph, backroads under 55 mph, and lower-speed city driving. It averaged just over 50 mpg—exactly the same number I saw on the route in the somewhat smaller, less comfy Toyota Camry Hybrid

2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

And finally, using the Avalon’s Sport mode and driving in very brisk fashion on a mix of faster-moving freeway driving plus hot-footed backroad driving, the Avalon still averaged 36 mpg over 24 miles.

In efficiency, that simply blows away any mass-market rival you might compare it to from recent years. The Avalon Hybrid gets nearly double the mpg of other full-size sedans in the city, and in the range of 50% better on the highway, versus rivals gone, gone, or going: the Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, and Nissan Maxima. 

Sedans: adapt or perish?

All of those models are gone except the Charger, 300, and Maxima, and even those three are due for a transformation, too. Dodge and Chrysler plan to end production of those muscle-focused models after 2023—to be replaced partly by a screaming-loud electric muscle car—and Nissan is biding time before a U.S.-built, fully electric vehicle arrives in 2025.

2023 Toyota Crown2023 Toyota Crown2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XSE Nightshade2022 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XSE Nightshade

Compared to the outgoing Avalon, the Crown is a transformation, but in a different way. The pseudo rugged-sleek design may be hard to tear your eyes away from, for better or worse, but it’s secondary to powertrain changes. It’s all-hybrid and all-wheel drive—fixing an issue in the Avalon lineup, which was only front-wheel drive as a hybrid. Thus, the Crown’s lower 41-mpg EPA combined rating. A plug-in hybrid Crown Prime is reportedly in the works, though.

It’s hard to imagine that the Crown will be as perfect of a sedan and as charmingly straightforward as the Avalon Hybrid, but maybe that’s the point. 

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