By Zack Klapman.
Why are these two cars here? The Toyota Avalon is a full size sedan, meaning its 18” longer than the Volt. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid that can go 40 miles without burning a single drop of gas, whereas the Avalon is a more traditional parallel hybrid system, a bigger, nicer, Prius, if you will. You can charge up your Volt at the house, avoiding gas stations indefinitely, depending on the distance of your daily drive; The Avalon returns 40MPG, but will have to fill up eventually. The Toyota offers 5” more rear legroom, but the Volt has pass-through cargo abilities that the Avalon’s trunk-mounted batteries impede.
Different as they are, both cars put comfortable and efficient (see: frugal) conveyance at the top of their list of priorities. They are similar solutions to a very common problem: transport a bunch of people as far and comfortably as possible.
You might wonder why the Camry isn’t here instead of its bigger sibling, and the answer is simply: money. The 2013 Chevy Volt starts at $34,185, the Avalon Hybrid XLE at $35,555. If you’re thinking of spending Volt money, you should see what else is available.
And frankly, the Camry’s ride and feel isn’as the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt is one of the better mid-priced sedans I’ve ridden in to date. The batteries down the middle add weight and structural rigidity to the car, subduing bumps and road noise like a Lexus GS. Body roll is pretty good, and in Sport mode, it hums along quite quickly. Put some better tires on it and you could trick a blind person into thinking it’s a BMW.
Choose the right colors (black/black is my favorite) and the interior looks like a tuxedo; black rubberized plastic surrounding the white control panel. Sharp.
But the real ace is the plug by the driver’s door. There is a feeling of freedom I got from plugging the car in that I can’t describe. No more gas stations. No more watching the prices climb and re-calculating my monthly budget. 40 miles of near-silent, cheap, electric propulsion, with the gas motor as a parachute to the range anxious. Top to bottom, it’s a great car.
But if the job were moving people, wouldn’t a car with more room be better? Regarding comfort, yes. 5” of legroom is a lot, and even though the Volt’s rear seat is perfectly comfortable for 5’11” me, 5 more inches makes sitting in back feel like an honor, rather than a concession. The Avalon also comes with power seats (unavailable on the Volt), and an even more muted ride than the Chevy. Interior appeal is debatable, but I found the Avalon’s to be too busy. Too many materials, too many buttons, as if the designers had a fight and everyone glued their idea to the final design at the same time. And, although it’s not a plug-in, it gets 40MPG, everywhere. That’s a lot for a car this size, carrying 5 people almost 700 miles between fill-ups, almost twice what the Volt can do on a tank.
If your passengers are tall the 2013 Toyota Avalon is probably the right move. But the happiness I got from driving around on my house’ own electricity at a fraction of the cost of Exxon’s cheapest offering made me giddy, and the Avalon feels as big as it is; I foresee parking issues in its future.
The Volt is easier to drive, cheaper to operate, can hold long cargo, and is, dare I say, more fun to drive (if you’re into that kind of thing.