Entry Price: $35,555

Price As tested: $38,720

This week, we're diving Toyota's all-new 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid, a 40-mpg mid to full-size offering that delivers Lexus-type luxury at a Toyota price. Three Hybrid models are available, including XLE Premium for $35,555; our tester ELE Touring for $37,250; or top line XLE Limited, which starts at $41,400.

As noted in our last test drive of a gas powered Avalon, consumers that own Avalons know it is not just an upgraded Camry. Avalon is a distinct and significant Toyota statement that rides on a near 1.7-inch longer wheelbase and offers a high degree of opulence more discreetly than big brother Lexus.

Most important, however, is Avalon's Hybrid core, which allows for 40-mpg city and 39 highway EPA numbers, which are outstanding for a car this size and weight. We took our tester on a 350-plus mile business and pleasure trip, and averaged 39.1 for the entire trip, which included numerous passing and merging situations under heavier throttle.

I can't emphasize enough the completeness of this car, as it is one of the very best I've driven to date. (And I've been doing this since 1987 in magazines and 1994 in newspapers.)

From front to rear, Avalon's striking new design is impressive and its interior most inviting. Overall, Avalon proclaims Toyota's philosophy of "dedication to rethinking how driver and passengers can be moved - literally and figuratively." The cabin is filled with rich leather appointments, two-tone art, ambient lighting, heated seats and technology that years ago would have cost thousands more.

As for return on investment, Avalon's price includes many of the same amenities of the Lexus ES300h (Hybrid), including the same platform mechanicals ala the Atkinson Cycle 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the electric motor system and its six-speed automatic transmission. The result is a peppy 200 horsepower and aforementioned excellent fuel economy. Both Avalon and Lexus ES300h are built in Georgetown, Ky.

Thus, Avalon's aesthetic statement in regard to Lexus is best put this way: Lexus is the "formal tuxedo," while Avalon is Toyota's "formal black suit" at the same affair.

Either way, you're in style.

Behind the wheel, drivers can choose from ECO, EV and Sport drive modes that allow more or less power based on driver preference. The Sport mode offers more dynamic gear changes and throttle response, but also the most demand on the electric motor and gas engine for quicker acceleration.

Our Avalon XLE Hybrid front-drive came with just one option, a $225 carpeted floor mat and trunk mat feature, which pushed the price to its final $38,270, including $795 for delivery. Other than that, whatever "extra" you might pay for in other cars comes standard with top line Avalons.

Some of the notable standard features include a power moon roof, safety backup camera, 17-inch alloys, blind spot monitor side mirrors, 6.1-inch touch screen with high-end nine-speaker stereo/CD system. You'll also enjoy Toyota's Entune as standard fare, featuring everything from wireless Bluetooth, advanced voice recognition, HD radio, iTunes tagging, MP3/WMA and much more. Your Toyota dealer is waiting to show you who it all works.

Toyota's "Star Safety" system is also notable, as 10 air bags, electronic brakeforce, traction control and much more keep everyone inside as safe as possible.

Since Avalon's debut in 1995, Toyota was more gun shy in the "proactive design" studio than, say, Nissan. However, its new generation of Camry and Avalon make bold moves forward in 2013 design.

The 2013 Avalon Hybrid, regardless of model chosen, is another sound investment. It's a flat out "Test Drive" best buy for 2013.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 111-inches, 5.5-inches of ground clearance, 3,594 lb. curb weight, 17 gallon fuel tank, and 14 cu. ft. of cargo space.

Likes: Hybrid economy, build quality, quiet ride, price.

Dislikes: Nothing really.


(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist).