Square in styling with a bland interior, the outgoing Avalon offered a mediocre transportation experience for the disaffected and uninspired Baby Boomer (or older) whittling away at a middling existence. It’s no wonder so many Toyota owners preferred to stick to the ever popular Camry or moved-up past the Avalon to the sharper Lexus ES.
|1. Retaining its 3.6L V6 engine power is rated at 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque.
2. Toyota’s flagship sedan, the Avalon is available exclusively in the US and Canada.
3. Fuel economy improves significantly for 2013 with a 21/31 mpg (city/highway) rating.
4. For the first time Toyota will offer the Avalon with a hybrid option, delivering 40 mpg city and 39 mpg highway.
5. Available is a drive mode selector with an Eco, Normal and Sport mode to adjust throttle response and steering.
With the boomers now becoming seniors, Toyota has revamped its next-generation Avalon in search of the next generation of customers; those who grew up listening to Hip Hop, watching Kevin Smith movies and questioning the Gulf War: generation X.
While still delivering core large-car values to keep the faithful coming back, Toyota’s engineers also made “fun-to-drive” a priority while adding a dramatic change in style to help entice those for whom the Avalon name is entirely foreign.
MALE PATTERN BOLDNESS
When we first caught wind of the updated design back in January, we could see how the new Avalon borrowed some styling cures from the Lexus family while still maintaining a somewhat conservative Toyota presence.
Toyota’s Calty Design Studio is behind the redux. Not familiar with their work? Google the critically acclaimed Lexus LF-LC concept car that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year – it’s a thing of beauty.
A tremendous refresh in the right direction the Avalon now looks bold and unique with an impactful front fascia, a wider body, stylized wheels, HID and LED lighting and new paint colors like Moulin Rouge.
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LUXURIOUS AND FEATURE-FILLED
Past Avalon models may have received criticisms in certain areas, but where the big car always excelled was in delivering a roomy interior and comforting features. The new car carries on this tradition.
More spacious than a BMW 5 Series, the overall cabin width is increased by a couple of inches with cushy seat bottoms though sportier seatbacks.
New interior trim options are showcased with ambient lighting, while Almond leather (replacing Ivory) as well as Light Gray and Black are the cabin choices on offer. Limited trim models get rear heated seats, though at a cost; the reclining rear seat feature has been discontinued.
The driver’s needs are not neglected with detailed jewel-like gauges, paddle shifters, a leather steering wheel with audio controls and a center stack with advance digital displays. Included in the new technology suite are capacitive-touch controls (able to accommodate hands with long nails or gloves) for audio and climate settings along with a docking area for USB connections, smartphone charging/connectivity and placement for a new iPad mini. Optional is an 8-speaker JBL audio system while Toyota’s Entune system comes comprised of Bluetooth, HD radio, Pandora, iHeartRadio and much more.
While the base XLE grade comes nicely equipped with soft-touch materials, chrome accents, leather finishings, 17-inch wheels and LED lighting for $30,990, the Premium grade adds heated leather seats, a moonroof and heated mirrors for $33,195. Moving-up to $35,500, the XLE Touring model increases the wheel size to 18-inches, includes the Sport and Eco drive modes, paddle-shifters, leather finishings, premium tailor-made stitching, and a Display Audio system with Entune. But the real luxury cruiser (and our tester), is the Limited trim, encompassing 18-inch wheels, HID lighting, as well as premium leather and audio features, for $39,650.
Also available is a pre-collision system which can bring the car to a full-stop, a blind spot monitor, a rear cross traffic alert system, adaptive cruise ontrol and a back-up Camera.
Rear seat space is, as expected, expansive while trunk room is large at 16 cu-ft of space.
SPORT IS JUST A “MODE” AWAY
Equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, the same unit as the Lexus ES350, it makes 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque though feels faster when pushed. Maintaining similar power numbers to the past, fuel economy has improved from 19/25 (city/hwy) to 21/31/25 (city/hwy/combined).
A stiffened suspension and chassis help deliver the ride you would expect with a dash of sport added to an experience that is luxurious and smooth, though on the verge of lazy. Body roll continues to be a trademark of this full-size sedan.
Aiding the enjoyment factor considerably is a Sport Mode that modifies the throttle response and steering, though perhaps excessively in regards to the latter. Feeling like too much work for a daily commute, it is a nice change of pace for the occasional bout of speed. Pick up the pace and the car’s maneuverability is challenged, though its curb weight of 3,500 lbs is less than hefty for its size.
For those not planning a more aggressive drive, the Eco mode performs with less throttle and more release in the steering power, affording a level of calming comfort found in hybrid vehicles. If neither modes are engaged, the vehicle runs in a conventional normal mode, half way between the two “extremes.”
THE HYBRID CONNECTION
There’s no need to just settle for a “hybrid-like” feel, however, with Toyota for the first time offering a gasoline-electric version of the Avalon. Equipped with the same 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine found in the Camry and Lexus ES hybrids, power is rated at 200 hp while several drive modes (EV, Eco, Normal and Sport) make the drive customizable.
Equal in size and luxury the obvious buying factor is fuel economy with a 39 mpg city and 40 mpg highway rating. Despite the downgrade in power and the car’s obvious dimensions, the hybrid still feels fully capable, especially in Sport mode with instant response from the electric motor.
The added fuel economy comes at an added expense, at roughly $2,000 more than gas models with the XLE Premium trim priced at $35,555, the XLE Touring at $37,250, and the Limited at $41,400. The only other down side is reduced trunk space, though it suffers only minutely with 14 cu-ft remaining.
More luxurious and more engaging (a feat achieved with little difficulty), the new Avalon is certainly an enticing proposition for its historic buyers, though it’s not clear if a new generation of buyer, which once putted around in the likes of the Hyundai Excel, has any interest in the large car segment. If they do, and the stigma of the Avalon as the Japanese Buick and the last thing you drive before you meet your maker hasn’t soured them, then Toyota may have a winning product.