2012 Toyota Avalon XLSView Vehicle Profile
2013 Toyota Avalon: Flagship Toyota sheds drab image
ANN ARBOR, MICH.—Toyota has an image problem. At least that’s what I think the execs at Toyota believe.
Hints that Toyota wants to renew enthusiasm for the brand have been coming at us all year, first with the introduction of the Scion FR-S sports car, which Toyota touted as being “fun to drive, again,” and now in the language used in literature for the 2013 Avalon, calling it a “new design and product direction” and claiming it is “designed to turn heads — and change minds.” If company execs want to change minds, they’ve certainly made a statement with this fourth-generation Avalon.
The Avalon is Toyota’s flagship car, and only one model — fully loaded — was available for 2012. That’s changed for 2013 and you can now select from three trim levels. The base XLE has similar standard features to the current XLS but adds paddle shifters, three driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport), push-button start, a navigation system and three additional airbags, now at 10. Despite the added goodies, base price has gone down by $4,400, now starting at $36,800.
The Limited adds cooling ventilation to the heated seats, premium leather, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings for $38,900. Even the top-of-the-line Premium, which includes heated rear seats, a pre-collision warning system, adaptive cruise control and a 785-watt JBL sound system is just $650 more than the current model, at $41,850.
The Avalon received a significant makeover and is more engaging to look at than the outgoing model, which, lets face it, looks dated and drab in comparison. It has a more aggressive fascia with a broad, protruding grille below a slender upper intake and its profile is more streamlined. The anchor points of the C-pillars have been moved as far back as possible while “maintaining a premium sedan profile,” which gives the Avalon an almost Audi A7-like silhouette. It also replaces the Camry as the platform on which the 2013 Lexus ES is built.
Wheelbase remains at 282 cm, though shorter front and rear overhangs reduce overall length by 60 mm and the roofline is 25 mm lower. This modest downsizing hasn’t infringed upon interior space, which is about the same as before, though the trunk has grown in capacity by almost 50 litres. It’s also lost 30 kg, now weighing 1,590 kg.
There’s not much new under the hood, though the 268 hp, 3.5 L V6 (shared with the Lexus ES350 and Camry V6 models) is smooth and provides ample passing power. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission available and it works fine but isn’t up to the standards set by a couple of the eight-speed offerings in this segment.
In an attempt to liven up the driving experience, paddle shifters are standard, and the engine even “blips” the throttle on manual downshifts. It’s a half-hearted attempt at generating adrenalin, for the conventional automatic never disengages power on the downshifts and you actually feel a slight forward lunge when the throttle is blipped.
On the plus side, fuel economy is improved and the Avalon now claims an average of 8.3 L/100 km (34 m.p.g.), a considerable improvement over the former car’s 9.1 L.
As mentioned earlier, reduced exterior dimensions haven’t compromised the Avalon’s interior comfort (there’s actually 10 mm more rear headroom despite the lower roofline), and what you’ll find inside are luxuriously well-appointed and roomy surroundings, with all the bells and whistles you’d expect in a premium sedan.
A new dashboard is more flowing and sleek, with the centre control panel better integrated into its surrounding surfaces. A 6.1-inch navigation and audio system touchscreen is placed above a smaller climate control screen, and both screens are flanked by flush-mount capacitive switches that are designed to operate at the touch. They don’t protrude and give the dashboard a simple, yet eloquent finish.
The capacitive switches provide no tactile feedback but rather operate much like a touchscreen. It takes a while to get accustomed to them, and they’re supposed to operate “with some gloves, but not all.” They are quite sensitive, requiring an unusually light touch to operate, though I discover post-drive that their sensitivity is adjustable.
An interesting touch (literally) is the fan-control switch, on which you slide your finger across to adjust fan speed. There’s also the eBin, a handy tray located beneath the climate controls that contains USB and auxiliary ports, with a sliding cover that hides the wires and connections, while keeping your device accessible.
Interior designers didn’t skimp on materials, and surfaces have a high quality feel. Power-adjustable front seats are nicely supportive, and the venting feature in the seats of my Limited test car provides some sweat-relieving backside coolness.
Electric power steering is speed sensitive and also varies in effort depending on which driving mode is selected. In Eco and Normal mode, it is light and somewhat uncommunicative, feeling very much electric. In sport mode it firms up and provides more satisfying feedback, a feeling enhanced by the more aggressive throttle and transmission settings in this mode.
One gripe I do have with the ride is the overly communicative suspension. It’s firm and keeps the car level and well behaved at a brisk pace on winding roads, but it also transmits jolts from small bumps and ripples into the cabin; it almost feels as if the tires are overinflated. But, as the large cardboard sleeve placed over the passenger sun visor reminds me in large uppercase print, “THIS IS A PRE-PRODUCTION VEHICLE.” This may have been an anomaly, and a drive in an XLE is smoother, though so are the roads.
According to its maker the 2013 Avalon signifies a new generation of Toyotas. It’s a measurable improvement over the current model in styling and comfort, and it’s luxurious enough that it could easily pass for a Lexus. If you can get around the perceived pedestrian stigma surrounding the Toyota brand, you’ll save a few thousand dollars choosing it over the ES350 (I think it even looks better than the ES).
I’m not sure it will provide the “passion for driving” that Toyota hopes it will inspire in drivers, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. It arrives at showrooms in December.
2013 Toyota Avalon
PRICE: $36,800 to $41,850
ENGINE: 3.5 L V6
POWER/TORQUE (hp/lb.-ft.): 268/248
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: 8.3L/100 km combined
WHAT’S BEST: Lower price, better fuel economy, much better looking, top-shelf features in even the least-equipped model.
WHAT’S WORST: Overly zealous suspension transfers a bit too much of the road into the cabin.
COMPETITION: Buick Lacrosse, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Genesis, Lexus ES350, Nissan Maxima, Volkswagen Passat.
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Blind spot monitor sensors are designed to detect vehicles larger than 125 cc motorcycles at speeds exceeding 16 km/h.
Travel for freelance writer Costa Mouzouris was provided by the manufacturer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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