2013 Toyota Avalon XLE HD Video Review
Avalon has been called the car that out-Buicks Buick (and we’re talking about the old Buick folks). Room and comfort have been it’s strengths, not canyon carving or fashion sense. Keep in mind the first one- which rode upon a stretched Camry platform- had a bench seat. Up front.
The new 2013 Avalon comes standard with something it’s never had before- style. Oh, and that waterbed-like ride quality? Gone. While Toyota has not given us a budget A7, they want to be known for more than just practical reliable cars. President Akio Toyoda, a known automotive enthusiast, insists that the company must inject some soul into their cars from now on. I like this guy.
Like everyone in the industry, Toyota is targeting a younger buyer. There will be no “early-bird special” jokes, no references to AARP cards here. Loyal Avalon buyers have stuck with the car for many years now and the new shape is meant to introduce some new blood to the model. Toyota says focus groups prove current owners and newcomers alike love the sheetmetal.
Not Just New Style, A Hybrid Too
The design might be a surprise, but new a hybrid powertrain shouldn’t be. Avalon is still based on the Camry architecture (stretched 1.7 inches), so the same Hybrid Synergy Drive found in Camry is a natural. At the press launch in Santa Barbara, CA, I’ve chosen to review only the base XLE V6 model because of time constraints shooting the video. Besides, the V6 will make up 80% percent of sales so it’s the popular choice. It retails for $31,785 with destination. Avalon’s price can rise to 42 large fully loaded and generally the hybrid model is an additional $1,750 (though the base XLE adds $2,360).
Avalon’s 3.5-liter V6 makes 268 hp @ 6,200 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 RPM. I don’t need to tell you it is also found in Camry do I? Didn’t think so. Fuel economy is good, 21 city, 31 highway on standard grade gas. FYI, the hybrid version is EPA rated at 40 city, 39 highway.
The only transmission paired to the V6 is a six-speed automatic with manual shifting on the console (my pre-production unit’s shifter had a coarse unrefined feel to it). Fancier models get steering wheel paddle shifters plus “eco” and “sport” modes that adjust throttle response and steering effort. Safety technology like blind spot and cross path detection are available. So is collision warning, lane departure warning, and radar assisted cruise control.
Acceleration Has Never Been an Avalon Issue
0-60 spools up in a familiar 6.7 seconds according to Toyota. That’s pretty brisk for a vehicle most peg for a grandpa’s car. The outgoing car was as responsive as a sofa in the curves, the ride quality is more buttoned down now. The trick is balance. Car enthusiasts forget that not everyone wants a high performance handling machine, many folks want comfort. The improved driving dynamic means that secondary floaty bob is gone. Avalon isn’t meant to challenge the best sport sedans, but feel free to pack the Dramamine away. It’s quiet but my ears remember Buick LaCrosse and Chrysler 300 letting a skosh less of the outside world in. I have not driven Azera so you’ll have to be the judge there.
Think of Avalon is a luxury car? Positioned between the workhorse Camry and up market Lexus ES350, Toyota prefers the term “premium”. Rick LaFaso, Marketing Manager for Toyota cars, explains the two markets are different even though the premium and luxury buyer are very similar in demographic. They both want comfort, features, and room. The Avalon buyer though is willing to forgo the logo and brand prestige of a BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes or, ahem, Lexus badge. There are many reasons why wealthy people have money, one is that they don’t spend it.
The Inside Story
Toyota makes a big deal about the sheetmetal, they should talk up the interior some too. Fans of stitching will love this car, it’s everywhere in the cabin. Chrome trim adds to the substantial rich look, the leather is nicely grained. Gauges are bright and clear, especially the info screen in the middle of the cluster. Also well done is the Intellitouch console surface. Yes, buttonless touch surfaces have been done before, but this one has excellent sensitivity and the material gets a unique appearance and feel to it. A shout out to my homies back in Minnesota, Toyota says it works with some gloves.
USB and power ports are in the eBin- like those electronics valets they sell at Brookstone- is just forward of the column shifter. The design has a slot in the lid for charging cords that helps to keep things phones and iPods neat and tidy. The base audio system sounds fine, audiophiles will want to upgrade. Toyota’s Entune system that runs apps like Pandora using the data plan in your smartphone is found on higher trim levels. Same goes for cooled seats. Heated chairs are standard up front, they’re well contoured and comfortable.
Want a panoramic glass roof or electric parking brake? Avalon does not offer them. At least Bluetooth connectivity, smart key and dual zone climate control are standard.
Room For Friends
Toyota research says Avalon owners place a premium on entertaining friends. It has always had a decent sized back seat so as expected, knee foot and leg room are not a problem. Even with the svelte new silhouette, neither is headroom. While it will most likely be occupied by another couple, a third adult will be perfectly fine on a trip to the charity auction because of a nearly flat floor.
Rear passengers get side torso airbags, always a plus. There’s storage in the doors, both seats get pockets and there’s a place to stash drinks and get comfy with a fold down armrest. Higher trim levels get a remote rear sunshade, a rear climate zone and heated bun warmers. My only real gripe is that there’s no power port to charge electronics.
Maybe You Prefer to be Driven
Now that Town Car is out of production, Toyota has plans for the livery market. While at first it seems a stretch (no pun intended), I can see the hybrid version making a strong showing considering half the taxis in Seattle are Priuses.
A quick check of the trunk finds a good-sized space with some undulations that might hurt the usefulness some (sorry, no TP trunk test, I’m out of town). A few bags of golf clubs should drop in no sweat, that’s what counts in this class. There is a ski pass through but that’s it, the seatbacks are fixed to help structural rigidity. Avalon gets a spare tire, not all cars do these days. Hinge arms are shielded to protect from scrunching cargo.
The Design Factor
Toyota’s making a very big deal about it so let’s dissect the design. Avalon’s svelte shape gets a dash of “four-door coupe” attitude ala Audi A7, Mercedes CLS, Volkswagen CC and Hyundai Sonata. The back three quarter’s view is the most flattering to my eye, with tasteful LED taillamps and a great C pillar that reaches back towards the rear.
Moving to the front, the lower intake owes a little to Aston Martin. The upper chrome bar on the other hand is pure corporate Toyota. This part appears to have come off of a Camry and clutters up the overall effect. Side scalloping is kept to a minimum. The overall design might be bold for Toyota but Avalon remains somewhat understated compared to Elantra, Optima and LaCrosse. Let’s call it a cautious but appealing step forward.
A Quick Peek at the Hybrid
Inside and out, the gas/electric version looks remarkably similar to the gas-only model. There’s no eco friendly bamboo trim on the inside or anything to that marketing effect. Avalon is based on the same architecture as Camry so naturally the Hybrid Synergy Drive powerplant is the same. The gas engine and electric motor team up for 200 total horsepower and the transmission becomes a continuously variable unit. As always, a nickel metal hydride battery in the trunk eliminates the pass through and reduces cargo volume a skosh. Hybrids get subtle blue Toyota logos for those who don’t know how to read the “hybrid” badges on the lower front door and rear.
If you want to understand the dynamic of the hybrid, I suggest looking at the Camry hybrid video.
Home Grown Attitude
Toyota is pitching Avalon’s American connection pretty hard. Designed and manufactured in the good old US of A, the lion’s share of the content is sourced here too. It will be exported from Georgetown Kentucky to Saudi Arabia and South Korea as well.
Toyota plans on moving some 75,000 copies of their largest sedan, far more than the outgoing car. Spy shots of the upcoming Corolla show a silhouette with more rake to it, much like Honda’s Civic. It’s a sign that Avalon is kick starting a Toyota design renaissance. Adding some driving passion should help grab buyers that stayed away from the brand. It might have been sleep inducing in the past, but the 2013 Avalon might turn into a wake up call for the competition.
FULL GALLERY BELOW. ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY TOYOTA. TOM ATTENDED A TOYOTA SPONSORED EVENT FOR THIS STORY.